The Jacksonville Jaguars opened their first on-field activities open to the media this weekend with its rookie minicamp, giving coaches, fans and observers a first look at the team’s rookie class, including a few veterans and tryout players, too.
It was the first time that Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson was able to get out onto the field and get a feel for his incoming players, players that’ll be counted on during the season.
“We’re trying to really also see what these guys can do,” Pederson said on Friday, the first day of the team’s three-day rookie minicamp.
“We want to challenge them in the classroom and then obviously take it to the practice field and let them really kind of showcase their talent and let them play fast, protect each other out there,just learn how we do things here. [Those] are all things I’m looking for these next few days.”
Though Pederson has been out on the field previously, working with the team’s veterans during their minicamp, he was excited to see the team’s newcomers, players that will be competing for spots on the 90-man roster. They were able to do it and will conclude with a shorter practice on May 15, without the veterans around.
“It’s a weekend right now where the rookies don’t have to feel the pressure of veterans being around them and we can focus on them and get them sort of caught up and then come Monday we’re all together as a squad and continue the phase two,” Pederson said.
“It’s an exciting time, an exciting time for me and obviously for our organization.”
The nature of a minicamp, a practice without pads and without any contact during his phase of the offseason, there’s not too much to glean from it. However, seeing the players back out there running around and the newly drafted players touching the grass, gave a bit of context as to why the team selected or signed them in the first place.
Here are some observations and notes from the Jaguars’ rookie minicamp:
Travon Walker is all business, looks the part
Before anyone gets up in arms, we get that it’s just a minicamp; the players are not in pads, and there isn’t any contact at all. But, physically you can still get plenty of insight into how a player might fare when the pads get in. And simply put, Walker looked like a man amongst boys on the gridiron at TIAA Bank Field.
Walker worked off to the side with outside linebacker coach Bill Shuey and fellow rookie OLB Da’Shaan Dixon out of Norfolk State. The Jaguars’ brass - Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke -, stressed the need for Walker to play and learn just one position, and it appears that plan is coming to fruition.
Walker leaned in closely to Shuey as he barked out questions for him to answer about the responsibilities. Sometimes Walker would know it right away, sometimes he wouldn’t, but the progress that’s being made as he makes his way through the team’s playbook is clear.
During 7-on-7 drills, Walker looked fluid on both days that were open to the media, able to drop back in coverage with ease and show off his quick reaction speed and explosion to close in on a perceived target. At one point on the first day of minicamp, Walker was assigned with dropping back to cover a running back.
Before fellow rookie, quarterback E.J. Perry could make the throw, Walker closed the gap, forcing Perry to go to another target.
The physical appearance and fluidity should be enough to excite people - for now.
Walker is listed at 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, and he looks every bit of that.
On Friday, Walker indicated that he feels he’s getting more comfortable at outside linebacker as the days go on. Now able to just focus on the one position.
“I kind of always dibbled and dabbled in the outside linebacker world,” Walker said on Friday. “But just strictly working on outside linebacker things in practice I feel like I’m truly getting more comfortable with the position, learn a lot more techniques coming from that position and not have to learn so many different other positions.”
No obvious injuries over the weekend
Really, the most important aspect of the Jaguars’ minicamp this weekend was the fact that none of the players who participated appeared to get injured. In fact, there were very few moments when the players were even on the ground in general. Coming out of this weekend injury-free was part of Pederson’s goal.
“Obviously, we want to get out healthy, no injuries. We make a point of emphasis of that,” Pederson said Friday.
The Jaguars were able to do just that - at least it appeared to be the case.
A couple of UDFA pass-catchers stand out
No need to put a disclaimer here yet again, but a couple of players who were brought in to catch passes had impressive showings over the past couple of days.
UDFA receiver LuJuan Winningham out of Central Arkansas made several impressive grabs over the middle of the field on Saturday, as did UDFA tight end Naz Bohannon - a former Clemson basketball player.
Former Clemson basketball player Naz Bohannon working with the tight ends at Jaguars rookie minicamp pic.twitter.com/dxl2WlpUIS— Jamal St. Cyr (@JStCyrTV) May 14, 2022
Though UDFA WR Kevin Austin out of Notre Dame has been the talk of the town since he signed, Winningham also looked the part, showing off strong hands throughout the day, giving credit where its due for a player that wasn’t spoken about much prior to the draft and even following the draft when he signed in Jacksonville.
