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Preseason is practice


(Aug. 15)—It is, quite frankly, what happens when you don't hit.

I'm not suggesting Jack Del Rio should turn his training camp into a blood bath. I understand that the "old days" of training camp are gone and that smaller rosters and the salary cap make keeping your players healthy more important than hardening their muscles at the risk of injury. That also means that performances such as the one the Jaguars offensive line turned in this past Saturday night are to be expected.

Right from the start of training camp, Del Rio has repeatedly said his main objective is to get to Sept. 11 with his team in its best condition to start the regular season. He's absolutely right. That should be every coach's goal, and it is, and it means easing up on your players in the 90-degree heat of training camp because if you don't, you're going to get injuries.

I'm old school. I don't like soft training camps. It bothers me every time I see a padded practice that doesn't include a spirited nine-on-seven drill. How do you learn to block without practicing it?

You don't. But practice comes in the preseason games. That's their purpose. They provide the intense physical action coaches don't dare include in their training camp regimen because it's a lot easier to explain to your owner why you lost your prized rookie in a preseason game than it is to explain why the millions of dollars the owner spent on the kid was carelessly wasted in a practice.

That's the way it is in today's game. Once upon a time, training camp rosters were unlimited in size. Teams took 125 or more guys to camp, which began in the middle of July and lasted six weeks. They were full pads, twice a day, every day and there were six preseason games. Teams hit and hit and hit, but those days are gone.

Saturday's game was the most significant action the Jaguars have seen this summer. The scrimmage a week earlier was close in scope, but it didn't include the kind of blitzes or intensity the Dolphins threw at the Jaguars on Saturday.

In Del Rio's first training camp as Jaguars head coach, nine-on-seven was a daily staple. The Jags hit and hit and hit in that camp, as Del Rio made a point of establishing the mindset and foundation of his program. In the summer of 2003, the Jaguars also didn't have a lot of good players worth protecting. Risk was at a minimum, but that is not the case this summer. This is a team built on talented young players and greatly increased expectations.

This Saturday's game in Tampa will be the Jaguars' second preseason "practice." Starters will play a little longer and get a heavier dose of live action, and our expectation should be for a performance improved over what we saw this past Saturday.

That's what the preseason is. It's practice, and by the time the fourth preseason game has passed, the Jaguars should be ready to play a game that counts and everybody's tank should be full.

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