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Jaguars 2018 Training Camp: Eye on the battles

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JACKSONVILLE – The battle wasn't much of a battle at all.

That has been the story at right guard during Jaguars 2018 Training Camp, and it's a story that defines much of the roster during camp.

The few positions that seemed likely before camp to feature competition for a starting position haven't played out that way in 13 training camp practices, with the two most-discussed camp battles – right guard and strong-side linebacker – never coming to fruition.

In the case of '18 camp, the lack of real battles appears to be a good thing.

This was considered a strong roster entering camp, one of the NFL's best. The reason most of the starting positions weren't battles is because there already was a well-established – and very good player – playing there.

One of the more notable battles was the right guard position:

A.J. Cann, a starter since he was selected by the Jaguars in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, missed the offseason program with an injury. Head Coach Doug Marrone talked positively enough during that time about players such as Josh Walker that many observers speculated that the starting right guard position would be open for competition. Marrone early in camp said Cann would start out working with the starters, adding that the team would "see how it goes" after that.

Here's how it has gone:

Cann has had perhaps his best NFL training camp, drawing praise from Marrone last week. He started the preseason opener against New Orleans last Thursday, and has taken most if not all of the first-team repetitions throughout training camp.

Here's a quick look at some of the Jaguars positions that were supposed to be the most competitive entering '18 camp, and how those storylines have played out through two-and-a-half weeks:

*Right guard. Call this the first of a couple of Competitions That Never Happened. Cann, who has been very good at times in three seasons and inconsistent at others, has looked stronger and more consistent during this camp. His presence with the starters since Day 1 of camp make him the clear favorite to retain his starting position. "At the end of the day, as a player you find anything and everything to try to motivate you," Cann said. "Some people call it motivation. You're either getting better or maintaining the same. I'm just trying to get better." Marrone, in addition last week to saying Cann was playing better now than he has in three previous seasons, also said Cann has been helped by the NFL's emphasis this season on player not leading with their helmets to initiate contact. Cann on Sunday agreed that better adhering to that rule has helped him. "I had a bad habit of when I went in for blocks ducking my head on contact," Cann said. "That rule has come out and it's a flag now. I don't want to put the team in jeopardy, so I'm trying best I can to practice good habits, keeping my head up, I do believe it's made me a better player, being able to control myself and keeping my head up."

Strong-side linebacker. Consider this the second of two Competitions That Never Happened. While many observers considered second-year veteran Blair Brown the likely starter at strong-side linebacker after Myles Jack moved to the middle on a full-time basis, camp instead opened with rookie seventh-round selection Leon Jacobs working with the starters. Jacobs started the preseason opener Thursday, and has worked with the starters in every practice except one he missed with a minor injury. When asked about Jacobs' performance against New Orleans, Marrone said Jacobs looked like he belonged – which is the first thing you want to hear about a rookie starter. Jacobs has the strength to set the edge in run defense and has looked good in coverage, also drawing praise from teammates and coaches for quickly grasping of the defense. Jacobs appears enough of a clear favorite to start that this may not be much of a story moving forward.

Wide receiver. The thought here entering camp was that the primary storyline at wide receiver would be what roles the top five players at the position would play. Through two-and-a-half weeks of camp and one preseason game, that's perhaps the Jaguars' biggest remaining unanswered question of camp. The Jaguars' top five receivers – Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, DJ Chark Jr., Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook – all have had very good moments in camp. From this reporter's eye Westbrook perhaps has had the best camp, but Chark is improving rapidly and the rookie is going to be hard to keep out of the lineup. Cole consistently has shown the same ability to get open and make plays deep that allowed him to lead the Jaguars in receiving yards last season. Lee and Moncrief both missed time in the first week of camp, but both have made plays since then. Who will start? What roles will they all play? Stay tuned on this one, because it feels like a lot will be decided in Preseason Weeks 2 and 3.

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