JACKSONVILLE – We move on today to the rookies.
2014 Jaguars Training Camp approaches and we at jaguars.com are taking a look at camp storylines around the roster that will influence the season – and the future. And while it likely will take time for the ’14 rookie class to make its full impact, the players in the class certainly will be under the microscope when training camp opens on July 25.
The 2014 draft class is Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell’s second since joining the organization in the 2013 offseason. It is a group that likely eventually will be more high-profile than his first class, including as it does a first-round quarterback and two second-round wide receivers.
Early-drafted skill players raise a rookie class’ profile, and that doubtless will be the case this year.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean immediate on-field impact, and in the case of this year’s draft class, the full impact likely will come later rather than sooner. Quarterback Blake Bortles is expected to begin the season as a reserve behind starter Chad Henne, and fourth-round cornerback Aaron Colvin is expected to begin training camp and the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Bortles and Colvin are expected to be starters sooner rather than later, but not immediately, so the ’14 class without question had more of a futuristic feel than the previous year’s. Much of the ’13 class, drafted in the first year of the building process, played immediately. Caldwell said ideally that will happen less as the roster grows deeper and stronger, though there certainly will be rookies from the 2014 class who play – and perhaps start – immediately.
A look at five rookies from the 2014 draft class to watch when training camp begins:
1) Blake Bortles, quarterback. This is very much a futuristic entry, though it’s no doubt an important one. Despite outside speculation and disbelief, Bortles – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft from the University of Central Florida – is not expected to start entering training camp. Bortles may not start at all this season, with the idea being for him to work behind starter Chad Henne and start when he’s ready. Bortles will continues the process he followed during training camp, working to solidify footwork and fundamentals and also working to learn the Jaguars’ offense. Bortles looked very much like a rookie at times in the offseason, with some well-documented difficult practices as well as a significant number in which he showed progress. It’s reasonable to think that will continue in training camp. That’s what being a rookie is about, and it’s why the Jaguars aren’t pressuring him to start immediately.
2) Marqise Lee, wide receiver. The first of the Jaguars’ two second-round 2014 draft selections, Lee has yet to sign his rookie contract, but the NFL’s rookie wage scale should prevent that issue from lingering into training camp. A bigger issue for Lee – who played collegiately at Southern California – is how rapidly he will be able to learn the offense, and adjust to route-running and the intricacies needed to be a successful receiver at the NFL level. Lee – who missed most of the Jaguars’ on-field offseason work with an ankle injury – eventually is expected to be the dynamic, big-play wide receiver the Jaguars’ offense often has lacked in recent seasons. But the receiver position is one where development requires time. Look for Lee to get a steady dose of wide receiver coach Jerry Sullivan when training camp opens.
3) Allen Robinson, wide receiver. We didn’t copy and paste the above entry here, but we could have come close. Many of the issues facing Lee will face Robinson, the second of the Jaguars’ two second-round selections. Robinson, who played at Penn State, missed much of the Jaguars’ on-field offseason work with a hamstring injury, though he was impressive during his brief time on the field during the team’s two-day rookie camp. Robinson showed natural hands, and caught the ball well and he appears to have the size to be an ideal complement to Lee’s game-breaking ability. But as is the case with Lee, learning the details necessary to be a successful receiver takes time. Robinson will hear more than his share of Sullivan’s voice in late July and early August, too.
4) Brandon Linder, offensive guard. We’ll probably cover Linder pretty extensively when we start previewing position battles, because he figures to be a focal point of a big one – maybe even The Big One. The Jaguars traded up in the third round to select Linder, in part because guards capable of starting early were coming off the board fast. The team also released Will Rackley, a 2011 third-round draft choice who started 11 games last season, shortly after Linder’s selection. He will compete with veteran Jacques McClendon at the right guard position in training camp, but it’s hard to project anything other than Linder starting significantly sooner rather than later.
5) Telvin Smith, linebacker. If there was a standout rookie on defense during the on-field portion of the Jaguars’ offseason, Smith may have been it. Smith showed good quickness, speed and pursuit to the ball. He is a confident, active player whose athleticism stands out quickly. The issues for Smith are size and experience. He likely needs to put weight on his 6-feet-3, 218-pound frame, and he may need seasoning before he’s ready to start, but it’s not hard to imagine Smith in the long-term as a playmaking outside linebacker opposite the new “Otto” position in Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley’s defense.