Two weeks in, Blaine Gabbert is making progress.
That's the opinion of Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, who addressed Gabbert's off-season progress Thursday following the sixth of 10 scheduled organized team activities practices at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field.
Mularkey said he is particularly impressed with the second-year quarterback's ability to pick up an offense that is being installed as OTAs progress.
"He's grasped the offense rather quickly, and you know that by when you call the play you step right in the huddle and call the play," Mularkey said. "I haven't been around a lot of quarterbacks the first time you introduce a brand new offense that can walk in the huddle and call the play with the impression that 'I know it so well that it's going to work' – with that kind of mentality. That has been outstanding on his part."
Mularkey also said Gabbert has improved his balance in the pocket, an area that has been a focus during the off-season.
"It's better, yes – still working on it, still got to be consistent with it, but it's better," he said.
Mularkey said quarterbacks coach Greg Olson has focused on mechanics, slowing Gabbert's drop to help maintain balance.
"We're doing some things with some of the deeper drops – we're not asking him to drop as deep just so he remains balanced so he's not too fast into it where he doesn't keep his balance," he said. "We're slowly but surely, it's getting better and better."
CLOSER AND CLOSER
Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton worked out wearing a helmet Thursday, and he liked it a lot – both the fact that he was wearing it and the helmet itself.
The helmet is fitted with a dark visor to protect Knighton's left eye, on which he underwent emergency surgery in early April following a nightclub incident. Knighton worked on the side throughout OTAs this week, hitting heavy bags.
"I wish I could do it with the team," he said. "We just don't want to rush it."
Knighton said he believes he could be practicing if necessary, but said he and the team want to be cautious with his recovery. Mularkey said Knighton likely won't work "at great length" until training camp.
"I think we're all probably a little surprised in how far he's come from what we anticipated when he first had the injury," Mularkey said. "I think he's taking baby steps right now."
NO MORE OKLAHOMA
Mularkey on Thursday also said the team will not run the Oklahoma Drill in training camp.
The drill – which features offensive and defensive players running a full contact one-on-one blocking and tackling drill – had been a regular feature at Jaguars training camp in recent seasons, typically kicking off the first night in full pads.
Mularkey said he didn't like the drill as a player in Pittsburgh, where the drill traditionally opened training camp under then-Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll, and that he had no plans to run the drill with the Jaguars.
WHAT MULARKEY SAYS
"We're six into the ten OTAs and we've got a lot of install still to go. We're pretty pleased as a staff with what we've accomplished in the six (practices). We've got a lot of situations taken care of, we've introduced them to a lot of different areas of the game. We're getting a lot done in that two-hour frame that we have to work with, so it's been very productive. A lot of great teaching that we can use from this point on in these camps, going into training camp we can take these plays and now go out and teach off of them for a teaching tool."
WHAT WE SAW
The portion of Day 6 of organized team activities open to the media featured some of the most extensive observable special teams work in the first two weeks. Beyond special teams coach Jon Bonamego coaching over a loud speaker, what was most noticeable about the day as might be expected was the performance of rookie Bryan Anger. A third-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, much has been made first about where Anger was selected but also about the strength of his leg. The second part was on display again Thursday, and while Mularkey said there were one or two punts that could have been more consistent, overall Anger continued to impress with his hang time. One punt in particular neared a six-second hang time and appeared to travel at least 60 yards. "He hit a couple of big ones," Mularkey said. "The thing you gotta be is more consistent. Because there are a couple in there that were not, obviously returnable punts, but for the most part he hit some good punts."
Most of the 90 Jaguars players on the off-season roster will participate in organized team activities practices next Tuesday through Friday, with Friday marking the last day of OTAs. The team's mandatory mini-camp is scheduled to run June 12-14. Training camp is scheduled to begin in late July.
There's doubtless going to be a lot of buzz about the elimination of the Oklahoma Drill, and without question there will be a faction of the fan base very disappointed. When I arrived at jaguars.com early last off-season, one of the things I was struck by most was the drill's popularity among the fan base. I was skeptical, but upon witnessing it last off-season, you couldn't help appreciate the enthusiasm among the fans, particularly those who had come to embrace it as their night. While it certainly will be missed, it always will have a place in the memory of those who saw it and who looked forward to it each summer. It's a special part of the team's history. Here's to remembering it as such.
*Defensive end Jeremy Mincey remained out with an illness for a third consecutive day Wednesday, while linebacker Clint Session, wide receiver Lee Evans, safety Courtney Greene and cornerback Aaron Ross missed practice. Kicker Josh Scobee and running back Maurice Jones-Drew remained absent for a second consecutive week.
*Cornerback Rashean Mathis (knee), defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee), defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (eye), middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (shoulder) and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (knee) remained among those limited, out or working on the side, while tackle William Robinson (knee) appeared to be back working.
*Mularkey said an emphasis in practice the past two days has been red-zone and third-down situations. He said the team also has worked extensively on first downs and blitz situations this past week.
*South Carolina and former Florida Head Coach Steve Spurrier and Jacksonville University coach Kerwin Bell attended practice Thursday. Former Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Barlow – now the head coach at Alabama State – also attended practice.
*Mularkey had former Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier speak to the team Thursday morning, and share his story. Collier played two seasons with the Jaguars before being left paralyzed in a shooting incident in Jacksonville that also led to his left leg being amputated. "He did an outstanding job, and I thought it was very impactful for our football team to hear his story," Mularkey said.