JACKSONVILLE – Here’s what we learned during Jaguars 2013 minicamp . . .
1. Maurice Jones-Drew is confident. Jones-Drew, the Jaguars’ three-time Pro Bowl running back, talked to the media Monday and again Thursday. Each time, he assured reporters he wasn’t worried about being in playing shape next season. He also said again Friday the foot injury that kept him out 10 games last season is healed, and his objective now is strengthening his ankle and conditioning. He’ll continue to do so in Miami, and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said Thursday the plan remains for Jones-Drew to be 100 percent when training camp opens July 26. Jones-Drew said while he still has weight to lose, he already had lost a couple of pounds, and is in the 220s. He also noted that he lost significant weight in the offseason as recently as 2011, the year he won the NFL rushing title. He sees no reason he won’t do so again and play at a high level next season.
2. Alualu looks like a fit at defensive end. As the offseason continued, we got more of a feel for what the Jaguars want from their defensive ends. The release of Austen Lane Thursday made it a bit clearer that one end will be a bigger, run-oriented player – a four- or five-technique – while the other, “Leo” side is going to be pretty much a pure pass rusher essentially in the vein of a 3-4 linebacker. Lane was more of traditional 4-3 end, and as Caldwell said upon his release, that left Lane too much in between. At the same time, Tyson Alualu – moved from tackle to end early in the offseason – does seem a fit for the end spot opposite the Leo. The Jaguars talked throughout the offseason about liking Alualu, which Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley reiterated Thursday. “We just had a long personnel meeting last night and talked about him,” Bradley said. “We feel very good about the move for him. The more and more comfortable he’ll get, training camp will be big for him for his comfort level. It’s been a really good move for him, so now it just needs to show up on tape.”
3. Cecil Shorts III is good. Well, we’ve talked about it all offseason. It just seemed fitting to mention it one more time.
4. The wide receivers will be “by committee.” With Justin Blackmon serving a four-game suspension to start the season, a pressing question during OTAs/minicamps was who will fill in the role. Caldwell on Thursday said Shorts has been impressive on the other side, and he said Blackmon’s role likely will be filled by a combination of Ace Sanders, Mohamed Massaquoi and Mike Brown. Caldwell said he has been impressed with Brown this offseason.
5. Dwayne Gratz looks good . . . Safety Johnathan Cyprien has gotten more attention than Gratz, but like Cyprien – a second-round selection from Florida International – Gratz seems entrenched as a starter. Also like Cyprien, Gratz has looked the part. On Thursday, the rookie third-round corner from Connecticut closed minicamp with another solid practice, and had perhaps the session’s best defensive play, breaking on a pass on the sidelines and narrowly missing an interception that would have been a long touchdown.
6. . . . and so does Josh Evans. Caldwell had some interesting comments on the sixth-round safety Thursday. The Jaguars selected Cyprien with the first selection of the second round, and Caldwell said if they hadn’t gotten Cyprien there, Evans was their next choice at safety and they may have drafted him as early as the third round. Caldwell said Evans looked good in OTAs and minicamps. “If you like what you see from him out here now, you’re going to like him with his pads on,” Caldwell said.
7. Ace Sanders is quick. Really, really quick. Most of the focus was on his return skills when he was drafted, but once he got healthy after an injury in rookie minicamp, he showed flashes and made plays. With Shorts and Blackmon out Thursday, Sanders worked with the first team and he looks like he will contribute significantly as the third receiver.
8. Matt Scott has a chance . . . The end of that sentence probably isn’t, “. . . to start.” Not this season. But as the offseason wore on, it was easier to see why some projected Scott as a third- or fourth-round selection. The rookie free agent continued to show a strong, NFL-level arm and appeared to get more comfortable as the offseason wore on. Caldwell said this week quarterbacks are valuable, and Scott seemed to be a guy with value the last two weeks.
9. The competition is alive . . . Bradley has said it since his hiring, and Caldwell reiterated it again Thursday as the Jaguars closed minicamp – all roster positions and starting positions are open. Realistically, a lot of the players starting in the offseason will start in camp, but if offseason releases of players such as defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton and Lane told us anything it’s that veterans need to contribute in a pretty significant way if they’re going to be around.
10. . . . and that competition includes quarterback . . . The Jaguars claimed Mike Kafka off waivers this week, and while he isn’t the favorite to start, he can’t be counted out as a possibility for a roster spot. Who will start remains very much a competition. Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne each got work with the first team this week, and that will be the case in training camp. Those two have to be the favorites, and though Gabbert still appears likely to win the job, it will have to be earned.
11 . . . . and nothing will be known for a while. Bradley and Caldwell each addressed this Thursday, and neither sounded in the remotest rush to name a starting quarterback. Neither offered a specific timetable, but with Bradley wanting to see work with pads on, this likely doesn’t happen until after the second or third preseason game. Neither Bradley nor Caldwell sees it as a distraction, not with everyone in camp understanding that all players are competing.
12. Transactions will remain the norm. Kafka was claimed Tuesday. Two days later, Austen Lane and Trey Wilson were released. That was the mode of operation during OTAs and minicamps. There may not be a flux of roster moves before training camp, but once camp begins, expect more of the same. This is what Bradley and Caldwell promised. The Jaguars are going to keep looking for players until they find them, and then after that if the offseason is any indications, they’ll probably look some more.
[Minicamp photo gallery]