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It's Oklahoma time


Eugene Monroe missed last year's Oklahoma drill, though Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio graciously granted Monroe a special-edition Oklahoma opportunity when the 2009 first-round pick finally came to contract terms following a two-week absence from training camp.

"I was in Virginia just waiting. It was irritating. Every day you fell so far behind," Monroe recalled of this time a year ago.

Much about Monroe was different then. He was a rookie without a contract, he was consumed by the anxiety of what he would face when he finally made it into camp, and he weighed 30 pounds more than he does now.

All of that conspired to produce an inauspicious debut against Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney. It was as you would expect when a rookie pass-blocker who misses most of training camp makes his professional debut against the game's premier pass-rusher.

That was then. This year, Monroe is lighter, stronger, quicker and smarter.

Currently at 300 pounds, Monroe is playing at his lightest weight since high school. His new body type was authored by strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson this past spring.

"I feel incredible on the field right now," Monroe said. "Losing weight wasn't really the goal. I had changed my diet just to be healthier. I'm much stronger than I was last year."

Monroe will have an opportunity to strut his stuff in Sunday evening's practice, which begins at seven p.m., when coach Jack Del Rio delights fans for the sixth consecutive year by conducting what has become a training camp tradition: the Oklahoma drill.

It'll pit blocker vs. defender in a run-blocking/run-stuffing drill. Del Rio has again allowed to make requested matchups and the coach has approved three: Monroe vs. rookie defensive end Larry Hart, veteran guard Uche Nwaneri vs. rookie defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith, and second-year offensive tackle Eben Britton vs. veteran defensive end Derrick Harvey.

A fourth matchup request would require first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu to come to contract terms and make it into camp in time for Sunday evening's practice.'s request for Alualu to face veteran guard Vince Manuwai, however, had already been beaten to the punch by Manuwai, who requested that he be paired with Alualu. The two Hawaiians are from the same Honolulu neighborhood. Del Rio told he would honor Manuwai's request, should Alualu make it into camp in time for Sunday evening's practice.

Monroe spoke of his own eagerness.

"I love it," he said of the Oklahoma. "I love to compete and that's one on one, one man against the other. It's a good thing to build camaraderie. I'm happy we do it here. I know a lot of teams don't do that drill. It's heavy contact and that's what you want. I can't wait."

Monroe and Britton are the key players in the Jaguars' quest to give quarterback David Garrard the kind of pass-protection he needs to be productive and efficient. Garrard didn't have that type of protection last season; he was hit more than any other quarterback in the league.

"When you turn 32, you start to feel it a little bit. When you take shot after shot, it starts to wear on you. I'm definitely going to get the ball out of my hand," Garrard said on the eve of the start of training camp.

"He needs better pass-protection. That's our job, to protect the passer. Eben and I have experience from starting every game last year. We set higher goals of making the Pro Bowl but none of that can happen unless we play well for the Jaguars," Monroe said. "I'm very excited for this season. Seeing the true potential we have in Jacksonville, how could you not be excited?"

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