A year ago, the Jaguars began mini-camp in search of a Super Bowl. Friday, the Jaguars began their 2009 mini-camp in a talent search that crowded the field with 97 players.
"We have a bunch of hungry players here," said coach Jack Del Rio, who talked of goals for the weekend. His number one goal? "Establish a team-first mentality," Del Rio said.
It'll be the theme of the spring. After a disappointing 5-11 season that was blamed on a lack of team chemistry and criticism that the Jaguars lacked the harmony and focus a team chasing a Super Bowl title must have, Del Rio will use mini-camp and OTA practices to drive home the point of teamwork and unselfish dedication to it.
Media interviews with this year's draft class revealed another theme: The Jaguars were intent on drafting young men with the intangibles that last year's team may have lacked.
"There has been an added emphasis on how we want to build this franchise going forward. I do believe that when you do things the right way, you'll reap the rewards. That'll manifest itself in this city over time," Del Rio said of the good-guy approach to this year's draft class.
Four draft picks were offered for the media's review: first-round pick Eugene Monroe, second-rounder Eben Britton, third-rounder Derek Cox and fifth-round selection Jarett Dillard. Monroe, Cox and Dillard are products of esteemed academic institutions, Virginia, William and Mary and Rice, respectively. Monroe and Cox will graduate on May 17 and Dillard is in grad school. They each spoke eloquently to the media.
Britton was a draft-day media sensation and he charmed the media again on Friday with another personable performance. He's just three classes shy of graduation from Arizona.
"I was excited," Britton told reporters in explaining his draft-day interview in which he vowed to make all of the teams that passed on him pay for having done so. "I definitely do have a chip on my shoulder. I have to go out every day and prove it to these guys.
"They've been messin' with me a little bit," he said of teasing he got about his draft-day interview. "I have to make sure I earn respect on the field."
One mini-camp practice isn't enough to begin passing judgment on the playing ability of this draft class, but it is, without a doubt, the most well-spoken draft class in Jaguars history.
"Obviously, the bar is set high. I'm going to take the same approach," Cox said of having been drafted following a trade in which the Jaguars surrendered a second-round pick in 2010 to acquire Cox.
Dillard has a reputation for catching everything his hands touch. He's said to be an accomplished route-runner, and he also happens to have been the valedictorian of his high school graduating class.
On Thursday, all-time great wide receiver Torry Holt singled out Dillard from the Jaguars' trio of wide receiver draft picks. On Friday, Dillard blushed.
"I was bright-eyed when I met him. He's already shown me in practice the dos and don'ts," Dillard said.
"They see the speed of the game and the size of the athletes. I call it the shock factor," Del Rio said of the rookie reaction to their first NFL practice.
"I had fun today," Monroe said. "I have a lot to learn and I'm excited about it."
It might also be appropriate to apply a "new start" theme to this season, and the draft class is helping to clear the air.
"There's a real good vibe in our building right now. There's just a freshness about where we are as an organization. That's good," Del Rio said.
"I'm not star-struck. Let's get to work," Britton said.
Six players will be held out of mini-camp practices as they recover from injuries: Vince Manuwai, Greg Jones, Montell Owens, Scott Starks, Chad Nkang and James Wyche.