Once upon a time, the final practice of training camp was a milestone event. As teams broke camp and headed back to their cities, the question was always: What are they taking with them?
The Jaguars broke camp on Thursday, but their situation isn't nearly as dramatic.
"We're not leaving whatever faraway place. We're in our own stadium. The fact that guys work year-round; it's different. Camp has changed throughout the league," coach Jack Del Rio said after his team slogged through a final practice that was shortened by drenching rains.
All right, breaking camp isn't the big deal it once was, but the question continues to be asked around the NFL this week as teams end the sleep-over portion of their seasons. What are they taking with them?
The Jaguars are thought to be taking with them legitimate hope of winning their first-ever AFC South Division title. They are taking with them legitimate expectations to advance in the postseason, as they did last season.
"By and large, it was a good, business-like training camp. Guys came ready to work. We've had a few injuries we had to deal with. For the most part, those guys are going to be back with us at some point in the season. The only disappointing aspect is not having our first-round pick in here," Del Rio said.
When the Jaguars traded up 18 spots on draft day to select Derrick Harvey, the team was addressing a distinct need for a pass-rushing defensive end. It was considered to be the team's most pressing and, possibly, only distinct need. It was hoped Harvey would put the team over the top and he still may do that but, if he does, he'll have to do it without the benefit of a training camp.
"People have to make choices and with choices there are consequences," Del Rio said. "We played without him the last few years and we've been OK."
Del Rio elected to focus on the positives the Jaguars took with them from training camp on Thursday, and the positives are many. Asked to name his most pleasant surprises, Del Rio paused to think and then said:
• "Brian Witherspoon; he's piqued our interest. Tony McDaniel has been very good, very strong. He's been a dominant player for us at times. I think Rashean Mathis has had a tremendous training camp. I'd compare (Daryl Smith) against any linebacker in the league. I think he's a complete football player."
What are some other positives?
• Fullback Greg Jones has regained his quickness and completes a stable of running backs that includes what may be the best one-two punch in the league, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. This year, it could be a 1-2-3 punch.
• Quarterback David Garrard has shown no decline in his performance since signing the most lucrative contract in team history during the offseason.
• Marcus Stroud won't be missed. McDaniel and Rob Meier give the Jaguars amazing strength and depth at defensive tackle.
• Cornerback Drayton Florence has been everything the team thought he was when they signed him to an expensive free-agent contract. His performance in training camp confirmed Brian Williams' move to strong safety, which could give the Jaguars one of the best defensive backfields in the league.
• Special teams are loaded with fast, aggressive coverage guys who offer the potential to take this year's "teams" to the top of the league rankings.
The negatives are all injury based. Starting wide receivers Jerry Porter and Reggie Williams missed all of training camp recovering from hamstring and knee surgeries. Defensive end Reggie Hayward missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury and defensive end James Wyche, who made a strong push at the start of camp, was lost for the season to an Achilles injury. Center Brad Meester, of course, sustained a biceps injury at the outset of camp, underwent surgery and won't be ready to play until about midseason.
Del Rio is undaunted by the injuries. He's confident the depth of his team's roster can hold forth until his injured players return to health.
"I assure you I'm sleeping at four o'clock in the morning," Del Rio joked when asked if the injuries were causing him to lose sleep.
"It's about being unselfish and building a true team. It was strong last year and it needs to be even stronger going forward," Del Rio said.