[Note by River City Rage, 06/06/08 3:02 PM EDT ]: FBT writes the very best reports on the minicamp and training camp practices. He was kind enough to post his thoughts on today's practice here. You can read more from FBT at Jaguars Journal !
It was good to see the team back on the field this morning, sporting their finest shorts and shirts. Noticeably absent from participation (but still on the field with the team) were Mike Walker (worked with the training staff for most of practice with his knee wrapped. According to the team, he’ll participate in 1 practice daily), Brian Smith (still walking with an obvious limp), and George Wrighster (knee was wrapped up tightly).
There were a couple of uh-oh moments during the practice session with players that you do not want to see coming up lame. Jerry Porter participated early in practice, but during one of the catching drills, after making a nice grab on a slant pattern in front of the defender, he clearly felt something wasn’t right. It was subtle enough, but he sort of hopped, then trotted off to the back practice field, retrieved his cap, and had the trainers wrap up and ice his left knee.
Later, in the same drill, Rashean Mathis pulled up lame after a play. Again, it did not look serious. But, he was clearly favoring his right leg and did not participate in any drills after that incident. With him off the field, Brian Williams moved over to the left side to fill his spot.
One surprise after hearing reports that he might be suffering from a more serious injury than the team had indicated was Marcedes Lewis, who participated fully in the practice, and did not appear to be having any health issues.
Before I get to any drills, a couple of first impressions.
When you see Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey on the field together, it is difficult to see much of a difference between the two. Physically, they are quite similar on the field. Both are exceptionally quick, but beyond that, it is practically impossible in a practice like this to make any further assessments.
I was paying particular attention to the linebacker corps to see how the depth chart (which does not exist...cough…cough) for the group panned out early on. The first group of linebackers to run through drills was Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith, and Justin Durant. The second group was Brian Iwuh, Tony Gilbert, and Clint Ingram. The third group through the rotation was Lamar Myles, Brent Hawkins, and Thomas Williams.
Of the quarterbacks and the competition for the backup spot, it is anyone’s guess. David Garrard clearly stands above the other three by a wide margin. But, Cleo Lemon has issues with the way he delivers the football. The ball just does not get out quickly. Todd Bouman has a quicker release, but there is a certain level of inaccuracy about his passes. Paul Smith is obviously a project. He was slow at times with his drops, and had issues when dealing with pressure. Shula was spending quite a bit of time with both Smith and Lemon, working on various things with them during individual drills.
Now, let’s get on to the drills.
The quarterbacks were working with the receivers against the defensive backs early in practice. It is a warm up drill before they even go through their stretching. During this drill, the receivers were struggling to find the handle, and the quarterbacks (aside from Garrard) were having a tough time finding their targets.
John Broussard set the tone by muffing a perfectly thrown pass on a little hook route. The ball hit him squarely in the paws, and the normally sure-handed receiver just dropped it. The defender was three yards away at the point when the ball hit the turf, so it was all on the receiver. Broussard did redeem himself later in the drill by making a move on Scott Starks that put the defensive back on his posterior. Again, later on in the same session, Broussard beat Gerald Sensabaugh on a deep out pattern, hauling in a nice pass from Todd Bouman.
Cleo Lemon was hit or miss the entire practice, starting with the first drills. The first pass he threw was just a short sideline pass to Reggie Williams. It was so badly off target that the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds and out of reach for anyone. He missed a wide open Jeron Harvey over the middle, overthrowing him badly and barely avoiding an interception.
When Lemon did hit his targets, the receivers were not always reliable in hanging on. In one particular instance, Lemon hit D’Juan Woods right in the hands on a slant pattern and the receiver simply dropped the ball. Because Lemon’s passes lack the velocity to explain the drop, that one was all on Woods. A similar thing happened on a deep out intended for Craphonso Thorpe, as the ball was delivered on time and on target and he simply did not make the catch.
D’Juan Woods had a great opportunity to wow the fans on a deep sideline route with Sensabaugh and Starks in tow. He got past the coverage and the ball was perfectly delivered by Todd Bouman deep downfield. Unfortunately, Woods watched the ball go right through his hands falling incomplete.
Troy Williamson did have one drop during this drill, but caught everything else thrown in his direction. The pass that he dropped would have been a pretty impressive one, but it just skipped off his fingertips. He had made a great move to shake Reggie Nelson, and was wide open on the play, but just could not haul the pass in as hoped.
Another player that had a relatively solid practice, starting with the initial drills was Matt Jones, who was being tasked with going over the middle quite a bit today on slants and crosses. On one particular play, Jones got the inside angle on Drayton Florence on a quick slant and made a nice grab.
Maurice Jones-Drew is looking quick, like mid season form. The team is clearly going to utilize his receiving ability this year to get him out in space, and they ran several plays today during drills working on that specifically.
