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A good start


The product isn't finished, and areas must improve. Sooner, not later.

One of those areas is conditioning. Teammates and coaches said that much was clear Monday morning, the first day Justin Blackmon put on full pads for the Jaguars.

But Rashean Mathis said something else, something far more important, was clear, too: The things you want in a receiver? The things that make a guy special?  Blackmon has those.

And yes, Mathis said, that's something you know after the first day.

"He makes it look easy," Mathis said Monday morning, shortly after the team's full, padded practice at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. "When the ball is around him, it's easy for him to grab it. The best have that quality."

Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross said when the ball hits Blackmon's hands, "it's not dropping."

"That's a quarterback's dream," Ross said.

It was natural that all eyes were on Blackmon Monday morning. The Jaguars selected the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner No. 5 overall from Oklahoma State in the 2012 NFL Draft in April, and aside from the development of second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert perhaps no storyline in training camp is getting more focus.

The Jaguars ranked No. 32 in pass offense last season, and haven't had a Pro Bowl receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2001. Add to that Blackmon's 10-day holdout at the beginning of training camp, and his first day in full pads was widely anticipated.

"I've got to get in game shape, but overall, it felt good," Blackmon said. "I felt like it went good. I'm still learning. I'll watch film, make corrections and go on from there."

And while Mathis and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan each said Blackmon wore down near the end of the two-and-half hour session, each also said he showed positives early.

That was particularly true in a red-zone drill midway through practice.

Blackmon, who early in the practice caught a pass in traffic in team drills and who also had a sliding catch near the sideline, ran an out route early in the drill. Gabbert, under pressure, laid the ball in the corner of the end zone and Blackmon caught the touchdown just before stepping out of bounds.

Shortly thereafter, Blackmon ran a route in the back of the end zone, and beat double coverage, catching the ball over safety Dwight Lowery.

"That was a phenomenal catch," Gabbert said. "It was a great rout for him to get inside. With that coverage, he's really the only guy. I led him in there, and he made a great catch."

It wasn't so much that Blackmon caught the touchdowns, teammates said. Rather, it was how easy he made the plays appear.

"You just look him and you know he's a big, physical receiver," Gabbert said. "The way he plays, he's really aggressive when the ball's in the air. That's what quarterbacks like to see – when the ball's in the air, it's his ball. He's going to do everything he can to break it up or catch it.

"The more reps we get, the better he's going to be."

Head Coach Mike Mularkey said last week it was evident Blackmon studied and worked during his time away despite not having a playbook. Gabbert on Monday agreed.

"He stepped right in," Gabbert said.

Mathis covered Blackmon in a late team drill, and held the rookie to one short reception on the sideline that converted a first down. Blackmon, Mathis said, was stronger earlier in practice than at the end.

"It's conditioning," Mathis said. "That's going to take a little time. He hasn't been through the bulk of the camp yet. His wind has to get better. When he's fresh, he's good. Nobody is good when they're winded."

Sullivan, too, said that Blackmon lacked the conditioning that really can only be gained from being in pads for an extended period.

"I thought he did a nice job," Sullivan said. "He got gassed at the end. He got tired, but he did some nice things. He should get better as he gets in better conditioning and as he gets more comfortable with what we're doing."

Sullivan said the Jaguars are giving Blackmon as much of the offense as they can, and that it's up to the rookie to keep up, learn and be ready. Mularkey on Sunday said Blackmon will play against New Orleans, and the idea is for him to start the regular-season opener.

He worked with the first team on Monday.

"He's having to learn on the run, but no, we're not slowing down for him," Sullivan said. "You can only cram so much into a guy's head. If you went to take the law exam, and you weren't there for the first couple of weeks, it would matter.

"It's the same thing here. He's trying to catch up. And we're not slowing down for him to catch up, so it's tough."

Said Ross, "His route running is getting better, and he's getting his legs up under him. You can tell he's starting to improve each and every day."

Mathis said while he wasn't labeling Blackmon "great" or "special" after one practice, "he definitely has a knack for the ball."

"Like Keyshawn Johnson," Mathis said. "When the ball was in his area, he was going to bring it down. That's a quality he does have."

And as a teammate, Mathis said that has him excited.

"That's why at the end of the practice, I was pushing him," Mathis said. "At the end, I was going, 'Let's go one four, you have to finish' – just to let him know we're behind him. We want him to succeed. It's not offense/defense.

"We're Jaguars and at the end of the day, we want him to be good."

And if the product isn't finished, after the first day in pads it appears Blackmon has a very real chance to give the Jaguars exactly what they want.

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