Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio confirmed that his team's first full-pads practice will feature an Oklahoma drill that has rapidly become one of the fan favorites of training camp.
"Hitting is what football is all about. To start off camp, once you get into pads, with some big-man-on-big-man challenges, not only is it fun for the guys but it's a great opportunity for some guys and a challenge for others. There's something about one-on-one, big-man-on-big-man challenges that give you insight into players' abilities," Del Rio told jaguars.com on Wednesday.
The Jaguars will begin training camp on Saturday morning at 10:15 with a shorts-and-helmets practice at the team's Jacksonville Municipal Stadium practice fields. Training camp practices through Aug. 9 will be open to the public.
Monday, July 30, will mark the first full-pads practice and the Oklahoma drill. Practice will begin at seven p.m. The first full week of practice will culminate with an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday at 7:30 p.m., inside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Del Rio said defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, who missed spring drills as he recovered from postseason ankle surgery, has been cleared to practice. Defensive end Reggie Hayward (Achilles) has not been cleared to practice and will be reevaluated before Friday. Del Rio said tight end George Wrighster (labrum) and rookie defensive end Brian Smith (hip) are not likely to be medically cleared before the start of camp, and quarterback Quinn Gray could begin training camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list due to a sprained ankle he recently sustained.
"The biggest thing we must have is a 100 percent buy-in. We need everybody on board. We're going to ask everybody to compete with great energy and purpose and seek to prepare ourselves," Del Rio said of what will likely be his message to his players when he addresses them on Friday.
At issue in this training camp is the Jaguars' passing game. Can it improve significantly enough for the Jaguars to become a Super Bowl contender this season? The Jaguars' passing game fell to number 24 in league rankings last season, and committed critical turnovers that caused the team to lose its final three games of the season and miss the playoffs.
"We have a big challenge. We have a bunch of individuals that have potential and have worked hard in the offseason. Now the challenge is to get to work and take advantage of the opportunity," Del Rio said of his passing game.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich would seem to be facing the greatest challenge. He's been reinstated as the team's starting quarterback for the final season on his current contract.
"I thought he was one of the most improved players in the spring. He gave himself an opportunity to have a big camp and have a big year," Del Rio said of Leftwich, who has missed 16 of the Jaguars' last 22 games due to an ankle injury he sustained late in the 2005 season. Leftwich had surgery on that ankle last fall and he says he's fully recovered.
David Garrard replaced Leftwich at midseason last year and was on path to claim the starting job permanently when a flurry of interceptions in a week-15 loss in Tennessee derailed Garrard's bid. He's back to number two but continues to be highly regarded by his coach.
"He can continue to develop. The season didn't finish the way he liked but I still believe he has a lot of ability. He'll grow under (new quarterbacks coach) Mike Shula and (new offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter," Del Rio said of Garrard.
Del Rio said the team's full-pads practices will continue to include nine-on-seven drills and that more cross-over drills are scheduled for this training camp; "more wide receivers blocking defensive backs and offensive and defensive linemen working together," Del Rio said.
"There's competition for positions on our team and on our depth chart. They'll determine over the next two weeks which of the guys we can count on," the coach added.