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Getting started, getting acclimated

Posted May 4, 2012

Rookie WR Justin Blackmon on first day of minicamp: “It’s just good to be back on the field”

The story behind the mystery is there’s no mystery.

And if why Justin Blackmon chose No. 14 after wearing No. 81 at Oklahoma State was among the pressing stories on Day 1 of the Jaguars’ three-day rookie minicamp, the 2012 first-round draft selection didn’t exactly see it that way.

Why No. 14?

To Blackmon, a better question was, “Why not?”

 “No specific reason,” Blackmon said. “I just looked at the number and thought it was different. I know I can play in any number and it’ll be fine. I just figured 14 was a good one to pick.”

Blackmon’s number was one of a variety of topics around EverBank Field Friday, a day he and 49 other rookies went through meetings in EverBank Field and an afternoon practice in 88 degree temperatures on the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice field adjacent to EverBank.

It was a day for learning, and a day for getting acclimated.

The day wasn’t just about Blackmon and the five other players drafted last weekend, a group that included second-round defensive end Andre Branch, who drew praise from defensive line coach Joe Cullen after his first practice.

It also was about the 17 players signed as undrafted free agents, and the 27 players signed on a workout basis to compete for a chance at one of the team’s 90 off-season roster positions.

The rookie camp format is new under the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In previous off-seasons, the first rookie camp following the draft often featured some roster players and a few workout invitees, but nowhere near the numbers in town this weekend.

A week ago, most of the players at EverBank were awaiting their NFL destination, and considering the newness for all involved, Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Friday was remarkably productive.

“It wasn’t as big of a cutdown on installation as people would have thought,” Mularkey said, adding that the while he limited repetitions compared to the recent veteran mini-camp, “They did better than you could have imagined for the first time with everyone being new. I didn’t think we were going to have the kind of tempo that we had.

“I was concerned a little about it, but it was better than we thought.”

Mularkey, as he did for veteran minicamp, limited the first day of rookie camp to one afternoon practice as opposed to a morning and afternoon session. The idea was to install as much as possible in the morning to be as productive in the afternoon as possible. The afternoon practice was essentially the same as the recent veteran workout, with individual drills, 7 on 7 and team drills.

“The drills we run, they critique every drill you do, in individuals and team,” rookie defensive end Ryan Davis said. “I feel like it’s really set up to excel at your position and the coaches can really spot you if you stand out.”

Said Blackmon, “It’s just good to be back on the field in general. Of course getting used to things is a process. So right now we’re trying to get everything down, get lined up right and trying to get out there and play without thinking.”

Mularkey said it may have been the hottest day of the off-season program, and players said the heat was definitely an issue.

 “The heat is different from what I usually deal with so I’m sweating more,” Blackmon said. “You get more fatigued out here on that turf and it’s just an adjustment. I’m sure I’ll adjust fine and slow the pace.”

Long Ding, a native of Qing Dao China who attended Norwich University in Vermont, said, “The weather is hot. Different from Vermont.”

Mularkey said that considering the heat, an offensive line with limited numbers did well. “We don’t have a lot of guys and they took a lot of reps,” Mularkey said. “They did a good job.”

While the drafted rookies and most of the free agents will be with the Jaguars throughout the off-season, most of the workout rookies will not, and none are guaranteed a roster spot after Sunday. A difficult task? Perhaps, but Mularkey said it’s not impossible.

“They have to make the most of every single play,” Mularkey said, adding that for those being evaluated, it’s about more than football.

He said he told the players in a Thursday meeting that “Everything about them is evaluated.”

“How do they dress?” Mularkey said. “Where do they sit in the team meeting room? I want to evaluate every guy. When you have only a three-day period, you got to really take it all in. We’re trying to balance out the reps the best we can so it’s a fair evaluation. But it’s either this, or they don’t even get a chance.”

Blackmon, of course, is in a different situation, and as the first-round selection, he was a central topic Friday – and not just because of his number. Asked what he saw in Blackmon Friday, Mularkey replied, “A rookie on his first day, kind of just understanding the scheme.”

“He just got it put in yesterday – bits and pieces yesterday and a lot this morning,” Mularkey said. “(Wide receivers coach) Jerry Sullivan is very detailed in how he goes about his business. It was baby steps today with Jerry, teaching the very first steps of our routes and our blocking scheme.

“He was like everybody else, trying to take in as much as he could, line up in the right spot and get off on the ball.”

And if Blackmon is the most-watched player of the group, he said that doesn’t mean he approached the three days any differently.

“They’re here working just like I am,” he said. “They’re trying to fill a spot for next year just like me. Nothing is going to be given to me, I have to work just as hard as they do to earn a spot. We’re competitors. We like to compete and that means you have to be on the field.”

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