NO EASING UP
Five days ago, head coach Mike Mularkey told Jaguars players, "The hard part is over."
Not quite. A day after Jaguars 2012 Training Camp officially closed, and five days after the final two-a-day practice, the Jaguars on Monday went through what players said afterward was one of the most physical, hottest, draining practices the team has held since the pads went on in late July.
"It was a -----," left guard Eben Britton said.
Britton, one of several offensive and defensive lineman appearing exhausted after the two-and-half hour session on the Florida Blue Health and Wellness practice field, said while feeling as he did afterward "stinks" – our word, not his – the benefits are obvious.
Mularkey has put the Jaguars through physical practices since the beginning of camp, and Britton said the result has been much better conditioning.
"I think it's a great thing," he said. "I tell you what: in those (preseason) games I have felt awesome. That's what you want. You want practice to be harder than the games. Last week, we had a couple of 10-play drives and I felt great at the end of them."
Tackle William Robinson said he was more tired Monday than after playing 43 plays Friday.
"That was tough – we're working hard," linebacker Russell Allen said. "It was pretty much a standard day. That's the tempo we've come to expect."
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert said while the intensity of practice is difficult – particularly on linemen – it's a positive in terms of preparation.
"It really helps me, because the speed is faster when you have pads on," Gabbert said. "You can simulate the speed when you're in hats, but it's not the same. When you have pads on, guys are flying around. That really helps the offensive guys get used to the timing. That's what we like.
"I know it's tough for some guys to run in pads when it's 100 percent humidity out there, but that's work to be done."
Asked if it was good for him, but not the linemen, Gabbert smiled.
"It's really not 'good' for anybody, but we accomplished a lot of good things out there," he said.
This is one preseason game Rashean Mathis will remember.
Mathis, the veteran Jaguars' cornerback, made a remarkably quick recovery this past offseason after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament last December. He has practiced throughout training camp, but has missed the first two preseason games.
Mathis will play against the Ravens in Baltimore, Mularkey said Sunday.
"It's well overdue," Mathis said, smiling. "A lot of veteran guys hate the preseason, but this is one game that I'm definitely excited for. I haven't been out there with my guys in a while.
"It's not just me being out there. It's me being out there with the fellows I work hard with. I'm glad to be a part of that."
Mathis could have played last Friday against the New Orleans Saints, but Mularkey said it wasn't worth the risk to have him return on the field turf in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
"I listen to my body," Mathis said. "We definitely don't feel like we're rushing anything.
"The whole coaching staff, when they came in here, they came in with a mindset that the team has really grasped. My improvement, the team's improvement, and this offense's improvement – you had to get things done but also get close to the guys in this locker room putting in all the work this offseason."
The Jaguars will practice Tuesday at 10:45 p.m., the last full practice of the week. The Jaguars will travel to Baltimore Wednesday for a preseason game Thursday against the Ravens.
The energy level around the Jaguars this week is notable – and that's true despite the continuing physical nature of practice under Mularkey. The team went through a practice of close to three hours Monday, with the final two-and-a-half hours closed to the media. The first half hour was crisp, which continued a trend of efficiency on offense – particularly in the passing game – over the last week and a half of training camp. But it was what we heard afterward about the last 150 minutes that was noteworthy. This was no ease-up-because-camp-is-over session. It was, by all accounts, as tough a practice mentally and physically as there has been under Mularkey. And yet, the excitement and attitude remained. The team has won two preseason games, but more than that, the first-team offense has played well. Gabbert has played well. Rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon has shown playmaking ability. Add those things to a feeling that grew all offseason that Mularkey and the coaching staff know what they're doing and can lead them in the right direction and there's an optimism that hasn't been felt around the halls at EverBank Field in some time. Certainly, it's enough energy that a difficult practice or two isn't going to stop the momentum.
*Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe remained out of practice Monday. He has been out of practice in the team's concussion program since being hit in the head last in practice last Wednesday. Guard Drew Nowak (foot), cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring), running back Keith Toston (hamstring) and linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) continued working on the side. None of the latter group is expected to play on Thursday against Baltimore, while Monroe's status is uncertain. Tight end Zach Miller practiced in full pads after missing the first two preseason games with a pec injury.
*Defensive end Austen Lane (foot), offensive guard Will Rackley (ankle), guard Jason Spitz (ankle), cornerback Leigh Torrence (concussion program), center John Estes (knee) and fullback Brock Bolen (knee) also remain out of practice. Linebacker Clint Session (concussion) and defensive end John Chick (knee) remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
*Allen continues to work at outside linebacker with Session on the Physically PUP list. He lead the Jaguars' first unit with 11 tackles, eight solos, in two preseason games. "I just keep doing everything I can to make myself better," he said. "Like I said from Day One, I'm in there until Clint gets back. That's where I'm at. I do what they tell me and try to do it to the best of my ability."