It began this morning. The season the Jaguars hope will put an end to a losing streak that has reached four years, began with a mini-camp practice coach Jack Del Rio described as an "excellent start."
Byron Leftwich was sharp, Jimmy Smith and Hugh Douglas were spry-looking, and first-round pick Reggie Williams flashed his receiving skills on a couple of occasions. The only negatives in this morning's practice were the limited role to which backup quarterback David Garrard was restricted, and the absence of veteran safety Donovin Darius.
"Donovin is not here at my request," Del Rio said of Darius, who has not participated in offseason conditioning workouts in protest to having been designated a "franchise player" for the second consecutive year. "I asked that he be here when he's ready to join us as a team. He's not ready to do that, yet," Del Rio added.
Garrard told reporters following practice today that he is battling the effects of Crohn's Disease, which is an inflammation of the intestine that blocks food from passing through the body. Garrard's weight has fallen about 10 pounds, to 227, and he admits to feeling weak, but he believes the problem is being controlled by medication and will not hamper him in his role as Leftwich's backup.
"It's something bigger than football," Garrard said of the illness. "I was starting to have some pain in January, but they said it could've been there longer than that. Last Sunday it hit me and I was in the hospital. Right now I feel like my legs are in mud."
Garrard was officially diagnosed on March 23 and began taking medication, but experienced a negative reaction to that medicine last Sunday. He has since responded very favorably to a new prescription.
"It's just a pain in the butt, literally," Garrard said humorously. "I know I can play. It's just a matter of getting over this."
As a reaction to Garrard's health concerns, the Jaguars signed veteran backup quarterback Doug Johnson on Wednesday. Johnson operated behind Leftwich this morning.
"I knew they were going to bring someone in. That's the coach's job, to bring in enough guys to make sure they can win," Garrard added.
Leftwich was at full speed this morning. "Byron was very sharp," Del Rio said in complimenting his second-year quarterback. "He showed that he is more comfortable under center."
Even more noticeable were Douglas' and Smith's appearances. Douglas was svelte-looking compared to last season, and it would seem Douglas has a new attitude to go with his trimmer body. The veteran defensive end, who the Jaguars desperately need to be the productive pass-rusher he was when the Jaguars signed him as an expensive free agent a year ago, has also taken a new number. He has returned to his familiar "53," which he wore with distinction in Philadelphia.
"He looks terrific. He's worked hard, his spirits are good. I like what I see. I like the way he's approached the offseason," Del Rio said of Douglas.
Smith's weight is said to be less than 200 pounds. "Jimmy's lighter than I've seen him in awhile," Del Rio said. Smith is roughly 20 pounds lighter than he was a year ago at this time.
"The big thing is to get a look at the free agents we acquired and the draft picks we acquired," Del Rio said of the importance of this mini-camp, the official start of spring on-field practices.