Fred Taylor is looking smooth and quick. Gone is the stutter step that was his trademark for many years. The more seasoned Fred Taylor continues to show outstanding patience, allowing blockers to set up in front of him, and then hitting the burners to burst through the line. He is looking as sharp as he did at any point last year. Granted, there is no contact to be found, but the way he allowed his blocks to set up, then finding the crease and accelerating through it was a thing of beauty.
Montell Owens had a really nice practice, showing nice speed and good hands out of the backfield. He made several plays during the 11x11 and 7x7 drills, making his case for a roster spot loud and clear.
Paul Smith clearly struggled with 11x11 drills. On one particular play, he was so flustered by the pressure that he let a pass sail over the middle that was quickly batted down. It appeared that he was actually in the grasp of James Wyche when he tried to get the ball out and there was not a receiver within catching range of where the ball completed its journey.
The highlight of this particular session was a deep sideline pass to Troy Williamson, who had run right by Brian Witherspoon on the play. The pass was right on the money from Todd Bouman, and the end result was a 60 yard touchdown.
Fred Taylor showed some nice hands on a couple of plays out of the backfield. With Mathis not practicing, Brian Williams was victimized by the Pro Bowler, as Fred blew right by him
Richard Angulo made a nice grab on a perfectly delivered pass from David Garrard deep in the seam.
Jamaal Fudge made a nice defensive play on a pass intended for Matt Jones, batting away a ball delivered slightly behind the receiver on a quick slant.
Dennis Northcutt looked sharp on the field. During the 7x7 drills, he made a couple of outstanding grabs, and showed why he is a valuable slot receiver for this team. On one particular play, he found the gap in the secondary between zones, exploiting the hole and hauling in a nicely delivered pass from Garrard that went for more than 20 yards. When the play was done, the cornerback and defensive back were both pointing, so clearly someone blew an assignment and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Marcedes Lewis made a nice grab in the flat on a pass from Cleo Lemon, and then turned it up field for a big gain. Lemon was again victimized by good coverage as Scott Starks got between the quarterback and the receiver, causing enough of a disruption in the pass play to prevent Matt Jones from pulling in the pass. Jones had both hands on the ball, and probably could have made the catch, but Starks made a heads-up defensive play to prevent that from happening.
D.D. Terry showed nice burst on a couple of pass plays out of the backfield, taking one particular swing play for a solid 20 yard gain.
Greg Estandia continued what was the trend of the day (Tight Ends dropping passes). He had found a hole in the seam about 30 yards down field. Todd Bouman picked him up and delivered a perfect strike over the top. Estandia had the ball in his hands, and dropped it. The juggling routine was one that was also repeated several times by Isaac Smolko during practices, including one sideline catch that he SHOULD have made, but the juggling continued right out of bounds.
Troy Williamson showed that he is capable of stretching the field, and he is not afraid to go over the middle. On a couple of plays, he made impressive grabs in traffic, including one slant route where he was in triple coverage and Garrard had to thread the needle to get it to him. He split the coverage, made the grab, and came through it unscathed showing off his speed in the process.
11X11 (Part II):
Matt Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew both continued to have solid practices into the second session of 11x11’s. Each player had a couple of impressive plays late in the practice.
Matt Jones made two nice grabs over the middle, fighting off Reggie Nelson on one of them to get the position.
Drew once again was used as a receiver out of the backfield, and he took two rather benign looking plays and turned them into serious gains by kicking into high gear once he spotted the crack in the secondary.
Cleo Lemon finished the day in the same manner that he started it, struggling to get the ball to his receivers accurately. Whether it was a breakdown in communication (on one play, Broussard ran a little curl route, and Lemon tossed it deep down the sideline), or just outright flubs (he overthrew Richard Angulo badly on a sideline pass), Lemon is struggling to get on the same page. It is still early, but he is more on par with the rookie project than he is with Todd Bouman right now.
Greg Jones showed that he might be regaining that speed that he had prior to his last knee injury. On a quick dump pass, he turned up field and made two defenders miss as he accelerated through the secondary. It was a surprising burst after watching him last year.
Overall, it was precisely what you should come to expect from one of these mini camp practice sessions. There were some sharp things to make note of, and many mistakes. The receivers struggled at times to hang on to the football, and the quarterbacks made some awful throws.
On defense, it is difficult to make any sort of an evaluation because the lines are not really engaging. So, trying to evaluate a pass rush based on what we saw today is impossible. But, you can see that there are some real horses on that defensive line that are chomping at the bit, ready to start knocking heads as soon as the pads go on.
The one concern that I do have is the minor injuries that are occurring. With Troy Williamson particularly, I really think they need to simply shut him down and let him recover. He is not competing for a roster spot, so let him rest until it matters at training camp. The team does not need him dealing with lingering issues this early on in the process.
One thing that you can come away from this practice with is a high level of confidence that the fans are buying into the team, and they are clearly excited by the prospects that lay ahead of the Jaguars in 2008. The crowd at the mini camp session this morning was larger than most training camp practice crowds, which is a testimony to just how hungry the fan base is for any type of football action.