Jacksonville Jaguars 2010 Training Camp: Top 10 News Items, August 6-9
This past weekend, the Jaguars held their last practices in Jacksonville before heading to Flowery Branch, Ga., to join the Atlanta Falcons. On Monday, the teams began two days of combined drills.
Key events between the sidelines included updates on the hotly-contested position battles at safety and wide receiver, a few cases of lingering injuries, and some noteworthy new faces.
Off the field, head coach Jack Del Rio's eye-opening commentary drew our attention to positive and negative developments on the roster, one involving quarterback David Garrard.
Meanwhile, the wave of optimism in the wake of a stadium naming rights deal with EverBank ran into a considerable obstacle.
To find out the latest on the Jaguars as they approach Friday's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, read on.
1. Coaches Del Rio, Tucker Scrutinizing Defense on Friday, Saturday
Before Jacksonville's Friday night scrimmage, second-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker remarked to CBS' Jim Nasella that, in watching his unit, he would "pay particular attention to team tackling."
On the following morning, Del Rio hammered the defense for a poor overall performance in that scrimmage. "Make the play," he admonished them, "or get off the damn field."
The overall picture painted is that of 11 players struggling, as they did in 2009, to read and react in a coordinated fashion.
Part of the problem, to be sure, is the presence of new faces. Even veterans like defensive end Aaron Kampman and linebacker Kirk Morrison need time to sync up with their new teammates.
A haphazard rotation at defensive tackle hasn't helped, either. The absence of rookies Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith—more on that later—has left the Jaguars without two players they expected to contribute in training camp's early going.
2. Safety Position Battle: Underdog Sean Considine Gains Ground Friday
Within the defense's underwhelming effort Friday night, there were still bright spots—none brighter than safety Sean Considine.
In the thick of a four-man position battle with Gerald Alexander, Reggie Nelson, and Anthony Smith to be one of Jacksonville's two starting Cover-2 safeties, Considine stepped up under the lights at EverBank Field.
Over a three-play stretch, the journeyman safety in his second year with the Jaguars intercepted two passes and deflected a third.
"You should've seen it," beat writer Vic Ketchman gushed in a feature article on Considine's performance.
It was exactly the kind of heads-up play that Del Rio had harped on the rest of the defense for lacking, and it didn't go unnoticed. After the scrimmage, Ketchman observed that Considine and Alexander had likely taken the lead in their hotly-contested position battle.
For now, at least.
3. K Josh Scobee Starts on the Right Foot, Hits Five Field Goals Friday
On another positive note, Jacksonville enjoyed solid placekicking from seventh-year veteran Josh Scobee under the Friday night lights.
Last year, Scobee's 64 percent conversion rate was easily the lowest of his career, marking the first season in which he'd hit on less than 70 percent of his field goals.
To be fair, nine of his 10 misses were from 40+ yards out, including going four-for-nine on attempts of 50 or more yards. Coach Del Rio has never been shy about testing Scobee's leg strength on Sundays, and the Jaguars' offense hasn't brought him close to the goalposts very often lately.
In that light, the CBS RapidReports update that the veteran kicker connected on five consecutive field goals Friday night is an encouraging sign—especially the 46-yarder at the end of that streak.
4. OT Eben Britton, DT Tyson Alualu, LB Daryl Smith Out Hurt Friday
Among the rash of injuries that sidelined several Jaguars, they're missing Eben Britton, Tyson Alualu, and Daryl Smith the most.
For Britton, one of Jacksonville's two sure starters on the offensive line, this year's training camp was supposed to be a chance to develop better timing with quarterback David Garrard. Thus far, he's been held back day-to-day with a lingering calf injury.
"Once the season rolls around," Garrard told Tania Ganguli of The Florida Times-Union, "I need those guys [Britton and left tackle Eugene Monroe] in the backfield with me, protecting me."
A similar injury has kept Alualu from integrating with the Jaguars' defensive line much in his first week of practice since signing late last Sunday. He's impressed Jacksonville's coaches his teammates with his talent, but winning football games is just as much about coordinated teamwork.
As for Smith, who tweaked a hamstring early in camp, the Jaguars are right to be a little over-cautious. Even as an outside 'backer in their base 4-3 defense, he's the teeth of their pass rush and they need him to be explosive in September.
5. Tony Gilbert, Kris Griffin Signings Threaten Jaguars' Special Teamers
Over the weekend, two of the Jaguars' three signings were of the kind that simultaneously catches no eyes and endangers many jobs: special-teamers.
Tony Gilbert spent five seasons in Jacksonville from 2003-07 before his release in 2008. Kris Griffin played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in the NFL before making his way to the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives, where Jaguars general manager Gene Smith found him.
