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Hot camp, hot passing game


It's a training camp that will be long remembered for its blazing heat. Might it also be remembered for having produced a passing game that put the Jaguars over the top?

That was the question on everybody's lips as the Jaguars broke camp on Wednesday, following an afternoon practice in which coach Jack Del Rio softened his regimen under the stress of a sizzling mid-day sun.

"It's been a very productive training camp. I like the fact it's been very business-like. The first night at the opening of camp I talked about being consistent, about having talent not being good enough. Guys have bought into that," Del Rio told reporters.

As Del Rio spoke, a team many are picking as this year's favorite to win the AFC South title, trudged off the field with smiles on their faces. Three weeks ago, as they prepared for the start of training camp, nobody was sure what face it should wear.

When camp began, the Jaguars were dogged by a reputation for a team that could run the ball and play defense but couldn't throw it well enough to compete on the championship level. In this training camp, however, the Jaguars passing game made rapid gains and now, as the players say so long to two-a-days, they have reason to believe they've found the passing game they need and, if they have, yes, this could turn out to have been the camp that puts this team over the top.

"There's no doubt there's significant improvement," Del Rio said of the passing game. "We feel good about the start we have."

Under a sun that pushed temperatures toward 100 degrees, quarterback Byron Leftwich closed camp with another strong showing. So did quarterback David Garrard, and even undrafted rookie Lester Ricard seems to have made gains in the latter stages of camp.

The wide receivers may be the Jaguars' most improved position on the team, thanks to the acquisitions of Dennis Northcutt and rookies Mike Walker and John Broussard, and the emergence of Charles Sharon. All of a sudden, the Jaguars have a group of wide receivers worthy of expanding the number they keep.

"I like the guys," new wide receivers coach Todd Monken said. "I think they've all accepted the challenge.

"They have natural ball skills," Monken said of Walker and Broussard. "If you have natural ball skills, it looks so easy. Can they catch it and can you count on them?"

That would seem to be the next big question the Jaguars have to answer about their young receivers. Broussard, a seventh-round pick, is catching the ball so well that it's raising this question: Why did he last into the seventh round of the draft?

"I think we're better. I think we're improved," Monken said.

The Jaguars will put their new and improved passing game on display for the home fans this Saturday evening, when they host the Tampa Bay Bucs in the Jags' preseason home opener.

"Even tailgaters need to get out here and practice their routine," Del Rio joked. "We look forward to getting out there in front of our home fans."

Del Rio wants to show Jags fans this year's team is not going to be three yards and a cloud of dust. To that end, he'll play his starters a little longer this week, which means Leftwich and company will likely play deeper into the second quarter.

"We expect our starters to play a little longer … and get a good evaluation," Del Rio said.

The fans, of course, will provide the evaluation.

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