JACKSONVILLE – Now, it starts. For real.
Jaguars 2018 Training Camp officially began Thursday, but now's when things really get going at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex – because anyone listening to Head Coach Doug Marrone knows this much:
Training camp doesn't start for real until the pads go on.
That happened Saturday with the first padded practice of '18 camp. Players are off Sunday, but they will be back Monday to begin the most intense week of camp – a week of padded work that ends with a Friday night practice inside TIAA Bank Field.
This is when the hitting begins, and it's when real evaluation of most positions – particularly the two lines – really begins.
Look for the Jaguars to hit in full pads throughout the week. Look for the intensity to rise. Look for a few positions and roles to get a lot closer to getting sorted out than was possible during the non-padded work of the offseason.
Look for this thing to get started for real – and with that in mind, here are eight players/storylines to watch in the coming days when the Jaguars go through the first padded practices of '18 training camp:
1.Andrew Norwell, guard.The Jaguars signed him as an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers with the idea that the first-team Associated Press All-Pro would add physicality and dominance to an already good line. Norwell has looked good in non-padded work. He has looked good in the weight room. He has looked good walking through the hallway. How will it all translate to the field? We begin getting that answer now. "We haven't seen it in person," quarterback Blake Bortles said of Norwell this past week. "It's tough to judge an offensive lineman when you go out there in shorts and a helmet. When they put the pads on, it will be good because he is going against really good defensive linemen. It is a good test for everyone up front, and he is obviously a really good player as well." …
2.Taven Bryan, defensive end/tackle.The Jaguars selected him No. 29 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is as impressive physically as possible for a rookie defensive lineman. Strength, size, quickness … all signs indicate to him being a very good player for the long-term with impact in the short term. But nothing counts along the lines until the players work in pads. He looked very good Saturday in his first padded NFL pass-rushing drills. There's no reason to think he won't continue in that vein.
3.Dawuane Smoot, defensive end.This is a big camp/preseason for Smoot. A third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Smoot played a key reserve strong-side end role as a rookie last season behind Campbell. The Jaguars like him and he should have a role in the line rotation for the foreseeable future, but Year 2 is a big year for defensive linemen to show growth – and that makes this a big camp for Smoot.
4.Leon Jacobs/Blair Brown, strong-side linebackers.Jacobs, a rookie seventh-round selection from the University of Wisconsin, has worked with the first team in the first three days of camp over Brown – a second-year veteran. The Jaguars liked Jacobs' athleticism and awareness in the offseason and he has looked comfortable early in training camp. "I like his length, like his strength, think he has good speed, good change of direction, but again, the pads are on now, so we will see," Marrone said of Jacobs Saturday.
5.Leonard Fournette, running back.Fournette has little to prove in the way of earning a roster spot; he's the clear No. 1, go-to back. The question is how much he can improve in Year 2. Positive signs are there on that front. The second-year veteran showed up to camp 15 pounds lighter than he played as a rookie. He has looked impressively quick at that weight in non-padded work. If he looks as good with pads on, he could be looking at a year worthy of his No. 4 selection in the '17 draft.
6.A.J. Cann, right guard.This is a big camp for the fourth-year veteran. While he started his first three NFL seasons, he didn't participate in the '18 offseason program because of injuries and several right guards drew praise in his absence. He has worked with the starters early in camp, and was impressive in pass-rush drills Saturday in the first padded work. The guess here is Cann will start the season at right guard. He has looked the part early.
7.Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end.We didn't include many of receivers/skill positions in this list, because the focus in padded practice shifts to the lines and the defense. But the intensity of practice picks up everywhere in padded work. As good as Seferian-Jenkins looked in his first offseason with the Jaguars after signing as a UFA, how he fares in padded work and live contact is the better test. The Jaguars need him to continue to look as good as he did in May and June.
8. Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end.The third-year defensive end really doesn't have all that much to prove in training camp. He's developing into one of the NFL's best edge rushers, and there's no sign of that changing. We just put him here because it's fun to watch him practice. Few players play with the constant level of intensity of Ngakoue.