The conclusion of what had to be the least taxing training camp in franchise history was certainly a fitting end. With the heat and humidity still hovering heavily over the practice grounds for the evening session, the Jaguars took the field in full pads.
The list of players that were not participating this evening was the longest of training camp. The non-participants included Chad Nkang, Jeremy Mincey, George Wrighster, Reggie Williams, Brad Meester, Clint Ingram, Jerry Porter, Derek Landri (right knee), Troy Williamson (groin), and Clyde Edwards. Reggie Hayward was dressed out and participated in individual drills, but then stuck to the sideline for the remainder of practice.
The practice was pretty much a non-event compared to the session last night. The Jaguars were in full pads, but the only contact drills were toward the very end of practice when they went to red zone drills in the final 11 x 11 round of the evening.
Let’s get right into the drills.
11 x 11 (Part I):
This was a running drill. The units were split up into two groups. The other group did passing drills on the other side of the field while the running backs worked on their game.
The most notable back from this drill was clearly Fred Taylor, who looks in mid-season form. It does not matter if he is running off tackle, or between them, he is showing a burst that you just would not expect from a 32 year old set of legs.
Maurice Jones-Drew is also looking solid and ready to go. He is quicker this year than he was last season, and he is getting more opportunities to get the ball, whether it is out of the backfield as a running back, or as a receiver, the team is working on a variety of ways to make sure that he can put his play making ability on display.
Greg Jones got an opportunity to carry the ball during the drill. He looks to be just about back to his pre-injury form. Whether it is carrying the football, catching it, or simply blocking for one of the other backs, Jones is looking solid, and showing good acceleration at the line.
Chauncey Washington appears be climbing up the ranks, giving a guy like Montell Owens a serious push for a roster spot. Washington has a nice combination of speed, solid ability to make one cut and commit. He has good vision and does not hesitate once he sees a crease to run through.
Montell Owens is a solid receiver out of the backfield, and certainly has the ability to be a contributor on special teams. That may be his saving grace on this roster.
2 x 1:
Cleo Lemon connected with John Broussard on a nice pass over Brian Witherspoon, hitting the receiver in stride for a deep touchdown pass.
Dennis Northcutt caught Rashean Mathis completely off guard. It appeared that he was running a post route when he stopped. At first it looked like he was going to run a curl, but as quickly as he stopped, he took off on the post route again. Mathis bit on the move anticipating the curl, and when he did, Northcutt ran right by him. All David Garrard had to do at that point was play pitch and catch with him for a deep touchdown.
On the next play, Garrard had Matt Jones open deep on a corner route, but he came up short on the pass, and it wound up falling incomplete.
Ryan Hoag made a couple of great catches during the drill, including one in particular on a Todd Bouman pass on a deep out pattern. Jamaal Fudge was in coverage, and was tight with Hoag. Bouman’s pass was slightly in front of his intended target, but Hoag made a nice falling grab to haul in the pass.
Garrard targeted Mike Walker on a deep pass down the sideline with Drayton Florence in coverage. The ball came up slightly short of the goal, but Walker was able to adjust while keeping Florence at arms length, pulling the pass in for a long gain.
4 x 4:
David hit Fred Taylor streaking over the middle on a crossing route. Taylor showed great acceleration after making the catch, turning the ball up field for a long gain.
Marcedes Lewis showed his athleticism, snatching a Cleo Lemon pass along the sideline that was slightly overthrown. Lewis was able to go up and get the ball, getting his footing before he went out of bounds.
David tried to go to D’Juan Woods on a deep crossing route in front of Rashean Mathis. His pass was too far out in front of the receiver, and fell incomplete.
Brent Hawkins made a solid defensive play, batting away a pass that Todd Bouman intended for Greg Estandia on a curl route. He was not fooled by the route, and was able to jump the pass and knock it down quickly.
Cleo Lemon tried to connect deep down the sideline with Ryan Hoag. Brian Witherspoon and Gerald Sensabaugh were in tight coverage on the play, but Hoag was able to get behind them. As the ball was coming down, Sensabaugh was able to close the gap enough to knock it away.
11 x 11 (Part II):
Garrard connected on a dump off with Greg Jones along the sideline. On the play, Paul Spicer had beaten Maurice Williams, and if the contact was permitted, he would have registered a sack.
Matt Jones showed some great handiwork on a bullet from Todd Bouman. He was running a deep post pattern. It was a nifty little timing play. As soon as Jones came out of his break, he looked up and the ball was right there. He was able to get his hands up and make the catch despite the fact that Brian Witherspoon was right there in coverage.
Brian Witherspoon had one of his better practices tonight. During this drill, he was able to hang tight with Mike Walker on a deep post pattern, sticking with him stride-for-stride. The pass was thrown well, but Witherspoon made a terrific diving effort to knock the ball away.
Cleo Lemon hit John Broussard going over the middle in traffic for a twenty yard gain. Broussard was able to use his speed coming out of his cut to exploit a gap in the coverage, and Lemon put the ball right on target.
On one running play during the drill, the outcome was fairly unremarkable. Montell Owens carried the ball for a four yard gain off the left side behind Richard Collier. On the play, Quentin Groves was lined up against the mammoth tackle and Marcedes Lewis. I wanted to watch the match-up to see how Groves would do. Lewis ended up peeling off, but his contribution to the play did not compare to what Collier did to the rookie. Groves buckled like a cheap tent when Collier just came down on top of him. Pancakes anyone?
Lemon hit Matt Jones to finish the drill on a deep crossing pattern. Trae Williams was solid in coverage, but he was unable to get an angle on the bigger receiver. Jones juggled the pass, but held on to make a big play.
