JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars training camp begins today.
The team is scheduled to hold its first practice of 2013 training camp at 9:55 at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Friday, the first training camp practice of first-year Head Coach Gus Bradley and first-year General Manager David Caldwell’s tenure.
We’ve hit you all week with the themes . . .
New GM. New head coach. A lot of new faces on the roster.
That means a lot of new outlooks. A lot of position battles. A lot of players who need to develop. A lot of jobs to be won or lost.
The preliminaries end today, and after today, things can change rapidly. So, as a final reset before chaos is installed, here are 12 storylines to watch as the Jaguars open 2013 training camp:
1) Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne? There are more storylines, but this dominates. Not only because it’s the quarterback position, but because it involves Blaine Gabbert, a No. 10 overall selection in the NFL Draft who enters a critical season. Gabbert and Chad Henne each started last season, yielding similar results, and the duo shared repetitions with the starters during offseason workouts. Bradley said this week the quarterback competition will be open, with a chance that both players will start in the preseason. Speculation among most observers is that Gabbert will start, but Bradley said Gabbert, Henne, veteran Mike Kafka and rookie free-agent Matt Scott will all get a chance.
2) The return of Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011, and then played just six games last season before a season-ending foot injury. He rehabilitated the injury throughout the offseason and has been cleared to practice beginning Friday. He’s expected to be brought along slowly, but Jones-Drew is a veteran whose history suggests he’ll be ready when needed. Jones-Drew said this week he wants to drop a few more pounds, but that that should happen once he begins practicing. After an offseason focused on his health, indications are Jones-Drew will once again be ready.
3) The development of Luke Joeckel. The Jaguars drafted Joeckel No. 2 in the 2013 NFL Draft in April. He’s making the transition from left tackle at Texas A&M to right tackle in the NFL. That transition began in the offseason program, and Joeckel said it has gone well. He also said there is more to do, and that an important step will be when the pads go on next week. Joeckel sets a high standard for himself, and the expectation among the coaching staff is that he will be fine.
4) Rebuilding the O-line. Joeckel’s addition is expected to solidify the Jaguars’ offensive line. The return to health of guards Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri to full health should help, too. On paper, this is the best the line has looked in a while, but it has to translate to the field and the Jaguars need to find depth across the unit. The process in both areas – translating to the field and finding depth – begins in earnest next Wednesday when the pads go on full.
5) The rise of the rookie. Youth will be a major theme at camp, and it starts with the rookie class. Joeckel, second-round safety Johnathan Cyprien, third-round cornerback Dwayne Gratz, fourth-round wide receiver Ace Sanders, fifth-round selection Denard Robinson and sixth-round safety Josh Evans – all could make immediate impact. The coming weeks will go a long way to determining how some of those players are used in the short term, but look for those players as well as multiple rookie free agents to play significant roles. The build starts now, and it’s going to start young.
6) Competition is key. You can’t talk training camp without at least mentioning Bradley’s philosophy of competition. It’s about competing to improve every day, and about establishing that mentality in every player on the roster. You’ll hear it a lot in the coming weeks. It ain’t coach speak, either; it’s what Bradley’s all about.
7) Better and better. Cecil Shorts III was the standout player of the offseason. He was the team’s most-improved player last season, and has the look of a potential Pro Bowl wide receiver. He sustained two concussions at the end of last season, so that’s an area to watch, but if he’s healthy, it would be a surprise if Shorts isn’t a breakout player again.
8) Competing for spots. This will be a camp-long and season-long story. There is competition at every position, but worth noting will be camp battles at cornerback (Alan Ball/Demetrius McCray), linebacker (Russell Allen/Julian Stanford) and defensive tackle (Sen’Derrick Marks, Kyle Love, Roy Miller and a lot of others). Those are a few to watch, but with Bradley preaching constant competition and an atmosphere of “discomfort,” others will emerge and there could be double-digit spots at the bottom of the roster uncertain in the week leading to cut day.
9) Oh, W-“OW.” Where will rookie Denard Robinson play? He’s in the meeting rooms with the running backs, but he’s listed on the roster as an offensive weapon. He likely will line up at wide receiver, and could realistically get snaps from center, too. Caldwell has said the idea is to get Robinson about 10-to-15 plays. What form those plays will take likely will take shape in training camp as the Jaguars and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch better learn Robinson’s strengths.
10) In a rush. The Jaguars have been one of the NFL’s worst pass rushes in recent seasons. Veteran defensive end Jason Babin, a Pro Bowl selection with Tennessee in 2010 and Philadelphia in 2011, is expected to start at the pass-rush-oriented Leo position and should provide better rush than the Jaguars had much of last season. A major objective is to find at least one more legitimate pass-rushing threat to complement Babin. Eyes are on second-year veteran Andre Branch, who coaches believe could fill a Leo role in the future.
11) Moving outside. The No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Alualu has moved from tackle – where he started every game the last three seasons – to end in Bradley’s defensive scheme. Alualu played a similar position in college and said he is as excited about this season as he has been about any of his NFL seasons.
12) The right combination. With Justin Blackmon suspended the first four games of the season, a significant issue in camp is finding the right offensive package opposite Shorts. Mohammad Massaquoi figures to have a chance to start the season, and rookie Ace Sanders appears to have a chance to be the slot receiver. Marcedes Lewis also should have an expanded role at tight end. Can Jordan Shipley or Mike Brown work their way into the rotation? Camp will tell a big part of that story.