The first training camp in this new era of Jaguars football concludes tomorrow, and rookie head coach Jack Del Rio finds himself with Tony Brackens easing back into action, Fred Taylor still sidelined by a bone bruise in his left knee, and Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Yet, Del Rio shows no signs of surrender.
"We're very pleased to see Tony Brackens moving around the way he is, and Fred Taylor is running on the side," Del Rio said, painting a picture of good news being just around the corner.
Brackens completed his third morning in pads. Del Rio said Brackens is participating in 50 percent of the total practice and 100 percent of the individual work. Translation? No contact work for Brackens, yet.
That may come next week, when the Jaguars prepare for their final preseason game against the Washington Redskins. The time is nearing when the Jaguars will have to make a decision on Brackens; whether to carry him on the active roster as he continues his comeback from last November's microfracture knee surgery and this past June's appendectomy.
"We're not as concerned about them playing this week as getting them ready for what follows," Del Rio said of Brackens and Taylor.
Taylor hasn't practiced since the fifth day of training camp, when he made an awkward step and sustained a bone bruise in his left knee. Del Rio has maintained all along that Taylor's injury is nothing more than a bruise, and that holding him out of practice is simply a precaution.
Of course, Taylor has a history of long-term injuries, and when the question was posed to Del Rio in that way, the coach responded: "I understand. I'm not going to be dishonest about anything. We're pleased with how he's progressing. There's nothing more to the story than that."
Meanwhile, the quest to replace Smith in the pass-offense continued, with journeyman Matt Hatchette continuing to work with the first unit at Smith's "Z receiver" position. Hatchette made a few impressive catches in the morning practice, but it was undrafted rookie free agent Cortez Hankton who made the morning highlight reel.
Hankton made an over-the-shoulder catch of a perfectly-thrown deep ball by rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich, then Hankton followed by grabbing a curl-route toss from Leftwich.
It was Hankton's most important practice since injuring his knee at the end of the first week. At that point, he was one of the camp's star rookies, but the knee injury caused him to miss the first two preseason games. Now, with the Aug. 25 first cuts looming, Hankton needs to make the most of the remainder of this week's practices and Saturday's preseason game in Tampa.
"I know I'm a pretty good bargain. Hopefully, I'll take advantage of this opportunity," said Hankton, who is the third all-time leading receiver in SWAC history. Jerry Rice is number one.
At 5-11, 194, Hankton has some size and decent speed. He believes the lower level of competition in the SWAC, coupled with a deep crop of wide receivers in this year's draft, caused him to be overlooked. He wasn't even invited to the scouting combine.
"You have to do something spectacular, coming out of the SWAC," said Hankton, from Texas Southern.
"We're still going to evaluate our guys," Del Rio said of the preseason intent. "We're not going to game-plan. We're more interested in evaluating our team and installing our system."
They'll have one more day to do that in this training camp.