It was downright hot at the Florida Blue practice facility for the first open-to-the-public practice session of the 2012 season, and the first official open practice of the Mike Mularkey / Shad Khan Era. As expected, because of the time of day the practice was scheduled, the crowd was lighter than the traditional first day crowd, but still several hundred fans strong to see the new-look Jaguars take the field for what could best be described as a light workout.
It was the typical first practice of training camp, replete with the usual drops, misdirected passes, stumbles, and blatant muffs. There were also a few highlights worth mentioning in the drills. The format was definitely tweaked from what we had grown accustomed to under Jack Del Rio. The practice was frontloaded with a lot of individual and unit drills, and then finished up with a progression of team drills.
The injured players who were on the field working with the trainers, but not participating fully in the practices included Zach Miller, who naturally had his leg heavily iced and wrapped for most of practice, Uche Nwaneri, Cameron Bradfield, and Terrance Knighton (who did participate in some drills but not all).
Players who were not seen on the field during practice included Naufahu Tahi (who reportedly left the team earlier in the day for ‘personal reasons’), Clint Session (still dealing with concussion issues and not seen on the field during practice), Maurice Jones-Drew (contract), and Justin Blackmon (contract).
Now, let’s get to the drills.
There were just a few notable things to mention going back to my original point about the somewhat sloppy nature of practice today. The guys were having a tough time getting consistent footing on their cuts. On several occasions, when receivers were expected to make quick cuts or sudden change of direction, they ended up slipping as the turf gave way. That was not the sole cause of the issues, but it did account for a good number of mishaps during practice.
There were a few receivers who struggled to get a handle on the football throughout practice. Some of them started out sloppy, but settled in with reps. When it came to the veterans like Laurent Robinson, any time he did make a mistake, he would reinsert himself in the rotation on the next play to fix that mistake. Normally, once the guy finishes his play, he goes to the back of the line, but Robinson was quick to reset after dropping a catchable pass on a little curl route that hit him squarely in the hands.
Other players who suffered multiple drops included Cecil Shorts (most of his drops came on errant throws), Mike Brown, and Charles Gilbert who both seemed to fight the ball at times. Both also made some decent plays later in practice to gain a little redemption.
Gabbert took a shot on the first play in the drill, going deep to Mike Thomas down the sideline. The pass was a little ahead of the receiver and off his hands. Aaron Ross was in tight coverage down the sideline trailing Thomas the entire way.
Chad Henne attempted to hit Laurent Robinson on a short sideline pass. The ball was thrown high and behind Robinson. He made a great adjustment to get back to the ball, but he could not quite haul it in.
Gabbert went to Cecil Shorts on a crossing pattern. The ball was knocked out of Shorts hands by William Middleton almost as quickly as he caught it. After the play, Shorts got an earful from Jerry Sullivan, his position coach who was yelling that he “has got to make that play!”
Brian Robiskie joined the chorus of drops on a perfectly thrown pass on a crossing route. Gabbert couldn’t have placed it any better if he’d walked it out there and handed it to Robiskie, but he still managed to drop the pass.
Gabbert did connect on a deep sideline pass where Mike Brown had to turn around to make the play on the pass because it was slightly short, possibly by design. T.J. Heath was right there in coverage, but Brown made a great effort to hang on to the pass for a long completion.
Gabbert hit Chastin West in tight coverage on a comeback. West was able to plant and make a great cut, shaking Aaron Ross enough to get open to make the play. Afterward, Mel Tucker took Ross aside to give him some pointers on dealing with that situation.
Blaine Gabbert connected with Kevin Elliot on a deep sideline pass over the top of Kevin Rutland. The coverage was there, but the pass was thrown just enough in front of the receiver to allow him to go get it and beat Rutland to the pass.
Cecil Shorts had a high/low light on the same play. Chad Henne went deep to Shorts, but the pass was thrown slightly behind Cecil, possibly by design. Shorts made a terrific adjustment to get back to the ball, wrestling it away from coverage in the process. When he turned to run with the ball, he fumbled it away. Dawan Landry was there to scoop up his generous gift.
11x11 (Round 1):
Dawan Landry made his presence known on the first pay in the full squad drill. Gabbert targeted Mike Thomas out of the slot on a little slant. Landry stepped in and batted the pass away.
Gabbert then went to Laurent Robinson on nice little out route. Robinson made the catch and turned to go up field when the ball was forced out. The fumble was recovered by the defense.
Chad Henne hit Cecil Shorts on back-to-back plays in which Shorts had to make significant adjustments as the passes were both errant. One required a diving grab.
