It was a warm 90 degrees in the Florida sun as the Jacksonville Jaguars opened Mini-Camp. By all accounts, every player was in attendance; however, three players did not participate. Tight end Zach Miller was nursing a foot injury, as he had a boot on his left foot. Head coach Jack Del Rio didn't elaborate what the injury was, other than to say he was fine. The other two players who did not participate were fullback Greg Jones and defensive end Aaron Kampman, both of which were taking it slow after coming off injuries last season. Kampman was rehabbing his knee while Greg Jones was rehabbing his ankle.There were close to 1,600 fans in attendance for the first session of mini-camp, which is a pretty good number of fans considering the Jaguars had what most national people referred to as a non-exciting draft last week. Oddly enough, the biggest round of applause for a player was when rookie 10th overall selection Tyson Alualu made his way on to the football field. He was greeted with a loud cheer and calls of "ALUALU!" as he ran onto the field with a big smile on his face.
Before I get into the details of what was really a non-eventful day of camp in terms of news, I want to say first and foremost this was the first day of camp, so don't read too much into what happened. Hopefully many of you who attended were able to read my Guide to Mini-Camp and made some good observations.
Now, on to what happened.
All three of the quarterbacks looked as about expected, somewhat rusty and erratic. David Garrard early on in camp was sailing some passes and giving the wide receivers extra difficult passes on the sideline. As the practice went on however, David Garrard settled down and looked like his normal self. Back up Luke McCown however, was actually pretty impressive. He showed a much stronger arm than I expected during a lot of the drills, and his throws were effortless. Undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Harris from Edinboro looked alright, from what little action he had. During the drills he showed a very quick release and good arm strength. He hit some pretty passes down the seem, although some of them did seem to float just a bit.
Being traded during the season, Week 1 of last year, it was kind of trying to learn the game plan every week, not necessarily learn the system. I'm really enjoying and looking forward to getting into the rest of this off-season. Really diving into the nuances of this system, it's different than any system I've ever been in. Run first, play action, and throw the ball down the field type deal, and I feel like I can be good at it. - Luke McCown after the first day of practice
Luke looks like he can be good at it, as he was probably the most consistent quarterback on the field today. Like I said however, it's only the first day of camp without any pads. There will be some that speculate with a full season and off-season under his belt, Luke McCown could push David Garrard in training camp and pre-season this year, which is something that's been sorely missing at the quarterback position since 2007; Competition.
David's the starter. He's the starter. That means I've got to be ready to play if called upon, one way or the other. With that said, that doesn't keep me from competing. When I get a rep, when I get on the field, I go at it like I'm the starter. That's the way I've always prepared, and I've always said if I don't prepare that way, I'm doing a disservice to my teammates who are out there. They deserve someone to be prepared and ready to play and help them win a ball game. - Luke McCown, when asked about his expectations this season
Outside of watching how the quarterbacks performed, I was able to watch some of the wide receivers. For the second year in a row the Jaguars have quite a bit of competition at the wide receiver position and it may be difficult to cut. Mike Sims-Walker had the catch of the day early, with a twisting 1-handed grab on the sideline from a pass thrown by David Garrard. He latched on to the ball with his hand and brought it in to his body, and he made it look easy. Sims-Walker continued to impress all during practice, as he had done in years past. This season however, is the first time in his NFL career he's coming off a season where he was healthy and able to play all 16 games.
It felt great man. I told them [the Jaguars] before last season, I said no more excuses man. The first couple of years I had all the potential in the world, I was coming to practice being one of the best out here. It never showed up on Sunday though, be it injury, or death, or whatever the case may be. So I don't want no one making excuses for me this year. I just went out there with a clear mind and did it. - Mike Sims-Walker, on getting to camp after an injury free season.
Some of the other wide receivers stood out, too. Mike Thomas routinely turned around defensive backs in one-on-one match ups with his superb route running. Jarett Dillard caught everything in sight, and Kassim Osgood looked pretty good. The only thing that really stood out with Osgood is that he looks awkward running, almost lumbering. It's not too bad, because he still shows flashes of speed for his size, but it just looks so unnatural. Wide receivers coach Todd Monken was working with him heavily on polishing his routes, so that will be something to watch at later camps and in training camp. Troy Williamson, the pre-season enigma, also looked pretty good. He had an early drop, but after that caught everything thrown to him if he wasn't being shoved to the ground on a deep pass. That happened twice during the 11x11 drills. Williamson would be on the verge of breaking free from the coverage as the ball was put into the air and the defensive back took him to the ground both times. If nothing else, it would have been two easy pass interference calls.
One quick note on the offensive line, often the 3-lineman inside were rotated between Uche Nwaneri, Brad Meester, Vince Manuwai, and Kynan Forney. When Forney would come in, he would be at left guard, with Nwaneri at center, and Manuwai at right guard. Keep an eye on that battle.
Defensively, there isn't a lot to tell in mini-camp. The only real noticeable thing was the complete overhaul on the defensive side of the ball. Tyson Alualu was plugged in with the first team right away and showed his explosion off the snap of the ball, without any pads mind you. Kirk Morrison was vocal in the middle of the defense barking out the calls and changing the plays, making sure everyone was lined up correctly on the defense. One interesting thing however, was that Reggie Nelson never worked with the first team defense. As I said, it's only Day 1, but that will be an interesting storyline to watch as the off-season progresses. The safeties with the first team defense were Gerald Alexander and Anthony Smith, both of which were acquired last season.
Normally I would like to do a rookie report during mini-camp, but all of the draft picks but one were on the defensive side of the ball. All I can really say, is that Alualu and D'Anthony Smith are explosive off the snap, and Austen Lane is a giant man. A free agent rookie to keep an eye on is Norfolk State safety Terell Whitehead. He intercepted a Luke McCown pass during what was supposed to be one-on-one drills. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told him to jump the route if he could on the play, which Whitehead did, and was abruptly met with a "Hey man! Not fair!" by the intercepted quarterback.
All in all, today was pretty uneventful. It was the first day of Mini-Camp, so it was nice to be on the sidelines watching football, even though it was incredibly hot outside. The Jaguars look to be a young football team eager to work, so the rest of this off-season should be an interesting one to watch. I won't be at the morning session tomorrow, but I will be there in the afternoon. Look for another report following that practice.