2018 Training Camp: Rookie watch

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (17) catches a pass during warm ups before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark (17) catches a pass during warm ups before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – A few have received rave reviews, and one or two must be more available.

One’s in the starting lineup, and many appear to have bright futures.

All in all, it has been an eventful – and mostly encouraging – Jaguars 2018 Training Camp for a rookie class that is important to the team’s present but even more important to its future.

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone early in training camp discussed liking the group’s approach – how it communicated, worked and the respect it showed to people within the building.

“Those are things that go into it, at least for me and what I look for in trying to have a player on our football team,” Marrone said at the time.

The group has since shown signs of being productive on the field, with several players flashing in games and others consistently practicing well enough they could contribute in a big way as rookies.

A major storyline this week: the potential return of the first-round draft selection, defensive lineman Taven Bryan.

He missed the first two preseason games – home against New Orleans and at Minnesota – with an abdominal injury, returning to practice late last week in Minnesota and practicing again the last two days. When discussing the draft class Tuesday, Bryan was prominent in Marrone’s words.

“We need Bryan to get on the field, which he should,” Marrone said. “That’s the one thing … You want to make sure … I appreciate all that [off-field] stuff, but at the end of the day, you have to be healthy and you have to be on the field.

“There are two things – coachability and availability. I think all of that young class is very coachable and for the most part, most of them have been available.

“But when you have a first-round pick, you want to see that guy.”

A look at the Jaguars’ rookie class through two preseason games:

*Bryan, defensive lineman, Florida, first round (No. 29 overall). As Marrone mentioned Tuesday, availability has been an issue for Bryan. That’s his short-term story. The long-term is he has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his athleticism, strength and quickness – and for a strikingly professional approach. “He’s going to push himself to be the best he can be,” defensive end Calais Campbell said Monday. “I believe he’s going to continue to get better. In a couple of years, he’s going to be as good as anybody.” …

*DJ Chark Jr., wide receiver, Louisiana State, second round (No. 61). Chark flashed throughout the open period of training camp, getting open deep and making the plays that made the Jaguars consider him with the selection they used on Bryan in Round 1. He also was notably consistent as a route runner on intermediate and shorter routes. Chark has caught three passes for 25 yards in two preseason games and seems certain to be one of the Jaguars’ top five receivers. There’s often a learning curve with young receivers in route precision and learning the offense, but Chark seems to have a very real chance to be one of the top three receivers by season’s end.

*Ronnie Harrison, safety, Alabama, third round (No. 93). Don’t look for Harrison to start this season. Free safety Tashaun Gipson and strong safety Barry Church are too good/experienced to move a rookie into the lineup so quickly. But Harrison has been impressive enough he should move into one of those roles as early as next season. He also could have a key role this season if the team uses the big nickel package with Harrison playing along with Church/Gipson and corners A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. The team worked that package while practicing against Minnesota last week, a week Harrison capped with a five-tackle, one-forced-fumble performance while making his first start for Gipson (precautionary reasons). 

*Will Richardson, offensive tackle, North Carolina State, fourth round (No. 129). Richardson, listed as a co-backup at right tackle along with William Poehls, didn’t play in the preseason opener. He played as a reserve against the Vikings.

*Tanner Lee, quarterback, Nebraska, sixth round (No. 203). Lee worked as the third-team quarterback behind starter Blake Bortles and backup Cody Kessler throughout training camp. He had rookie issues with pocket awareness while playing the fourth quarter of the loss to New Orleans, taking five sacks and losing a fumble that led to a late Saints go-ahead touchdown. He didn’t play Saturday in Minnesota but could get extensive work in Preseason Week 4 at Tampa Bay.

*Leon Jacobs, linebacker, Wisconsin, seventh round (No. 230). Jacobs moved quickly into the starting role at strong-side linebacker. Jacobs may not be on the field for the majority of snaps because he won’t play in the nickel package, but he has shown good ability against the run. Teammates and coaches during training camp praised his ability to quickly pick up the defensive scheme.

*Logan Cooke, punter, Mississippi State, seventh round (No. 247). Cooke has a chance to contribute as much as any Jaguars rookie and has looked good in two preseason games – averaging 44.5 yards on two punts in the opener and placing three of seven punts against Minnesota inside the 20. He is averaging 43.0 yards on nine punts with five inside the 20. The Jaguars wanted a punter who could flip the field and pin opponents in pressure situations. Marrone said early in training camp he didn’t like praising rookie specialists because he didn’t want to jinx them, but Cooke has looked the part early.

*Undrafted free agents to watch: Tre Herndon, cornerback, Vanderbilt; Quenton Meeks, cornerback, Stanford; Lyndon Johnson, defensive tackle, Cincinnati; Andrew Motuapuaka, Virginia Tech.

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