Gabbert let fly with a pass that was delivered slightly over the hands of Laurent Robinson, who tipped the pass. This tip wound up being intercepted by Dwight Lowery, who was in deep coverage behind Robinson on the play.
We had our first D’Anthony Smith sighting of training camp. On one particular play, Smith completely blew through the defensive line to stuff a rushing attempt by DuJuan Harris. Smith looked okay out there, and the burst on that particular play must have been a confidence builder for him as he really got off the line quickly.
Gabbert attempted to connect with Colin Cloherty on a quick sideline route, but the ball unfortunately hit Cloherty squarely in the chest, bouncing off and falling incomplete.
Blaine tried to stretch the field, but the deep option was Mike Thomas. The deep sideline pass fell incomplete despite the fact that Kevin Rutland was almost in position, a full step ahead of Mike Thomas. He tried to intercept the pass, but Thomas was able to jolt him enough to prevent that from happening.
Cecil Shorts continued his diving ways, snagging a pass delivered low and away by Chad Henne (the guy has accuracy issues). Shorts dove after the ball going over the middle and made a great catch to complete the play.
Jordan Palmer does not have a big arm, which made it even more impressive that he was able to deliver a pass into the hands of Chastin West on a quick slant with enough heat that West allowed it to bounce off his hands and fall incomplete.
Lee Evans made a nice catch on a deep sideline pass between two defenders. The Henne pass was on target, splitting Courtney Green and T.J. Heath, and Evans was able to snag the pass and get out of bounds.
11x11 (Round 2):
This drill was focused on the running game. So, I will focus on the individual players and how they looked rather than bother with who ran where.
The running backs looked okay. It is tough to get a real sense of how they are progressing because of the fact that this was a shell and helmet practice where the contact was pretty limited. So, they were all blowing up holes because the defenders could not apply the necessary hit to stop that from happening.
Rashad Jennings looks quick. The burst we noticed last season in camp is still there, and he clearly has the upper hand in any sort of competition.
DuJuan Harris still looks like a guy who has no problems going in between the tackles and banging it out, but he does not have that burst that gets a guy through the hole quickly.
Montell Owens looks good out there when they give him the ball. He has good acceleration into the line, and has proven to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Jalen Parmele had a few nice runs today. He did enough to catch my attention on more than one occasion, particularly when he broke to the outside. He’s quick to the turn, and shows good acceleration once he makes his cut. Again, it may just be the fact that they are not really hitting yet, and not mad skill.
Richard Murphy even showed signs of being a viable speed guy as he was able to show some nice quickness to get outside, and then burst to turn it up the field. However, there were a couple of defenders who probably could have cut his jaunt short if contact was allowed.
Greg Jones did get to catch a few passes out of the backfield. He is as solid as ever back there.
During this drill there was one play in particular where Gabbert dropped back to pass, pump faked, and handed the ball off to Murphy. The pump froze the defense long enough to give Murphy a lane to get through. He exploited it perfectly for a substantial gain.
One of the final plays of the drill was a notable defensive play by Kendrick Adams. He rolled into the back field and stuffed the run attempt. Gabbert made a heads up adjustment, rolled away from the rush, and went to his outlet receiver, DuJuan Harris, who turned what would have been a busted play into a short gain.
It was a somewhat sloppy first effort, but you can see there is a considerable amount of coaching going on that was not last year. The coaches are constantly interacting with the players in all units, and there’s a real focus on getting the little details ironed out quickly.
As far as the running back situation goes, with Jones-Drew out for now, it is difficult to think they will stick with the current crop exclusively. I suspect they will look at what is available and grab a guy for insurance in the event that this holdout is prolonged into the season. We shall see how that scenario plays itself out.
Mel Tucker is really hands on with his guys. When they make a mistake, they hear about it, but he then takes them aside to work through what happened and to offer tips on fixing the problems.
Terrance Knighton is clearly trimmer, but he’s still very much bottom heavy, which is good. He was moving around out there extremely well in the drills he did participate in.
Eben Britton was running with the first team the entire practice, and didn’t seem to be suffering any lingering effects from his injury. We’ll see how the wear and tear of practice grinds on him.
Zach Miller walking around with a bag of ice on his leg for the first session of practice is yet another bit of frustration. When he is healthy, he has the potential to be an impact playmaker for this team. But, the opportunities to see that happen are quickly running out for him. If he cannot stay healthy, he needs to go.
I am also a little concerned about Clint Session not being out there. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that he may not be able to get back on the field for this team, and that is indeed a shame if it comes to fruition.