JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley considered it a good first day. A really, really good first day.
Not that there's not a whole lot of improvement to be made, but Bradley – in his second season as the Jaguars' head coach – said the Jaguars absolutely got the start he hoped on Tuesday on Day 1 of 2014 organized team activities.
Eighty-nine of 90 players attended, with the lone absence being Chris Clemons, a defensive end formerly of the Seattle Seahawks who signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent in early March.
"I have a call into him today – I was hoping he'd be back," Bradley said early Tuesday afternoon at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. "I know it's voluntary, but we'd like to see him back here. I know he has good reasons."
Bradley said he spoke to Clemons last week and that the 11-year veteran defensive end was hoping to be in Jacksonville for the beginning of OTAs.
"I know he has some family things he's taking care of," Bradley said. "It must have carried over until today."
The first day of OTAs marks the beginning of Phase 3 of the offseason, with teams permitted to have 11-on-11 work without pads and with helmets.
"I thought it was really good," Bradley said.
The practice also marked the first practice with the team's nine drafted rookies and 17 free agents working with the returning veterans and newcomers. That meant the first 11-on-11 style work with veteran Chad Henne – expected to be the team's starting quarterback next season – and rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Bradley said Henne, who started 13 games last season, had been throwing very well in Phase 2 of the offseason in recent weeks.
"I talked to him about that and told him, 'It appears to me you're throwing with confidence,''' Bradley said. "He said, 'I'm not there yet. I'm getting closer. I'm not where I want to be.' But it feels to me like he just has had a better command of the offense."
Bradley said Bortles improved from a two-day rookie camp May 16-17.
"I think with Blake you're seeing the ups and downs, but I think we're seeing more good," Bradley said. "From where he was to where he is now, he's making progress. It's so important to him. I love that part that's so competitive and I think once he gets to a comfort level where he understands the offense I think things will settle down for him."
The practice also featured two no-huddle periods, something Bradley said was definitely by design with a purpose.
"We really strained them that way," Bradley said. "We want to get to the point where we can execute under strain. It was challenging, that part. … I believe we're a faster team. We want to make sure we're in shape so we can play fast. Now, we have to execute and be precise in what we're doing."
The Jaguars ended Tuesday's two-hour-plus session with an "opportunity period," a segment for players who didn't get as many repetitions during practice as starters and backups. Bradley said he wants the period to be a chance for younger players to prove themselves in specific situations – and for veterans to show leadership.
"We wanted to use that as an opportunity for guys to showcase their talents, and provide value to the team in other ways," Bradley said. "We took the helmets off for the guys who weren't involved and we wanted them to help lead and for them to help coach.
"For the first time we did it, it's not where we want it to be, but it's coming. We had five or six guys do a lot of talking and helping the younger guys, but that will just grow. I think that will be a good period for our young guys."
Of the first OTA of 2014 in general, Bradley said, "Overall, we're very pleased. We just have a ways to go yet."
*Four players missed practice while rehabilitating injures: rookie cornerback Aaron Colvin (knee), second-year safety Josh Evans (foot), fifth-year unrestricted free agent linebacker Dakoda Watson (groin) and free-agent rookie tight end Marcel Jensen (groin). ...
*Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (ankle), center Mike Brewster (knee) and tackle Austin Pasztor (shoulder) all worked extensively after returning from injuries in the offseason. Bradley said the team continues to be cautious with those players. "We're being real smart with them," Bradley said. "They're ready to get some reps. We have to be the smart ones to hold them back.''…
*Bradley mentioned the battle for the fourth- and fifth receiver positions as well as right guard as positions that will be competitive during OTAs and training camp. ...
*Bradley also said with Watson not working Tuesday, the team worked second-year linebacker Laroy Reynolds at the team's new "Otto" linebacker position. …