Twenty-three days later, Mike Mularkey likes what he has seen.
The Jaguars officially ended 2012 Training Camp on Sunday with a two-and-a-half hour practice under gray, rainy skies on soggy Florida Blue Health and Wellness practice fields.
Mularkey, in his first season as the team’s head coach, said while the team will continue to work in pads in the next two weeks, the schedule of morning practices with an afternoon walkthrough officially has ended.
“I think we accomplished a lot,” Mularkey said.
The Jaguars, after opening camp July 27, had essentially three weeks in full pads, with a scrimmage ending the first week and two preseason victories ending the next two weeks.
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That remained the case last week, when the team closed camp with a physical flourish: three days of intense, full-contact work last week as the second preseason game approached.
“That’s what I’m familiar with,” Mularkey said. “That’s my Pittsburgh background. That’s the way it is. You want to stress them out. You want to see who can mentally and physically handle this kind of pressure. You want to see who when tired, sore and out of breath can still execute the play.
“What you really want is for the games to be easy for them. With the new rules, you have to get the work done now.”
Mularkey said players were receptive to the work. He also said although he didn’t want to sound like the guy who talks about walking to school both ways in the snow, he said he did share with players last week how the NFL has changed with it comes to padded practice contact.
Mularkey played tight end with the Minnesota Vikings from 1983-87 and with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1988-1991. In Pittsburgh, he said, pads went on in training camp and stayed on until the end of the season. Mularkey said when he talked to players last week about being in pads three days in a row, he told them about Pittsburgh and said, “Try three years in a row.”
The idea of being in pads, Mularkey said, was to work in real conditions and to improve, and he said he believed that happened over the last three weeks. He said game tape from a 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints Friday revealed evidence of the team carrying over into games what is being emphasized in practice.
“Some of the techniques, the things we’re working on, I can see on film showing up,” he said.
Mularkey said because the Jaguars worked their full, padded practices in the morning the coaches were able to get in the work needed on a daily basis. Rain forced several of the afternoon special teams/walkthrough practices indoors.
“Those are the ones we did not want to miss,” Mularkey said of the morning sessions.
Mularkey said he liked the effort and attention to detail of players throughout camp, and called the team’s diligence in note-taking “amazing.” He said considering the team has installed a new offense over the last four months there have been few mistakes in that area, and he said the defense has continued to develop from last season.
Defensively, Mularkey said there were just four mental errors against New Orleans.
“If you can get out of a game with four mental errors, you have a chance to be pretty darned good,” he said.
Mularkey also said the team’s passing offense has taken strides since the team began camp in late July. The team ranked 32nd in the NFL in passing last season, but Gabbert has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions in two preseason games.
The Jaguars’ first-team offense has converted 10 of 14 third downs in the first two preseason games.
“I think we’ve made some progress offensively,” Mularkey said.
Mularkey said while camp technically has broken the Jaguars still will work in pads through the final two weeks of the preseason.
“It’s not training camp, but we’re still going to work fundamentals and techniques,” he said. “We’ve got two weeks to get it done. We still have work to do – no question about it, but I’m happy with what we got done.”