There is something about the first padded practice that gets the fans excited, and they turned out in big numbers tonight as more than 3,600 made their way through the turnstiles to watch the Oklahoma drills, and to enjoy a little football action as the Jaguars wrapped up the fourth day of training camp.
The usual suspects spent a good portion of the session practicing with the training staff. This includes Maurice Jones-Drew, Terrence Knighton, and Aaaron Kampmann, who did put on the pads and participate in individual drills, but went back to the trainers for the squad drills. A new addition to this list was Derek Cox, who did not pad up for the practice, and did not partake in any drills.
Let's get to those drills.
For a team starved for tradition, the first padded contact drills of training camp have become one of those annual moments Jaguar fans look forward to as eagerly as kids do Christmas. For Jaguar fans, this is the official beginning of the football season, and this particular set of Oklahoma match-ups were a great way to get things going in 2011.
Since the drills themselves have been documented by others, video included, I will simply talk about some of the highlights.
Austen Lane has been having a great camp so far, but being dominant in shorts and shells is a lot different than when the pads go on. He did not miss a beat as he and Eben Britton locked horns three times in the drill, and lane came away with a 2-1 advantage, including a punch and move that left Britton blocking air as Lane blew through the block to get to Richard Murphy.
D'Anthony Smith looked okay during his set, but he was clearly over-matched going up against Uche Nwaneri in his first contact of training camp. He is still getting his legs out there. He struggled to wrangle Nwaneri in a head-to-head battle.
Tyson Alualu had a good set against rookie guard, Will Rackley. Alualu was able to get the advantage on two of the three attempts, but the rookie was able to work him to a side to create a hole for DuJuan Harris.
Scott Lutrus was impressive in the drills going against Zach Miller. Lutrus beat Miller in 2 of 3 attempts with pure force including one play where he locked up Miller with one arm while hooking the running back with the other.
11x11 (Part 1):
The session was split into two segments. The first one being the normal 11 x 11 drill, and then rolling into a two minute drill.
None of the quarterbacks looked particularly sharp during this drill. They had their moments, but they also struggled at times to get the ball out because the coverage was tight and the pass rush was getting into the backfield, particularly when Austen Lane and Tyson Alualu were on the field. Both were having little trouble getting through the line and disrupting the play.
In the first portion, David showed some rust as he attempted to hit Jarett Dillard, and the pass was thrown short and behind the receiver incomplete.
Blaine Gabbert misfired overthrowing his receivers a couple of times along the sideline.
They transitioned into a two minute drill, and the sloppy offensive play continued. In one instance, Gabbert struggled with the snap from under center, fumbling the ball before he had control over it. He covered it up, but it exposed a concern that most have had since he was drafted . We will have to see how that progresses.
D'Anthony Smith erased the Oklahoma performance on back-to-back plays in the 11 x 11 drills. In each play, the offense tried to push the ball up the middle, only to be greeted behind the line of scrimmage by Smith, who gobbled up Montell Owens and Deji Karim on successive plays.
David Garrard tried to go to Dontrelle Inman on a sideline pass for a nice gain, but Rashean Mathis was able to jump the pass and knock it away as it got to the target. Garrard came back on the next play attempting to get a short slant to Rashad Jennings, but the pass was thrown short and fell incomplete.
Cecil Shorts made a nice catch on a deep post. Luke McCown delivered a beautiful pass to him in double coverage, but Shorts fumbled as he turned it up field. It could have been disastrous, but Cecil was able to fall on the ball and cover it up to prevent the turnover and to convert a big gain on the play.
Greg Ellingson and Luke McCown connected on the play of the practice session when Ellingson made a diving grab on a deep sideline pass from McCown that was just out in front of the receiver and over the top of Cole Brodie. He showed great concentration on the play to haul it in cleanly while fully laid out. The only way it would have been any better is if it ended up a touchdown, but the 45 yards it did generate was a big hit with the fans.
Russell Allen made a great play cutting off a slant pattern from Luke McCown targeting Montell Owens. Allen cut off the route and batted the pass away.
Jacob Cutera did a solid job of covering Richard Murphy. Blaine Gabert hit Murphy along the sideline, but Cutera timed it perfectly nailing the running back and jarring the ball loose as he was making the catch.
11x11 (2 minute drill):
Things finally started to clean up as they continued with the two minute drills. David Garrard set the tone by connecting on a 30 yard pass along the sideline to Jarett Dillard. Two plays later he connected with Nate Hughes on a post route in the end zone for a touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Blaine Gabbert finally got on task and sharpened his game. After a Brock Bolen running play got stuffed at the line, Gabbert went deep to Jamar Newsome who had come across the entire field and made the grab on a reception that went for more than 30 yards.
He capped the drive off with a perfectly delivered fade to Armon Binns over the top of Kevin Rutland. Binns made a terrific leaping grab on the play outreaching Rutland to make the catch.
7x7 (Red Zone):
Rashad Jennings got a little good luck as a pass that bounced off of his hands wound up being hauled in by Zach Miller near the goal line, preventing Garrard's pass from being intercepted.
Garrard connected with Mike Thomas on the next play for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
David Garrard tried to connect with Montell Owens in the back of the end zone. Owens was covered pretty tightly, but the pass was thrown short and wound up incomplete. Had Garrard looked to his right on the play, he would have seen that Rod Isaac had fallen down along the sideline, and Cecil Shorts was standing basically alone in the end zone. He could have thrown the ball underhanded and made the play.
Gabbert connected with Zach Miller, putting the pass into a very tight window in double coverage on the goal line. Miller made a great effort to hang on after T.J. Heath and Terrell Whitehead converged on the ball on the goal line.
David Garrard tried to force a pass into coverage to Zach Miller, but the ball was picked off in the process.
Garrard came back and hit Greg Jones and Jarett Dillard on back-to-back touchdowns.
Luke McCown hit Cecil Shorts and Jamal Newsome for touchdowns on back to back plays.
11 x 11 (Part 3):
David Garrard continued to have a solid practice, hitting Cecil Shorts on a 20 yard pass to the sideline.
Garrard came back and hit Zach Miller for another long pass play when Chris Prosinski fell down in coverage.
Gabbert came out and misfired on a pass that was intended for Dontrelle Inman or Tiquan Underwood. It fell in between the two in the seam, but neither had a shot at the pass. He came back on the next play and connected on a deep pass with Cecil Shorts along the sideline.
Austen Lane continued to shine throughout the practice session, but was most disruptive in this particular drill where he flushed all three quarterbacks out of the pocket. For Gabbert and McCown, he forced them to simply pull the ball down and run with it because the receivers were not getting open on the plays, and the rush was blowing up the line. Larry Hart even got in on the action buy putting pressure on the quarterbacks.
David connected with Dontrelle Inman on a deep crossing pattern that went for more than 20 yards.
Blaine Gabbert connected with Kassim Osgood on a deep post route over the top of Kevin Rutland. If contact on the quarterback was allowed, Larry Hart would have gotten a sack, but Gabbert was able to roll out of it and make the play.
Gabbert ended practice on a low note as he was chased out of the backfield by Slade Norris. Before Norris could get to him, Gabbert fumbled the ball away.
The defense stepped it up nicely this evening. There was a lot of pressure being applied to the quarterbacks, and it did impact their ability to make plays. All three quarterbacks struggled at times with the pass rush. Austen Lane continues to have a great camp, showing diverse technique in getting around the end.
When the free agent signings are permitted to participate in camp, things should get very interesting in some critical areas. The overall defense WILL be improved in 2011 as a result of these acquisitions, and because of the maturation of some of the younger players like Tyson Alualu, who is also having a solid camp.