JACKSONVILLE – Here’s What We Learned from the first full week of Jaguars 2014 Training Camp and Saturday’s mock game at EverBank Field …
1. Blake Bortles is progressing … If there is a dominant storyline from the first full week of Jaguars training camp, that’s it – that the rookie No. 3 overall selection is taking significant strides. He struggled at times in organized team activities, and those struggles got a lot of attention – primarily because he is a Top 10 drafted quarterback and also because he was candid when discussing them. But remember, those were expected, and he’s not expected to be fully developed in this training camp, either. But what he has been in this training camp is far more consistent than he was in the on-field offseason work. He is showing good pocket presence and the ability to make the right reads. So far, so good …
2. … and he showed up in the mock game … Bortles unofficially went 9-for-13 for 79 yards in the mock game, and threw two touchdown passes in goal-line drills. He also led the game’s most impressive drive, starting it with a 26-yard, over-the-shoulder pass to Mike Brown and nearly finishing it with a back-shoulder touchdown pass to Brown in the red zone. The back-shoulder touchdown was called back because officials ruled Brown would have been tackled in a real game, but Bortles’ drive – which included another 15-yard pass and a 32-yard defensive pass interference penalty – was impressive.
3. … and he’s still not the starter. There were Twitter rumblings late Saturday about Bortles starting Week 1. No. Chad Henne is the starter and Bortles is the backup and a mock game isn’t going to change that.
4. Henne so far is solid. Yes, fans crave more than “solid,” but considering the circumstance Saturday, solid was very, very acceptable from Henne. He not only was working behind an offensive line that’s still coming together, but he was without starting running back Toby Gerhart and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Cecil Shorts III. Henne started the mock game 5-for-5, and though most of his passes Saturday were shorter, intermediate throws, the offense had good tempo early and Henne looked sharp. A decent start considering the circumstances.
5. The defensive line looks active. A mock game isn’t the end-all gauge on a defensive line, but free-agent signee Chris Clemons appeared to get pressure, and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks remains a disruptive force. The defensive line is supposed to be a strength this year. So far, that’s the case.
6. Brandon Linder is ahead in the right guard race. We won’t say he has won the starting job, but he’s apparently real, real close to it. The rookie from the University of Miami began taking extensive first-team repetitions late in on-field offseason work and he worked with the first team before he was sidelined by a foot injury late last week. He’s day-to-day, so he likely won’t be out long. When he returns, look for him to be running mostly with the starters.
7. The center situation is still uncertain. Mike Brewster is the starter there, and worked with first team Saturday. Jacques McClendon, who worked with starters at right guard in the offseason, spent time at center this past week, taking reps with the first team there before working at guard in Linder’s absence. There still could be competition at center spot during the preseason.
8. Allen Robinson appears to have a chance to be really good … Yes, he’s out an extended period of time with a hamstring, and yes, a second hamstring issue in a little more than two months is worrisome. But Robinson was playing at a very high level – particularly for a rookie wide receiver – and it’s hard to imagine a week and a half in that Robinson won’t be pretty productive when healthy.
9…. so does Marqise Lee. He’s a different style than Robinson, relying more on quickness and dynamic, play-making ability to get open. But he has started to get his feet under him in the last week. He has had more drops than is ideal, but that’s not abnormal for a rookie – and with the ball in his hands, he appears to be special.
10. LaRoy Reynolds is getting better and better. The Jaguars have liked the second-year veteran’s athleticism and power since he signed as a collegiate free agent last offseason. With veteran Dekoda Watson on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Reynolds is working with the first team at the Otto linebacker spot, and the buzz around Reynolds gets louder. Watson’s still the starter, but it appears Reynolds is turning into a good, reliable reserve and good teams have those.
11. Thinness is an issue at receiver again. Shorts and Robinson are out with hamstring issues. Ace Sanders is out addressing personal issues. Tandon Doss is out with ankle injury. After having seven receivers out at times in the offseason, the Jaguars are down in front-line numbers again. That gives players such as Mike Brown, Allen Hurns and Kerry Taylor opportunities. Hurns has looked good, but the front-line guys – Shorts and Robinson in particular – are key. They’re expected to be back before the season. The Jaguars need that to be the case.
12. Dwayne Gratz and Johnathan Cyprien are as advertised. You know how we spent much of the offseason talking about how Gratz and Cyprien ought to be improved entering Year Two? Well, they are. Gratz continues to have a very consistent camp at corner and plays with experience beyond his years. Cyprien at strong safety is active and quick to the ball. The best for this duo appears to be ahead.
13. Scobee’s still Scobee. Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee converted three of three field goals from 54, 27 and 36 yards in the mock game. He had a 64-yarder in practice early in the week. He has been dependable and consistent for a long, long time and it appears that’s still the case.
14. The boards are still cool. They weren’t the headlines this weekend as they were at last weekend’s “Mega Event” at EverBank Field, but if you were at the ‘Bank for either the Bold City Brigade/Void Magazine party Friday or Saturday’s scrimmage you can’t help but be struck by the magnitude of their effect on the game-day experience. They’re big, real, spectacular and cool – and the ‘Bank is a very different place because of them.