JACKONVILLE – Jaguars 2017 Training Camp arrives this week. At last.
Veterans report Wednesday, with the first practice scheduled for Thursday at the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field. That means the competitions and storylines we've anticipated, discussed and analyzed throughout a long offseason can begin.
At long last. And for real.
Speaking of competitions and storylines, there's little that says "training camp" more than camp position battles. And while most starting positions on the Jaguars – like most positions on most NFL teams – are pretty much decided entering camp, the Jaguars' next few weeks will feature at least one on-one-one starting position playing out along with roles and rotations taking shape elsewhere.
The majority of camp battles will take place at the bottom of the 53-man roster, and many decisions there will involve roster management and personnel philosophy. Will the Jaguars keep six wide receivers? Four running backs? How many offensive defensive linemen will they keep?
Special teams, too, will have a major say in who makes the final 53. If players want to be reserves in the Jaguars' secondary or linebackers corps, they need to contribute in a big way on special teams.
As for the more high-profile camp battles, here's a look at four that will play out during 2017 Jaguars Training Camp and preseason:
*Branden Albert vs. Cam Robinson, left tackle.This is perhaps the truest one-on-one competition of training camp, with Albert and Robinson competing for the left-tackle position. Robinson, the Jaguars' second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, played left tackle at Alabama and worked there throughout the on-field portion of the Jaguars' offseason program. Albert, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was acquired in a trade from Miami in the offseason. Albert missed the voluntary portion of the offseason program, but said in a mid-June minicamp he would be in shape for training camp. The edge here likely goes to Albert because of experience, but stay tuned.
*Interior offensive line.This battle isn't necessarily about one player directly competing against the other as much as it is about a group of players competing for at least two spots. Still, the results will shape the interior of the offensive line – and therefore, the entire line. The players in play for the three interior line spots appear to be Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann, Patrick Omameh, Tyler Shatley, Luke Bowanko, Earl Watford and Chris Reed. Linder, the starting center last season, worked at center and appears likely to start there again, but he's also an option at guard. Shatley and Bowanko are options at center, and all of the aforementioned players are options at guard – as is Robinson if he doesn't play tackle. Marrone toward the end of the offseason program said the first few days of padded work during training camp will be key on the offensive line. Much is yet to be determined here, which will make camp fascinating on the offensive front.
*Yannick Ngakoue vs. Dante Fowler Jr., pass-rushing end.This is a competition, though one with slightly less at stake than Robinson-Albert. That's because whichever of the duo actually starts, both figure to be on the field extensively as the Jaguars heavily rotate their defensive line. Ngakoue started 15 games last season and played 711 snaps; Fowler started just once but had 571 snaps. The most important issue here is that some combination of Fowler and Ngakoue help this team get better pressure off the edge. The 12 sacks they generated last season – eight by Ngakoue and four by Fowler – were a good start, but the number needs to improve this season.
*Dede Westbrook vs. Rashad Greene, punt returner.This is rookie versus young veteran, with the veteran perhaps needing to win the job to secure a roster spot. Westbrook, a fourth-round selection from Oklahoma in the 2017 NFL Draft, was the Biletnikoff Award winner for college football's top receiver last season. He's a dynamic player with big-play ability, and clearly has the skill set to be a punt returner – and he almost certainly will be on the roster as a reserve receiver. Greene, a fifth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, was productive on special teams as a rookie but managed just 6.2 yards per punt return last season after averaging 16.7 yards per return as a rookie. He may need to win the return job to secure a role.