JACKSONVILLE – This is a day for youth.
Now, if it occurs to you that most days have been days for youth around the Jaguars in recent years … well, you wouldn't be wrong about that. But this is a day for real youth.
Because today we talk about five rookies to watch in 2015.
This isn't necessarily a list of the five best rookies on the Jaguars' roster. No one knows how that list will play out by the end of the season. Consider it more of a list of rookies whose storylines will be key as training camp begins July 31.
This rookie class ideally won't have as much pressure and won't be asked to contribute as early as General Manager David Caldwell's first two rookie classes. That's by design and that's a good thing for the Jaguars, because ideally you don't want most of your rookies in immediate need-to-play/need-to-matter mode.
But make no mistake:
This rookie class does have a chance to make an impact, and there could be significant early impact this season. A look at the five rookies to watch when training camp begins at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields later this month:
1.T.J. Yeldon.We'll start with the Jaguars' second-round selection. That's because we can't start with first-round pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained on Day One of 2015 rookie camp in May. Yeldon, the No. 36 overall selection from Alabama, during the offseason program did essentially everything a running back can do in unpadded work. He showed quick feet, quick acceleration, good vision. He appeared comfortable running through the line and showed the ability to ease away from traffic. The guess here is he starts the regular season and is the team's feature back. Stay tuned.
T.J. Yeldon and Rashad Greene suited up in Jaguars gameday uniforms for the first time, as they took part in the NFLPA Rookie Premiere.
2.Rashad Greene/Michael Bennett.We'll cheat a bit and link these two together. The reason: they joined the team under strikingly similar circumstances, sliding a bit on draft weekend and being selected as draft-day steals on Day Three. Greene, a fifth-round selection from Florida State, has a chance to earn a spot as a slot receiver, though earning an early contributing spot in a top three that currently includes Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee will be a challenge. Bennett, a sixth-round selection from Ohio State, is a pure three-technique, penetration-oriented defensive tackle. He'll get significant repetitions during training camp with tackle Sen'Derrick Marks returning/rehabilitating from a torn ACL sustained in the 2014 regular-season finale, and he has a chance to earn an early role behind Ziggy Hood.
3.A.J. Cann.This is an intriguing area entering training camp. Cann, a third-round selection from South Carolina, appears on paper to likely be the Jaguars' left guard of the future. He is an imposing presence with the size and brawn to be a very good NFL run blocker. How quickly that will translate to the NFL was impossible to tell during unpadded non-contact work in organized team activities and minicamp. So entering training camp, veteran Zane Beadles – who widened his stance and reportedly appeared improved in the offseason – remains the starter. How intense the camp battle between Cann and Beadles will be remains to be seen – and likely will depend largely upon how quickly Cann develops.
4.Nick Marshall/Corey Grant.We'll cheat a bit again and link these players together because of circumstances. First, each went to Auburn. Second, each joined the Jaguars as an undrafted rookie free agent. Third, each has a chance to make the roster. Marshall, who played quarterback collegiately, has shown the athleticism and instincts to make the transition to NFL cornerback. It appears likely he'll get every chance – including a roster spot – to show he deserves time to develop into that position. Grant, a running back, has shown NFL-level speed and will be very interesting to watch in the competition for a reserve running back/kick returner role.
5.James Sample.This story will take some time to develop because Sample – a fourth-round safety from Louisville – is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of training camp with a broken arm sustained in organized team activities. He played mostly strong safety in college, and while he will be making the move to free safety, the Jaguars believe his skill set translates to what they ask from the position. He likely will begin behind unrestricted free agent signee Sergio Brown at free safety, and while Brown's health/experience will give him the edge, this is an area to watch moving forward.