JACKSONVILLE – What We Learned from 2014 Jaguars rookie minicamp at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields this weekend …
1. The fans were ready. There had been a good feeling around this team throughout the offseason, starting well before free agency in early March, then continuing through the May 8-10 NFL Draft. You had a feeling the turnout would be good for the two-day rookie minicamp, and when more than 2,000 fans showed Friday, that confirmed it. A rookie Top 10-drafted quarterback? A highly-regarded draft class? The excitement was real.
2. In fact, they were more than ready. What’s a better word than, “Ready?” Primed? Pumped? Poised? What you thought you knew about the fans’ level of readiness Friday disappeared late Saturday morning when you saw the line extending from the practice fields past the Jaguar “Touchdown” statue in front of EverBank Field. This was special.
The Jags take the field for Day 2 of rookie minicamp! https://t.co/jjsMuoAg2y— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) May 17, 2014
3. They were, in fact, record-setting. The lines were sign enough, and as practice continued Saturday, you started hearing estimates on the crowd. The real numbers told a striking story: 6,214 fans showed up Saturday, a record for any practice in Jaguars history.
Previous attendance record for rookie camp: 2,378 Previous high for training camp: ~4,500 Today's attendance: 6,214 pic.twitter.com/7SbVDGLj8b— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) May 17, 2014
4. The Jaguars are fan friendly … First off, not every NFL team opens rookie minicamps – or any offseason work, for that matter. A lot of front-office types are reluctant to have such things open – you know, state secrets and all … The Jaguars are committed to having fans see this team up close – to share the journey, as Head Coach Gus Bradley puts it. Credit General Manager David Caldwell and Bradley for allowing that to happen.
5. No, we mean *really, really* fan friendly. While many teams indeed open some offseason workouts, very, very few would go to the extent the Jaguars did late in Saturday’s practice. The team already had extended the viewing area from the end zones at the end of Fields One and Two to include the end zones at the end of Field Three. That was the first time anyone could remember needing to do that. Then, in the final minutes, the Jaguars moved the ropes to allow fans onto Field Two for a better view of the work on Field One. That’s fan-friendly, folks.
7. Bradley values weekends like this. There are many reasons players love being around Bradley. But in the end it boils down to his to a true appreciation for players – and an enthusiasm you can’t fake. Another example came at the end of practice Saturday when Bradley gathered the 52 players who participated over the weekend at midfield. The group included 26 players who wouldn’t be with the team Monday, but Bradley had a photo taken of the group that he will send to each player along with a letter. Bradley has said in the past he struggles with the idea of releasing players who have bought into his approach – no matter how long they’ve been with the team. All coaches struggle with this, but gestures such as Saturday’s show players what he’s about.
8. There are undrafted rookies who have a chance. Cornerback
9. The Senior Bowl remained a factor after the draft, too. Remember all of those stories last weekend about how the relationships forged between Jaguars coaches and players at the Senior Bowl helped the Jaguars select players such as
10. Telvin Smith has a chance. A chance for what? To start? Maybe for the long term. To contribute? Certainly by next season. The former Florida State linebacker has speed to cover tight ends and running backs and the Jaguars thus far have to love his approach and enthusiasm. Bradley said Smith must add size, but if he can do that, he could be a very, very good fit.
12. The fans were really, really ready. We’ll close where we began because it should be noted, emphasized and re-noted that this was a *rookie* minicamp. No pads. No extensive team work. No known veterans. And still – more than 8,000 fans? Really? Yes, there was the attraction of Bortles and you can’t deny the appeal of a Top-5, franchise-type quarterback, but this was more than that. This was about a fan base being ready to embrace the team and the team being ready to embrace the fans. This was cool.