JACKSONVILLE – Josh Oliver knew a little about what to expect.
That’s the benefit of people you know having made it in the NFL before you – that what can be overwhelming is a little less so.
“It’s gone well,” Oliver said Thursday.
That’s good news for the Jaguars, because Oliver was referring to the 2019 offseason program – and the Jaguars would very much like that period to go well for the rookie tight end.
“I just came in wanting to get better, trying to get used to all the coaching around me,” Oliver said Thursday on Day 9 of organized team activities at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex adjacent to TIAA Bank Field.
“I wanted to get familiar with the playbook, and the guys around me and how you go about things in the NFL.”
Oliver’s uncle, Clancy Oliver, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 and 1970 and with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973.
“I had a couple of family members play in the NFL,” he said. “They’ve been able to contact me and tell me what to expect.”
The Jaguars’ offseason will close next week with a three-day mandatory minicamp – and while projecting NFL success for a rookie is tricky in May and June, Oliver through much of the on-field portion of the offseason has shown glimpses of why the team selected him from San Jose State in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
“I think he has done a nice job,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Oliver earlier in OTAs. “He has shown the ability to make some plays.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo called tight end possibly the toughest position in the Jaguars’ offense other than quarterback – primarily because tight ends are asked to stay on the field extensively in base personnel to create favorable matchups.
“We like staying in base personnel to keep the base defense on the field and have that position do a lot of jobs,” DeFilippo said. “He’s learning. He’s doing a great job, and he’s seen and not heard, which is what you want out of a rookie in terms of keeping his head in the playbook and doing what he needs to do on the field.”
Oliver, who caught 56 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns for San Jose State this past season, was considered a natural pass catcher and receiver entering the draft. He has shown those traits during OTAs, showing soft and secure hands at times and looking smooth in and out of his breaks during unpadded work.
He also has shown good rapport at times with new quarterback Nick Foles, and at times has been one of the team’s more positive stories offensively in the last month.
“I definitely feel comfortable in this offense,” Oliver said. “That’s always a good start.”
That’s positive for the Jaguars, who will enter training camp hoping Oliver can be a key contributor in what is a largely overhauled tight end position. They released longtime veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis following the 2017 season and released veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins earlier this offseason after his lone season with the team. The tight ends currently on the roster are Oliver, 2018 unrestricted free-agent signee Geoff Swaim, James O’Shaughnessy, Ben Koyack, first-year veteran Pharaoh McKever and rookie free agents Michael Colubiale and Charles Jones.
Oliver called the Jaguars’ offense quite a bit different from that which he ran in college.
“The attention to little details, all the different formations, different personnel groups …. it’s a lot more enhanced,” he said. “But you expect that coming into the NFL from college.”
Key to Oliver’s transition to the NFL figures to be his ability as a blocker. Tight end has evolved in recent seasons to essentially two positions – blocking tight end and receiving tight end. Still, both “positions” need to be at least functional at the other skill – and while Oliver appears a natural pass-catcher, his run-blocking will be a topic to watch throughout his rookie training camp and regular season.
“I just came in with the mentality of getting better at everything – whatever I’m doing,” Oliver said. “The coaches have done a hell of a job of getting me revved up in the blocking game, and just critiquing little things and helping me come along.
“I’m a football player at the end of the day. I’m willing to do whatever the team wants me to do. I don’t view that as something I’m not going to do.”