At the midway point of training camp, Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith surveyed his draft class and gave it an early seal of satisfaction. "I'd grade them the same way in pads I would in shorts," Smith said.
The Jaguars are largely considered to be in a rebuilding year, which means the Jaguars' rookie class is going to attract close scrutiny this season. They are rookies who are the centerpiece of the team's future.
So, how do they look, huh? Here's a mid-camp progress report.
Eben Britton—Due to the absence of Eugene Monroe, the eighth pick of the draft who has yet to come to contract terms, Britton is the highest-drafted rookie in the Jaguars' training camp. Britton was underwhelming in OTAs, as he bounced back and forth between guard and tackle. In camp, however, he has settled in at right tackle and Smith is feeling much better now about Britton's development.
"He locked in at right tackle last week and each day he got better. He was outstanding in the scrimmage (last Saturday). It was very encouraging," Smith said.
Monroe's absence has allowed all of the tackles to get more reps and exposure. "The silver lining of Eugene not being here is Jordan Black getting more work at left tackle and Britton getting work at right tackle. He's got the feet to play left tackle," Smith said of Britton.
Terrance Knighton—The Temple defensive tackle had, by far, his best practice of training camp on Tuesday morning. "He took Mo (Williams) twice and tossed him. Once he learns to play with his hands inside, he'll be even better at playing with his natural strength. He rarely gets moved off the ball. He's 330 and how often do you see him on the ground?" Smith said.
The Jaguars have been experimenting with three-man fronts and hope of being able to play a 3-4 type of scheme might rest with Knighton's development. The low-to-the-ground Knighton offers the potential to be a two-gapping nose tackle.
Derek Cox—Simply put, Cox is one of the stars of training camp. Watch him lock up in man-to-man coverage with Torry Holt, break on the ball and knock it away. See him reach in and strip the ball from Mike Walker. Some players have a way of finding the ball. In Cox's case, the ball has shown a talent for finding Cox, as it did in the Saturday scrimmage, when Cox intercepted a David Garrard overthrow.
Is he the star of the draft class?
"You said it," Smith said.
"You don't want to curse him with praise, do you?"
"Exactly," Smith said.
Cox was a controversial figure on draft day. The Jaguars traded a 2010 second-round pick to acquire the third-round pick they used to select Cox. Huh? Trade away a second-rounder for a no-name guy from William and Mary?
Does Smith regret the trade?
"I'm glad he's a Jaguar," he said.
Mike Thomas—The fourth-round wide receiver from Arizona was lookin' quick and fast in week one, and then the turf monster bit him on the hamstring. Thomas was back at practice on Tuesday for the first time since straining his hamstring, but he had to step out of Tuesday afternoon's practice about halfway through it.
Jarett Dillard—He was picked to be the next Keenan McCardell, and he was even given McCardell's old jersey number, 87. The knock on Dillard was that he's a little small and a little slow, but he carries the reputation for having McCardell-like hands.
"He struggled this morning," Smith said of Dillard, who may have hit the rookie wall. The good-hands wide receiver from Rice is battling a bout of the dropsies.
"His best position is at the slot. The one thing he does is he attacks the ball. He's got a little savvy as a route-runner," Smith added.
Zach Miller—The former small-college quarterback continues to flash speed the Jaguars haven't had at tight end. In Tuesday morning's practice, Miller split two defenders in a deep-seam route, caught the ball cleanly and used his speed to score a touchdown.
"He's one of those guys that if you stand close to the players, they talk about him. The value you see in Cox is the value I see in getting (Miller)," Smith said.
Miller dropped a pass over the middle in a red-zone drill on Tuesday morning. Catching the ball in tight quarters isn't his strength, but it's his ability to make plays in space that has the Jaguars excited about him. His upside is distinct.
Rashad Jennings— "Jennings is like Cox and Miller," Smith said, referring to value in the round in which those players were selected. "He has shown his ability to drop his weight on his cuts. His hands are better than I thought."
Jennings, a seventh-round pick, committed his first two drops of camp on Tuesday, one in each practice. Fatigue could be a factor because he has gotten a heavy workload and he runs with power and determination on every carry.
Tiquan Underwood—A play in Tuesday morning's practice offers a perfect snapshot of Underwood's performance to date. On a deep out route, Underwood was at his best in driving off the defender and turning him around on his break to the outside. Unfortunately, Underwood was at his worst as the perfectly-thrown pass slid through his hands and fell to the ground.
"He's trying too hard. He was the last guy off the field today," Smith said.
Once Underwood learns to catch the ball with his hands and keep it from getting to his body, he may become one of the surprise players of the draft. He has the size and speed to be special.
Eugene Monroe—The first-round pick's absence remains the major negative of this training camp. Already, Monroe has missed half of camp and concern is growing.
"With the exception of the quarterback, the position that has to be taught the most is the offensive line. He knows that himself," Smith said.