BACK WITH THE GUYS
Rashean Mathis couldn't have been happier Tuesday.
Because while there were things the Jaguars' veteran corner couldn't do in the team's first mini-camp practice Tuesday morning, there was plenty he could do – and that meant he had attained a significant offseason goal.
Mathis, who sustained a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in mid-November, was cleared to practice last week by renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who performed the reconstructive surgery on his knee. He was allowed to participate with a helmet in position drills, but did not work in the more full-speed, team-oriented drills.
"I can only do what they allow," Mathis said. "It was a mutual decision. It was just easing into the process. What am I gaining by going out there full speed? That's the main thing, trying to be smart about the whole situation."
Under the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Mathis could not participate in any practice until he was cleared. That meant although he attended organized team activities in May, he was limited to working on the side until being cleared by Andrews.
Mathis said there's a significant difference psychologically to being able to work with the defensive back group and to participate in walkthrough drills.
"That's a comfort level,' Mathis said. "It' something you don't realize you miss it until you don't have it. When you are cleared, you are able to do those things."
Rain on Tuesday continued to be a factor in the Jaguars' offseason.
On Tuesday, the threat of rain first forced Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey to "flip" the schedule, moving a scheduled "full" practice with helmets from the afternoon to the morning and moving a walkthrough practice to the late afternoon.
The walkthrough was then moved from the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields to the Veterans Memorial Arena because of the rain.
"We're just trying to expand from the club lounge," Mularkey said with a smile.
The team had practiced three times this offseason on a club level of EverBank Field when rain forced them inside. Mularkey has talked to Owner Shad Khan about the possibility of a practice bubble in the future.
"We've really been affected by the weather – I guess more than they had in the past," Mularkey said.
Mularkey said the team hadn't used the arena earlier in the offseason because it hadn't been available, but said it could be used for all mini-camp practices this week if necessary.
"It won't be far off from what we're doing up in the club lounge as far as the tempo," Mularkey said. "It will just be more space to do it."
WHAT MULARKEY SAYS
"You'd like to see us when we finish up this mini-camp finish on a high note, so we can come back in here and not have to take a step back to start all over again in training camp. We'd like to hit the road running if we can and these guys' approach will allow us to do that."
WHAT RB RASHAD JENNINGS SAYS
"The difference (from organized team activities) is it's mini-camp. There's another level of expectations."
WHAT WE SAW
The Jaguars were able to get in a full, two-hour mini-camp practice in the morning before the afternoon walkthrough session moved inside. The morning work was high-tempo, as was the case throughout OTAs. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts had several long receptions, including one down right sideline in receiver/quarterback drills. Brandon Marshall also intercepted backup Chad Henne on the first play of seven-on-seven drills. Starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked accurate and efficient on a series of mid-range, sideline passes, while reserve wide receiver Brian Robiskie had perhaps the biggest reception of the day – a long, diving reception down the sideline. Free agent wide receiver Laurent Robinson and receiver Mike Thomas each had acrobatic, diving catches on the sideline on passes from Gabbert.
Most of the 90 Jaguars players on the offseason roster will participate in mini-camp practices Wednesday and Thursday, after which the offseason program will be over for veteran players. The mini-camp practices will be open to the public, with Wednesday's session scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and Thursday's scheduled for 11:15 a.m. The schedules are subject to change because of the weather.
Now, the issue is really an issue. That's what happened Tuesday when Maurice Jones-Drew opted to skip Day 1 of the team's mandatory mini-camp. Until then, his absence from the offseason program had been a side story because until Tuesday, everything was voluntary. Now, it's evident that Jones-Drew is unhappy enough with his contract to accept a potential $60,000 fine. There are obviously two sides to the issue. Jones-Drew feels he is underpaid while the Jaguars feel he is under contract for two more seasons, and as a result, Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said Monday there are no plans to renegotiate the contract. The problem is it's another week that Jones-Drew isn't around the team and new coaching staff. Can Jones-Drew learn the offense if he reports to training camp on time? Sure. Can he still be an effective player next year if he reports to training camp on time? Sure. Will he be in shape? Sure/most certainly. But the Jaguars coaching staff and the players have spent the offseason talking about starting something special. Jones-Drew by using this week to make a point about his contract – a point the team obviously already well understood – is missing being a part of that, showing his support for that. That's not a good thing. The train, to use an overused analogy, is leaving the station, and the Jaguars as a team feel good about the direction it's headed. They'd like Jones-Drew to be on it. Because he's not, this is an issue that appears destined to linger for six more weeks. It's an issue that can be overcome, but it's hardly ideal.
*Mularkey said the work Tuesday was impressive, with players getting two sets of "installs" in the morning. The players are essentially hearing the same things they heard in earlier phases of the offseason, with the idea of having the players familiar with the system when training camp begins July 27. "It was pretty impressive how they picked it up," Mularkey said. "They had a lot thrown at them this morning."
*The Jaguars had their first on-field altercation of the 2012 offseason when defensive end Aaron Morgan and offensive guard/center Jason Spitz fought briefly during the morning/afternoon session. "The trenches are the trenches," Mathis said. "They will be in each other's faces all day, every day, so they get tired of each other. Just know that we're all Jags. We all need each other to suit up."
*Mularkey said rookie punter Bryan Anger and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon stood out in practice Tuesday. He said Anger was impressive in several situational special teams drills, and that Blackmon "came out there with a great approach, very focused on everything he was trying to do, all the little things." Mularkey added of Blackmon, "That was good to see."
*Kicker Josh Scobee was the only player on the roster aside from Jones-Drew not attending the mini-camp. Scobee, because he is the designated franchise player, cannot be fined for his absence.