An overflow crowd was on hand to watch this morning's mini-camp practice at the Jaguars' Alltel Stadium practice facility. The fans' enthusiasm seemed to accentuate what coach Jack Del Rio said is a heightened spirit among the players.
"We all feel a certain sense of momentum that was left over from last year. The chemistry now is light years ahead of where it was last year," Del Rio told reporters following the morning practice, which the Jaguars estimated to have been attended by about 2,000 fans.
Drills were lively and for the second consecutive day Del Rio made a point of praising quarterback Byron Leftwich. "Byron was very, very sharp," Del Rio said.
"Knowing this is his team this year has to help him. It's his football team. He knows that and he's putting his stamp on it," the second-year head coach added. "You can talk about being the guy, but if you don't back it up, it's pretty shallow. He's backing it up right now."
Leftwich isn't the only player to have earned special notice. Del Rio also offered praise for veterans Hugh Douglas and Jimmy Smith, and for draft picks Ernest Wilford and Daryl Smith, and Del Rio referred to undrafted wide receiver Matt Cherry as this year's Cortez Hankton.
"This is the first time the crowd got to see the new Hugh and the new Jimmy, and they've both re-dedicated themselves," Del Rio said of Douglas and Smith, veteran players who've shed weight and are said to be determined to bounce back from off years.
Douglas' role is especially important, since he plays a position at which the Jaguars' have a desperate need. The Jaguars needs for Douglas to become the pass-rusher he was prior to last season.
"I definitely have a new attitude," Douglas told reporters today. "I would like to be a leader by example. I want to be held accountable for what I'm here for."
What has made for the big change in Douglas? Well, he apparently experienced some kind of offseason revelation that led him directly to the Jaguars offseason conditioning program. Last spring, after having signed a big free-agent contract, Douglas' weight ballooned.
"The biggest key was making this commitment to the offseason program. The offensive line did, but I don't think the defensive line committed itself to the offseason program (last year) like we have this year," Douglas said.
"It's one of those things you can't put your finger on, but it's real different this year," he said of the new attitude and the reason for it.
Personally, Douglas' motivation is "to not let it be like it was (last year). That was one of the toughest seasons I've ever had. That was a wake-up call for me personally," he said.
"I feel like you can see a lot of the improvement we've been talking about in the offseason," Del Rio added.
And some of that new energy was provided this morning by the fans.
- In other news from this morning's practice, kickers Jeff Chandler and rookie Josh Scobee engaged in a practice-ending field goal competition but neither could claim victory. Chandler was two of four, missing from 38 and 48 yards and converting from 43 and 48 yards. Scobee, a fifth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech, was also two of four, missing from 43 and 48 yards and converting from 38 and 48 yards. Incumbent kicker Seth Marler was sidelined by a quad strain.
- Kick-returner Jermaine Lewis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early last season, continues to run on the side but Del Rio said he expects Lewis to begin practicing soon.
- Newly-acquired quarterback Doug Johnson, who spent the first four years of his career in Atlanta, is extremely impressed by the talent on the Jaguars roster. "This is a more talented group than I've ever seen. This team is by far more talented than I came from in Atlanta," Johnson said.
- Fred Taylor was asked if he'd like to get the workload Stephen Davis did for Carolina last season, and Taylor responded sharply: "My shoes are bigger than his. I think I'm a better back than he is," Taylor said.