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Focused on the work


Mike Mularkey knew coming into the day what to expect.

Because of that, the Jaguars' head coach said he was pleased with what he saw from the first day of the team's 2012 mandatory mini-camp Tuesday – i.e., good work, a team that picked up what was being taught quickly, and good play from several young players.

That Maurice Jones-Drew didn't attend?

Mularkey said that wasn't a surprise. And it wasn't different than what it has been all off-season.

"It's not like all of a sudden something's new," Mularkey said shortly after a two-hour practice Tuesday morning at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field.

Mularkey, in his first season as the Jaguars' head coach, said that meant although he very much would like for the three-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL's leading rusher last season to have attended, his absence took nothing away from the start of the three-day session.

"I'm trying to focus on the guys who are here," Mularkey said.

That was pretty much the stance of players who discussed Jones-Drew, too – that while they understood why Jones-Drew wasn't in town, his absence wasn't the focus.

"He's the face of the franchise, but the NFL is a business," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said. "We wish him all the best. We hope everything gets resolved."

Jones-Drew, who made the Pro Bowl the last three seasons and set a franchise rushing record for single-season rushing yards last season, missed the first eight weeks of the Jaguars' offseason conditioning program. Until this week, all offseason work was voluntary.

But this week's three-day mini-camp is mandatory, meaning Jones-Drew can be fined up to $60,000 for not attending. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said Monday he would support Mularkey if he opted to fine Jones-Drew.

Mularkey on Tuesday declined to say if he planned to do so.

Jones-Drew's absence from the voluntary portion of the offseason isn't unusual. But he typically has attended mandatory mini-camps, and although he has not discussed the reason behind this week's absence, Smith said Monday Jones-Drew has expressed interest in renegotiating his contract.

Jones-Drew has two years remaining on his current deal, and Smith said Monday the Jaguars have no plans to renegotiate.

"He's handling some business right now," Jaguars fullback Greg Jones said. "I don't get into that.  I let that be that. He's going to handle it the way he wants and they'll handle it the way they want."

Rashad Jennings, the team's backup running back in 2009 and 2010 who missed last season with a knee injury, worked with the starters in practice Tuesday, something he also did throughout last month's organized team activities.

"It's out of my hands," Jennings said. "As an athlete, I know he's somewhere working very hard."

Nwaneri said while players know the importance of Jones-Drew being in mini-camp, particularly as a staff of mostly new offensive coaches installs a new offensive system, players also understand Jones-Drew's stance.

Nwaneri also said Jones-Drew's history is that of a player who will be prepared physically for the regular season.

"You want to be here, but that's a situation that has nothing to do with us as players," he said. "MoJo is not a selfish guy. We know he wants to be out there playing. He's going to do everything he can to get back out there."

Nwaneri, asked where he would rank Jones-Drew among the NFL's running backs, replied, "No. 1," and called Jones-Drew the best running back in the NFL. Nwaneri also was asked if he was Smith would he negotiate with Jones-Drew.

"I'm not Gene Smith," Nwaneri said. "There are valid points on both sides, but certainly it's a business. There are points to be made on both sides."

Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, too, said that Jones-Drew's absence is part of the reality of the NFL.

"Of course, we want him here," Mathis said. "He's MoJo, so who wouldn't want him here? I'm sure he's weighed his options, and unfortunately it's part of the business. He's not the only one (NFL player) out there (not attending a mini-camp.) We want him here as a team. We're thinking about him and praying about it. Hopefully, it will work out for both sides."

Added Mathis, ""Whenever he gets here, we'll greet him with open arms."

Mularkey said all players were sent letters informing them of the mandatory mini-camp schedule, and said that when Jones-Drew wasn't in Jacksonville for a physical Monday he figured that meant he wouldn't be attending on Tuesday.

Mularkey, for his part, said while he wants Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, he doesn't want to focus his energy on something beyond his control. He has said often since taking the Jaguars' job that one of his focuses is to learn from his first NFL head coaching experience in Buffalo from 2003-2004.

He said instances such as this drained him at times in Buffalo, to the point where he could feel the energy wasted, and said he learned there is little to be gained from focusing on players who aren't with the team whatever the reason.

"I'd love to have Maurice here, but I'm very thrilled with the guys who are here and what we're getting done," Mularkey said. "He's made a choice to not be here. I'd like to talk about the guys who made a choice to be here."

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