7 x 7 (Part I):
The first part of the 7 x 7 drill was focused on the short passing game. During the drill, Garrard hit Marcedes Lewis on a little curl route in front of Daryl Smith, and then came back and nailed Matt Jones between Reggie Nelson and Scott Starks. Again, Jones had to contend with Scott Starks trying his best to knock the ball out, but he held on this time.
Cleo Lemon threaded a pass in to Ryan Hoag with Gerald Sensabaugh tight enough to wear his jersey. Hoag’s slant pattern gave him the angle on the pass, but Sensabaugh almost got a hand on the pass. The receiver showed a nice bit of concentration in staying with the play.
D’Juan Woods ran a short crossing pattern and snagged a short pass from Cleo Lemon. Lemon went back to him on the next play on a little out pattern along the sideline, but Woods could not haul the pass in despite being on target.
7 x 7 (Red Zone):
Garrard targeted D’Juan Woods in the end zone on a little crossing patter. Drayton Florence was able to get a hand on the pass and knock it away.
David then went back to his reliable outlet, Dennis Northcutt, on a similar slant pattern. Garrard’s pass was delivered with some zip, but Northcutt let the ball come into his body instead of catching it with his hands. The ball hit him in the numbers and fell incomplete.
Cleo Lemon tried to connect with Mike Walker on a fade route, but overthrew him badly.
Lemon went right back to the fade, targeting the behemoth tight end, Charles Davis in the corner of the end zone over Scott Starks. Davis hauled in the pass with relative ease.
Todd Bouman tried to hit Matt Jones on a post route, but the pass was too far out in front of him to make the play. The timing was disrupted when Drayton Florence and Jones tangled up as he was making his break.
David tried to hit Dennis Northcutt again in the end zone. Justin Durant and Rashod Moulton were in tight coverage on the play, and managed to knock the ball down.
11 x 11 (Two Minute Drill):
David connected with Fred Taylor on a little hitch route with the blitz coming. Taylor took advantage of having an open secondary and turned the play into a big gain.
David ran a play similar to the fourth down run in the Pittsburgh playoff game. The defense was prepared, and the offensive line did not get the opportunity to hold, so the gain was a short one.
Todd Bouman dropped a screen pass off to Maurice Jones-Drew. The speedy back got behind his blockers and ripped off a long reception on the play as he got lost in the mix with the bigger players.
11 x 11 (Goal Line):
In the final drill of the night, Chauncey Washington got the first two shots at running the ball up the middle in an attempt to punch it in against the first and second team defensive lines. In the first instance, he was stuffed at the line by Paul Spicer and Rob Meier. On the next play, Tony McDaniel blew up the middle and stopped Washington short of the line of scrimmage.
David connected with John Broussard, who was covered by Gerald Sensabaugh. Broussard was right at the goal line, but Sensabaugh prevented him from turning it into a touchdown.
Garrard then came back to his favorite target, Dennis Northcutt, who had come open on a slant pattern hauling in an easy pass from David.
Lavarus Giles tried to punch one up the middle, but in the final play of the practice session, Brian Iwuh stepped in to plug up the hole and stop the back short of the line of scrimmage.
As I commit yet another notebook to the shelf, pack away my pens, and stow my binoculars for another year, I have had a great opportunity to get a feel for the 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars.
In years past, I have always come out of training camp with a high level of confidence in the fact that the team was moving in the right direction. Despite the injuries this season, I think that the team truly is poised to take the next step in their progression.
While training camp was certainly less rigorous than in years past, the reality is that it did not need to be a new Bataan Death March. This team came into training camp only needing to work on timing, and to develop chemistry. That appears to be progressing nicely.
The first thing anyone will notice when they see the Jaguars is how fast the defense looks compared to years past. The new adjustments made by Gregg Williams in the scheme really blend well with the very athletic players that the team puts on the field. The defense is much more aggressive, and the attacking style is clearly designed to constantly harass the quarterback. This was the Achilles heel for this team in 2007, and even with Derrick Harvey not on the field, the pass rush is noticeably improved.
It is also crystal clear that the pass rush is not just about the defensive ends. There are bodies coming from any possible direction on any given play. It is going to be a fun defense to watch. They do a great job of masking what they are brining, and then adjusting quickly before the ball is snapped.
We have seen some minor wrinkles over the past few days above what we already know about the blitz happy nature of Gregg Williams’s defensive scheme. While the defense is certainly a base 4-3, there are going to be many opportunities to see the defense throwing any number of combinations out there as they work to confuse the offense to gain an advantage.
On offense, it really does not matter which receivers are on the field. The offense will continue to be first and foremost about the running game. With the horses we have in the stable of backs, the Jaguars can pick from guys that will elude tackles, run right by them, or simply blow them up. The style runs the gamut.
The passing game will take the next step. It is difficult to get a good sense for just how different things will look, but after watching this offense for almost two weeks now, it is obvious that the passing game is going to be more vertical than it was last year.
The success of the passing game, and just how vertical it will be depends upon David Garrard gaining enough confidence in his receivers to get open, and in his own ability to hit them deep. I have no doubt that this will be a real emphasis over the next four pre-season games, as well as the remainder of training camp. The team is going to push hard to build his confidence in the deep pass. As the injured group of receivers makes their way back to the field, I have no doubt that we will start to see the offense really take hold.
It may not start out of the gate as an offensive juggernaut, but I do believe that it will probably start to click very early on in the season.
2008 is going to be a very special year for the city of Jacksonville, and for their hometown Jaguars.