A MATTER OF NUMBERS
The Jaguars wanted Drew Coleman to have an opportunity to play somewhere next season.
Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Friday that was why the team opted to release the veteran cornerback on Thursday and not wait until later in the off-season or training camp.
"Right now is a chance for guys to get onto rosters and get onto teams that they can work in the offseason and have a chance to go into the OTA's and the vet camp," Mularkey said Friday following the first of practice of the Jaguars' three-day rookie camp at EverBank Field.
"We just wanted him to have that chance."
The release of Coleman came as a surprise to many Jaguars observers. He signed as a free agent from the New York Jets last off-season, playing in all 16 games, starting four and finishing with two interceptions.
Mularkey said the release also was a matter of numbers. The Jaguars have nine veteran cornerbacks and four rookies on the roster after Coleman's release, and he said the team also has strong options at nickel back.
"We have the numbers – we actually had more than we needed going into this and we just felt like this was a great chance for him," Mularkey said.
He said newly signed cornerback Aaron Ross and veteran Rashean Mathis each could work at outside corner and nickel to start training camp, and it's likely one will play outside opposite Derek Cox with the other playing the nickel.
Coleman played the nickel exclusively last season, staying there late in the season when the team sustained a rash of injuries at cornerback.
Mathis, the starter outside to start last season, finished the season on injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Mularkey said Mathis is ahead of schedule in his return, a factor that also played into Coleman's release.
"We like where Rashean is in his recovery," Mularkey said.
A DAY FOR DING
As might be expected, kicker Long Ding was a big story on the first day of mini-camp.
Ding, invited to the Jaguars' three-day mini-camp on a workout basis, is trying to become the first Chinese-born player to make an NFL roster. Jaguars special teams coach John Bonamego said he was impressed with Ding's leg strength, and said he liked a lot about the rookie.
"He has a smooth, compact stroke and approach to the ball," Bonamego said. "Those are sometimes things kickers have to learn, and it takes a while. He made more than he missed today."
Ding after practice spoke to the media, and told the story of how he first began playing American football in 2007 when he attended an IFAF/USA Football-sponsored camp, then how he was recruited to New Hampton School in New Hampshire as part of a program to promote football in China.
That was in 2007, and five years later – after twice being Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Special Teams Player of the Year at Norwich University – he participated in the NFL Regional and Super Regional Combines. The Jaguars called him Saturday after the draft to extend the workout offer.
His reaction? "Cool," he said Friday.
The answer drew laughter among the gathered media, and Ding proved engaging throughout several interactions with media. Asked if he knew much about the Jaguars before receiving the call, he replied, "That's a good question."
"I had no idea where Jacksonville was," he said. "I didn't even know it was in Florida."
Ding also was asked if his story was a particularly big deal in China. He laughed.
"Not as big a deal as Yao Ming," he said. "American football is not that popular in China right now, but we're still working on it."
Ding said he considers his range anywhere inside 55 yards, and that he kicked a 51-yarder in college. Bonamego said while he liked Long's leg he was just as impressed with the rookie off the field.
"I didn't know what to expect," Bonamego said. "But I really, really liked the kid. I can see him being very popular in a short amount of time. He jumped out there in the walkthrough and was playing corner. He's shadowing (first-round draft pick Justin) Blackmon. He's got a smile on his face the whole time.
"I think we all could learn something from this kid. He's a neat kid."
WHAT WR JUSTIN BLACKMON SAYS
"It (Day 1 of rookie minicamp) was everything and more. I enjoyed it, being out there and just getting back into the rhythm of football. These last couple months have just been nothing but meetings and traveling. So just getting back to running, catching balls, getting timing down and bonding with teammates; I've got teammates again so it's always a good thing to do."
WHAT DE RYAN DAVIS SAYS
"I knew it was going to be tough today because everybody is new for the most part. We got after it a great deal today. (Defensive line) Coach (Joe) Cullen and (assistant line) Coach (Paul) Spicer really pushed us today in practice. It was pretty much what I expected so it was pretty tough."
The 50 players participating in the three-day rookie camp will practice twice Saturday and once Sunday. The practices are at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field and are closed to the public.
Let's pause a moment to talk about one of the best human interest stories in Jaguars camp this week. We talk, of course, of Ding, who is trying to become the first Chinese-born player to make an NFL roster. Ding, according to Bonamego has a strong leg and has impressed people around the Jaguars with his enthusiasm and his personality. The reality is that likely won't be enough for a roster spot on the Jaguars this season, and that's OK. The road to the NFL often is a long one for any kicker, particularly one who played football at Division III Norwich, but as Bonamego said Friday, we could learn a lot from Ding and his story. He began playing football five years ago, and in that time has learned a new sport and a new language and did so a world away from home. Is his end game the NFL? Perhaps, perhaps not, but for a few days, at least, he's making 2012 rookie minicamp a memorable one, and he's made it a little more fun than it might have been otherwise. Here's wishing him the best, whatever the end game.
*Mularkey said he was impressed with what he saw from Josh McGregor, adding the former Jacksonville University quarterback "did a good job" during first day of practice. Part of what the Jaguars ask quarterbacks to do is get in front of the offense and go through the cadence system multiple times. "It was not too big for him," Mularkey said. "I was very impressed."
*Mularkey said the Jaguars are considering keeping three quarterbacks on the roster for the off-season program and expanding that number to four for training camp. "Right now the plan is three, and talk about four for training camp," he said.
*Blackmon on wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan: "I tried to take everything I can in. He's very good at what he does at coaching receivers. Right now I'm just a sponge trying to take it all in." *Mularkey said while six of the players participating were drafted compared to 44 who were not, the tape and the practices will be evaluated equally. "When I say level playing surface, we're going to watch every player, every snap," he said. "Regardless of whether they were the first pick, or the last guy we signed. It's not a matter of, 'This guy is here and we're going to look at him more.' If we didn't feel like they had a chance to comp