Jacksonville's decision to bring in two journeymen with special teams backgrounds suggests that new coordinator Russ Purnell is less than pleased with the performance of his current unit.
Players such as linebacker Freddy Keiaho and safety Anthony Smith, whose bids for roster spots rely at least in part on their special teams value, should be worried.
6. D'Anthony Smith Out for 2010, Free Agent DT Leger Douzable Signed
Last week, the Jaguars determined that D'Anthony Smith, their third round pick in this year's draft, would miss the entire 2010 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. This weekend, they began the search for someone to fill his role, signing third-year defensive tackle Leger Douzable on Sunday.
Douzable (6'4", 284 pounds) played college football at Central Florida, the same school that produced wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker.
Already claimed and released by the Detroit Lions this offseason, Douzable will look to stick around for a second NFL regular season after playing in 11 games for the St. Louis Rams last year.
It's a stretch, but Douzable's one-gapper build could be a hint that Jacksonville's two-gappers (Terrance Knighton and Kommonyan Quaye) don't need to be prodded by extra competition.
7. Wide Receiver Position Battle: Mike Thomas Emerges as Clear Favorite
Despite his sub-par competition in camp, second-year receiver Mike Thomas has worked determinedly to push his advantage in the battle for the starting job opposite Mike Sims-Walker.
"We continue to talk about 'Mike T' because he continues to make plays," quarterback David Garrard told reporters. "Hopefully his confidence will continue to grow so we can solidify that number two [receiver] spot."
Thomas started out ahead of hopefuls such as Troy Williamson, Kassim Osgood, and Tiquan Underwood in terms of productive regular season play. His 1,301 total yards on 100 touches in 2009 put him on the radar for fantasy football owners and Jacksonville's front office.
When fellow second-year man Jarett Dillard returns from the stress fracture that's kept him on the sidelines thus far, Thomas will face stiffer competition. By then, it might be too late.
8. Coach Del Rio Heaps Praise on TE Marcedes Lewis' Offseason Work
Standing 6'6" and weighing a solid 275 pounds, Marcedes Lewis has always looked the part of a dominant, first-round caliber tight end since the Jaguars drafted him with the 28th overall pick in 2006.
Through four seasons in Jacksonville, he's shown flashes too. A long-armed run blocker who plays with good leverage and has a surprising nasty streak, Lewis has been able to body out defenders in the ground game and in fighting for catches with ease.
This year, he might finally be putting those pieces together.
"I slimmed down a bit," Lewis told Tania Ganguli of The Florida Times-Union. "I feel better. [I'm] really trying to focus on each play in its entirety, and if a play doesn't go my way, moving on to the next one."
Pushed, perhaps, by backup Zach Miller's success late last season, a consistent week-to-week effort from Lewis could rip opposing secondaries open along the seam route in 2010.
9. Jacksonville City Council Hasn't Agreed to EverBank's Naming Rights
The Jaguars' recently-announced naming rights deal with EverBank for the building formerly known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium has been touted as an important step toward securing the future of NFL football in the city.
Regrettably, it seems the city council won't be keeping the Jaguars around without a fight.
According to a report from The Florida Times-Union, several members of the council's finance committee have qualms with the team's request that the city give up its $5 million share of the deal.
Granted, Jacksonville's current economic situation is hardly without potholes that need paving. But clinging too covetously to that cut of EverBank's money only increases the likelihood that its source will dry up in the future.
Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, age 75, has expressed his desire to eventually sell the team. The next owner isn't going to want to struggle against laggard fan support, the league's smallest media market, and a combative city council all at once, especially with a new stadium in Los Angeles awaiting a new tenant.
10. Criticism of David Garrard in Pocket Re-Opens 2009 Analysis of Sacks
On Sunday, CBS RapidReports correspondent Jim Nasella passed along an interesting note from coach Del Rio's talk with the press:
"QB David Garrard has been looking sharper in passing drills," Nasella wrote, "but still takes sacks coach Jack Del Rio isn't happy about. 'I don't want him taking the abuse,' Del Rio said, 'I don't want him to have lost yardage.'"
Through Week 15 last year, Garrard had been sacked 37 times and hit another 72, far and away the most-punished quarterback in the NFL.
At the time, some of the blame for Jacksonville's league-worst pass protection was attributed to leaky protection up the middle by run blocking specialist Uche Nwaneri and veterans Brad Meester and Vince Manuwai.
Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, the Jaguars' rookie tackles, received the lion's share of criticism for the battering Garrard suffered.
Del Rio could be pointing at Garrard's age (32), the aforementioned past pummeling, but it sounds like he considers the quarterback's internal clock and pocket presence to be at least partially responsible.
Maybe his and owner Wayne Weaver's offseason admonishment for Garrard to play more like Peyton Manning includes sacking himself and chucking the ball away.