JACKSONVILLE – It wasn't official, but it sure was fun.
The crowd roared, and cheered, and in general stayed pretty darned raucous throughout. The Jaguars players responded in a big way. Afterward, fireworks filled the sky above EverBank Field.
Where else would you rather be?
The answer for Jaguars fans was simple, really, and a whole lot of fans were indeed at EverBank on a warm Saturday evening for the scrimmage that signaled an end to the open portion of 2013 Jaguars Training Camp. An estimated 19,000 fans attended.
Head Coach Gus Bradley? And the Jaguars' players?
Where would they rather have been? Well, to hear them tell it, they had little doubt:
Nowhere. At least not Saturday night.
"I appreciated all the fans," the ever-enthusiastic Bradley told reporters just before fireworks took over EverBank audibly and visually.
Bradley added, "It's only going to get better."
Such was the mood around Saturday night.
The scrimmage won't count in the standings, of course, and score wasn't really kept. Bradley and the coaching staff kept close watch on the proceedings, mixing in first-team-versus-first=team work, as well as "twos on twos," "threes on threes" as well as goal-line and two-minute drills.
So, no, the event wasn't real. But here's what it was:
It was fun. There was energy. And excitement. And there absolutely was a real sense of seeing the start of something new in downtown Jacksonville.
Over 19,000 for a scrimmage? After a 2-14 season?
That's noteworthy, and it made sense, because this was the first chance for fans to see a lot of things.
They saw Bradley on the sidelines for the first time, and saw for the first time, too, a lot of players who will form the core of this franchise moving forward.
Luke Joeckel. Dwayne Gratz. Denard Robinson. Ace Sanders. All are rookies, and all participated Saturday, and Sanders – as he has done throughout training camp – did more than participate. He continued to consistently show flashes or game-breaking ability.
Know this about Sanders:
If there was a star Saturday, he was it. And know this, too: after a while, when a guy keeps flashing it's more than just flashing. After a while, he's a good player. He still has to do it in games, but Sanders is consistently open, consistently makes catches and consistently turns small gaps into big plays.
If Sanders isn't a good player then OTAs and the early part of training camp mean not a thing.
The story Saturday was more than Sanders, though. The fans who gathered saw, too, the continuation of the quarterback competition that has been the theme of training camp to date.
The night wasn't absolutely definitive in that area, but Blaine Gabbert – after being limited the last three days of practice this week with an ankle injury – started the scrimmage. That gave him and Chad Henne the chance to pretty much split the significant repetitions.
Gabbert started impressively, completing his first four passes. He also seemed in control of the offense. His touch pass to tight end Brett Brackett for a goal-line touchdown was a highlight, as was his 20-yard touchdown to Mohamed Massaquoi.
Henne, unlike Gabbert, was under pressure during most of his repetitions and his highlight was a productive stretch in two-minute.
Well, the reality is we're a long way from verdict time, but through a week the guess here remains that Gabbert will win the job. He did nothing to change that Saturday, and his early control of the offense certainly didn't hurt his chances.
But really on Saturday, the story was as much off field as on. A big part of the story was in the stands, where fans crowded the lower bowl and the Bud Light Zone. As is the Jaguars' tradition, players sprayed to all corners of the field afterward, signing autographs.
As he signed, seven-year veteran guard Uche Nwaneri marveled at the scene.
"Someone told me the attendance," Nwaneri said. "I said, 'Is it like that every year?' They were like, 'No, last year it was like 2,500.' I said, 'We're doing something right.' They like the excitement. They like the new feel. We definitely feel the energy from the community. The fans, Jacksonville – that's who we do for it.
"It's definitely good to feel all the love from the people tonight."
Kicker Josh Scobee, as he ran from one corner from the field to another to continue signing autographs, agreed, saying, "The fans are always excited for the first real thing before the season starts. They came out and showed us a lot of love tonight.
"You feel a different energy tonight. People like change, and when something bad has happened, people like change. With all the optimism Gus brings, the fans feel that, too, along with the players."
The fans absolutely felt it Saturday, and players and coaches did, too, and when the smoke cleared and the fireworks faded, those who left had a feeling like this was maybe the start of something.
It may not have been official, but was darned sure raucous.
And a whole lot of fun.