He might've become the forgotten man, had David Garrard not turned in a spring performance that opened the eyes of anyone who knows the sound of a football cutting through the air. With today's conclusion of the Jaguars' four-day "passing camp," Garrard left little doubt he's a player to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich.
"He's shown me he has a great arm. Both Kenny Anderson and I have been surprised by how well he can throw it. We always knew he could run, but he can also throw," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said.
Yes, Garrard has been surprising, through two mini-camps and this week's "passing camp." His command of the offense has been a surprise, as has been the ease with which he has moved and thrown. His passes have been sharp, decisive and without wobble; they've whistled through the spring air.
Clearly, he is competing to be something more than this team's backup. He'd like to say he's competing to be this team's quarterback of the present and for the future, but Garrard learned they are unnecessary words.
"You know inside you want to be here, you want to be there, but you have to do it the right way," he said.
Translation: It's best to keep your mouth shut.
"Right," Garrard said, smiling.
A year ago, on his draft day, he did not keep his mouth shut. He talked about taking the starting quarterback job away from Brunell. Garrard was all about the foolish innocence of youth, then.
Now, he speaks as a veteran should. He only has one year and one starting assignment under his pro football belt, but Garrard has already developed enough poise not to lose his cool that he is caught between Brunell and Leftwich, which is to say somewhere between the team's present and its future. That's a tough spot.
"Mark's our guy. I had never been a backup before and I've grown. I understand it more. I'm definitely behind Mark, learning from him," Garrard said.
But how far behind?
"He has to go out there and make mistakes. You're not going to learn by watching. You don't learn on the chalkboard too much. You have to get thrown into the fire," Musgrave said. "He's a legitimate NFL quarterback. If he continues to improve, he'll look back on a 15-year career."
These are wonderful days for a young quarterback with a buggywhip for a right arm. It's the spring of his life. Everything is ahead of him.
"I feel like I've grasped the offense so much more than last year," Garrard said. "The 'passing camp' was a big thing. I want to be the guy they want me to be when the season comes.
"I'm competing to keep up with Mark and to help Byron when he comes in. If I beat (Byron) out, that makes our quarterback group better. If he beats me out, then I pushed him," Garrard added.
This promises to be an interesting summer, with two young quarterbacks nipping at the heels of the man who has been this team's starter since the fifth game in its history.
PASSING CAMP NOTES--Defensive tackle John Henderson and safety Donovin Darius were absent from this morning's practice. Coach Jack Del Rio said Henderson and Darius had to tend to other commitments. … Sign of the times: Defensive end Tony Brackens, who remains unable to practice as he recovers from last fall's knee surgery, brought his one-year-old son to practice today. "In May, it's OK," Del Rio said. … "The sooner we get the year underway and don't have to make comparisons (to the past), the better," Del Rio added of the casual practice atmosphere. "We want to be ready for the season opener in Sept., but we don't expect their condition to be game-ready in May. This is a voluntary time of year. This is not the time to push and grind. The atmosphere, believe me, will tighten up." … Tight end Johnnie Mitchell, who is attempting to make a comeback after being out of football for several years, performed impressively throughout the four-day camp. "The best for Johnnie will be when camp gets tough and long and how he responds. He has the skill level to merit a chance," Del Rio said.