First-round draft pick Reggie Nelson is under contract and all else was in order when head coach Jack Del Rio welcomed a roster of 88 players to training camp in a 6:30 p.m. meeting on Friday.
Nelson, the 21st overall pick of this year's NFL draft, signed his contract Friday evening. He was made the team's starting free safety in spring drills. The Jaguars signed second-round pick Justin Durant earlier in the day.
"We had wide-ranging discussions on the best way to structure the deal for the player and for the team. We came out with something that works for both," Jaguars contract negotiator and salary cap boss Paul Vance said of the Nelson deal.
NFL rules allow teams to sign players selected in the top 16 picks to six-year contracts. "We were limited to five; we did five," Vance said.
Under Vance's guidance, the Jaguars have achieved one of the league's best salary cap situations. "It's very healthy and we'd like to keep it that way. It allows you to take advantage of things that arise," Vance said of the team's salary cap.
The Jaguars' first practice is set for Saturday morning at 10:15 at the team's Jacksonville Municipal Stadium practice fields. The team will also practice at seven p.m. on Saturday. Training camp practices – with the exception of the Aug. 4 mock game – are open to the public through Aug. 9. Monday's (July 30) practice at seven p.m. will mark the first full-pads practice of training camp and will feature the fan-popular Oklahoma drill. The Jaguars will conduct an intrasquad scrimmage inside the stadium on Friday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m. It will be open to the public.
This is a training camp Jaguars fans hope will lead the team back into the playoffs, following a one-year absence. All eyes, of course, will be on the team's passing game in training camp, as it's generally believed that improvement in the passing game is the key to success in 2007.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars roster and training camp competition:
Quarterback—Byron Leftwich is "The Man," again, following a season in which he missed the final 10 games due to a reaggravation of his ankle injury from late in the 2005 season. Leftwich has missed 16 of the team's last 22 games and his primary goal going into this season is to avoid injury. David Garrard appeared as though he would seize the quarterback job permanently in Leftwich's absence last year, but a three-game losing streak to finish the season cost the Jaguars a playoff berth and also cost Garrard the job. He's intent on resuming his quest to become a starter. Number three quarterback Quinn Gray was expected to be placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Gray recently sustained a sprained ankle and it's not known how long he'd be sidelined. Also in camp is Lester Ricard, an undrafted player who showed physical gifts and upside in spring practices.
Running back—Fred Taylor is 487 yards shy of 10,000 yards rushing. Taylor remains the team's featured back but began sharing time last season when rookie Maurice Jones-Drew burst onto the scene. Returning to the mix is fullback Greg Jones, who is coming off knee reconstruction. Competition for the final roster spots will be intense between Alvin Pearman, LaBrandon Toefield, Derrick Wimbush, Montell Owens and undrafted rookie D.D. Terry.
Wide receiver—Reggie Williams and Matt Jones begin camp as the starters, but they lost time due to leg injuries in the spring and that allowed Charles Sharon to emerge. Veteran Ernest Wilford is coming off a strong spring, third-round draft pick Mike Walker has shown number one receiver potential, seventh-round pick John Broussard is the fastest receiver on the team, and Dennis Northcutt was acquired as a pricey free agent. Ten players in all make this a highly competitive position. The potential exists for a high-profile cut, or two, as the Jaguars make every effort to upgrade this position.
Tight end—Kyle Brady is gone, which means the Jaguars need someone to step up as a blocker. That role might've fallen to George Wrighster but Wrighster will also be sidelined for the start of camp. He's recovering from labrum surgery. All eyes will be on Marcedes Lewis, the team's first-round pick in '06. Will Lewis become the deep-seam receiver the team envisioned when they drafted him? Jermaine Wiggins was acquired as a reliable pair of hands. Keep an eye on up-and-coming Greg Estandia. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter loves to feature the tight end in the passing game.
Offensive line—The starters are set, with tackle Tony Pashos joining guards Chris Naeole and Vince Manuwai, center Brad Meester and left tackle Khalif Barnes. The competition for roster spots will be ultra-intense. Maurice Williams, Dennis Norman, Dan Connolly, Ryan Gibbons, Stockar McDougle, Richard Collier and fifth-round draft pick Uche Nwaneri might give the Jaguars the deepest crop of offensive linemen in the league.
Defensive line—All eyes will be on Marcus Stroud in his comeback from ankle surgery. Stroud has been cleared to practice but defensive end Reggie Hayward hasn't. Hayward's recovery from Achilles surgery would seem to have slowed. Do the Jaguars have enough bodies at defensive end? That's a major question that will be answered by Hayward, veteran Paul Spicer, last year's sack leader Bobby McCray, second-year man James Wyche and pass-rush specialists Brent Hawkins and Kenny Pettway. The Jags are loaded at defensive tackle, with Rob Meier, Tony McDaniel and fifth-round pick Derek Landri providing top competition behind Stroud and John Henderson.
Linebacker—Mike Peterson is back following a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season last year in week five. Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram are the other two starters and second-round draft pick Justin Durant is expected to push for playing time. There's plenty of depth here, too: Nick Greisen, Tony Gilbert, Jorge Cordova, Pat Thomas, Brian Iwuh and rookie Chad Nkang.
Defensive back—All eyes will be on the team's young safeties, Nelson, Gerald Sensabaugh and rookie Josh Gattis. Nelson and Sensabaugh are the starters and will attempt to replace Deon Grant and Donovin Darius. A deep crop of cornerbacks is led by Pro-Bowler Rashean Mathis. Brian Williams is the other starter. The competition will be hottest for the "nickel" back job, as Terry Cousin, Scott Starks, Dee Webb and Chris Roberson vie for the job.
Special teams—Josh Scobee is the team's kicker and Adam Podlesh was drafted in the fourth round and immediately installed as the team's punter. Northcutt is expected to be the team's punt-returner and Jones-Drew, of course, is back from a season of returning kickoffs. The competition will be keenest on the coverage units, as eager young players attempt to use special teams as their way onto the roster.