Pederson made mention of Austin when asked about the young player and the fact that he only was able to play for essentially one year at Notre Dame, was suspended for a year, and injured during another.
“He was always a guy, a talented player obviously as receiver, and [we’re] just excited really to have gotten him in here and to really go to work with him. Again, with all these young guys, we just want to see how much they can take from the classroom to the field to showcase their talent and really begin the competition process.
“Obviously, he’s a guy that can do that and provide obviously the depth that we need at receiver, especially when you’re going into training camp to have numbers there. But yeah, [we’re] excited to work with him.”
Snoop Conner looks smooth during drills
Though the majority of the focus has - rightfully so - been on the team’s first couple of draft selections, Jaguars fifth-round pick, running back Snoop Conner out of Ole Miss, was able to make his presence felt during the team’s RB drills on Saturday.
He looked plenty smooth getting in and out of his breaks while route running, and showed quick feet for a man who is listed at 5-foot-10, 222 pounds. Conner is expected to be part of the team’s RB rotation this year with James Robinson and Travis Etienne coming back from injuries.
The Jaguars traded up for Conner, and so far he does look the part, drawing plenty of praise from RB coach Bernie Parmalee throughout the day.
LBs Chad Muma and Devin Lloyd are working in tandem
It’s safe to say that there’s already some building chemistry between the team’s two drafted linebackers - Lloyd, selected in the first round this year and Muma, selected in the third round (pick No. 70). The players routinely performed drills together and were with the first-team defense throughout the weekend.
They’d routinely bark outcalls and make adjustments on the fly as they heard them from the Jaguars’ coaches, giving them all of the knowledge they might need to suit up as the offseason continues. Both players looked comfortable, though it was a bit of an adjustment for Lloyd as he transitions to a 3-4 defense.
“This is my first time in a 3-4, but I love it.” Lloyd said on Saturday of the team’s defense. “I feel like if you look at the people that we have and we’re not even practicing with the vets or anything like that, but even the guys we have right now, everybody’s athletic.
“Everybody has to do a lot of things which fits to my skill set. I just love what the coaches have going on here as far as what they’re asking the players to do, how we’re attacking offenses, and really our mentality as a defense.”
Both Lloyd and Muma took time after practice each day to work on things they might have not been as sharp at during the day, showing off their maturity and eagerness to get better.
“We’re pushing each other to get better,” Lloyd said of Muma. “I mean even after practice we’re getting extra work and we're helping each other in the meeting rooms. Really, it’s just kind of being there for each other. We’re competing against each other but at the same time we’re both good people, so we want to see each other do better.”
On Friday, Muma made a point to talk about his and Lloyd’s relationship from a communication standpoint, emphasizing the importance of that even early on.
“From here on out it’s just to push each other every single day to really get ourselves better and always [have] that communication aspect where we’re making both the calls and we’re having that leadership on both sides of the defense. I think that was huge today also,” said Muma.
UDFA kicker Andrew Mevis connects on all field goals
Though he was kicking against air, and not from a holder on Saturday, undrafted free agency signee, Andrew Mevis, out of Iowa State, was able to connect on all of his practice field goals during the day. It was the first time the media were able to get a close look at Mevis since he didn’t do much kicking on Friday.
It’s not much, but it’s worth noting since the Jaguars released last year’s kicker, Matthew Wright, just a few days ago. It is expected that Mevis will be competing with veteran free-agent signee Ryan Santoso during training camp and beyond.
Owner Shad Khan makes an appearance
The Jaguars’ owner has been around the team’s facility more often during the Doug Pederson era, and Saturday was no different as Khan made an appearance out at practice to take a look at some of the newcomers on the team’s roster.
Khan wants transparency to be at the core of all that the Jaguars brass is about and it appears that this was just yet another opportunity for him to gain that, speaking with Pederson and Baalke throughout the practice.
UDFA TE Garrit Prince lays the boom in drills
Perhaps one of the more funny moments of the team’s rookie minicamp over the past two days, Prince, a UDFA out of UAB, was able to stand out after laying out one of the team’s assistants during a special teams/blocking drill. It earned a couple of oohs and ahhs from the crowd.