At times in training camp, Jack Del Rio has had to catch himself.
Del Rio, entering his ninth season as the Jaguars' head coach, said Tuesday because of the circumstances of this past off-season you have to at times expect a different level of performance early in training camp. He also said that's not always easy to remember.
One such moment came during Monday's practice, when Del Rio called the team together at midfield to discuss a period about which he was particularly unhappy.
He was asked Tuesday if the team looked a bit ragged before then.
"That's a word that may have been used," Del Rio said, smiling.
Still, Del Rio said overall the progress of the team during the most unusual NFL training camp in many years has been solid.
The Jaguars, like all NFL teams, missed the off-season because of the lockout. That meant no mini-camps and organized team activities, and it meant that veterans had to leave the facilities in March and not return until late July.
It also meant that when rookies arrived for training camp in late July, it was the first time they had practiced with their teams. In the case of the Jaguars, only first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert had been to the team facility – and he only had been there for a whirlwind few hours the day after Jacksonville made him the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
"We understand we're early in the process," Del Rio said. "I had to remind myself last night. We had a couple mishaps and blood pressure's going up and I'm like, 'Oh boy, this is really…,' and then you look out there and you realize these are guys that didn't have May, didn't have June and look, we're not going to be an excuse-making franchise or organization but the reality is that some patience is required."
Del Rio said overall the Jaguars' first- and second-team units have played well, and that most of the mistakes have come from the units featuring mostly newcomers and rookies.
"There's an amount of volume for some of these young guys," Del Rio said. "They're just short-circuiting right now. Typically you'd have May and June to work through some of this and they come into camp and it's sometimes the third time they've heard it. Where they're hearing things for the first time it starts to run together, and so we're seeing a little bit of that. And when you look up and the majority of it is with some of the younger guys that are third and fourth on your depth chart, you try not to get too bent out of shape about it. The execution with our first group has been pretty solid."
With the unusual circumstances around training camp, including a slew of free agents signed at the beginning of camp, a limited off-season and a variety of new rules, Del Rio said he spent little time trying to predict how the Jaguars would progress during the first few weeks of camp.
Overall, though, he said he is pleased, particularly with the recently-signed free agents: linebackers Clint Session and Paul Posluszny, cornerback Drew Coleman, safety Dawan Landry, offensive guard/center Jason Spitz and punter Matt Turk.
"They're going to help us," he said. "We're going to be a lot better."
Also on Tuesday:
*Del Rio said while quarterback David Garrard has been slower to return from a back injury than expected, that's in keeping with the team's overall approach to injuries in training camp. Because of the uncertainty over how players would return following the lockout, Del Rio said the team has been "as cautious on some of these things as we've ever been. I just think it's a different year and we're doing all we can to remain healthy and a team that's in camp that understands there's a lot of work to be done. We feel like if we pulled back a couple days and missed a couple days instead of a couple of weeks that we're going to be better in the long run, and that's really the approach we've been taking."
*Del Rio said he agrees with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton's assessment that he could be ready to return to practice Saturday, the team's first practice after returning from the preseason opener Thursday at New England. Knighton reported to training camp at least 20 pounds overweight and is conditioning on the side until he is in shape. "That was the goal all along – I think a realistic goal when we saw where he was and how much work he had to do," Del Rio said. "He's got himself into range now where it is reasonable to expect that if he stays the course where he is at. We mapped it out and set a plan and set a goal that was safe enough to reach but required significant work on his part in terms of what he's taking in and how much energy he's putting out, and he's been on track. There's a good likelihood that so long as he follows through the next few days that he'll be available when we get back."
*Del Rio said the Jaguars ideally would like a player other than Mike Thomas to be the team's punt returner. Thomas handled the role last year, and is currently listed on the depth chart as the No. 1 punt returner, but rookie Cecil Shorts and second-year veteran Scotty McGee are also listed. "We know Mike can do it," Del Rio said. "MoJo (Maurice Jones-Drew) is tugging on my shirttail too; he wants to do it. We know Rashean (Mathis) can do it. So we have a few guys that are now prominent players that are very capable of doing it. Ideally we'd have somebody else fulfill that role knowing that we can call on Mike if we need to, but I'd like to see somebody else step up and become our returner." Shorts and McGee seem more likely to fill the role than Thomas, with Thomas starting at wide receiver and thus far outplaying the other receivers in camp.