JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as 2020 Training Camp continues …
1.The rookies are showing good signs. It's too early to make definitive proclamations about the 2020 rookie class; that would be true in any training camp, but it's particularly true in one without preseason games. Still, this Jaguars rookie class looks promising. Second-round wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and No. 9 overall cornerback CJ Henderson have drawn praise from coaches, as has fourth-round rookie guard Ben Bartch – though it realistically will be difficult for Bartch to push right guard A.J. Cann for a starting role this season. A player to watch is sixth-round quarterback Jake Luton, who has shown a strong enough arm in 2020 Training Camp to make you think he could develop moving forward. Perhaps the best sign in this vein in recent days has been defensive end/linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson. The No. 20 overall selection, Chaisson has shown high-end speed and athleticism – and he appears to have the maturity and mindset to take advantage of his physical gifts. Yes, it's early on this front. But so far, so good.
2.The offensive improvement could be real. With no preseason games, it's maddeningly difficult to project much of anything about the Jaguars entering 2020. But just as the rookie class is showing good signs in camp, the Jaguars' offense overall is showing legitimate signs of growth. Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. is having an outstanding camp and has the feel of a player ready to accelerate his development after a Pro Bowl season last season. And Shenault is showing enough in camp to make you think he could achieve the difficult task of contributing significantly as a rookie wide receiver. But perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the offensive line. While the area comes under constant criticism from fans/observers, Head Coach Doug Marrone remains convinced the group will improve in a second season under respected veteran offensive line coach George Warhop. Marrone and Warhop both seem confident that left tackle Cam Robinson will take a step up nearly two seasons removed from the torn anterior cruciate ligament injury that cost him the last 14 games of the 2018 season. If Marrone and Warhop are right, the offense overall has a chance to be vastly improved – and to have one of its most productive seasons in recent memory.
3.DaVon Hamilton will be key. The coming few weeks will be critical on many fronts for the Jaguars' defensive interior. The Jaguars need recently-signed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to continue to look capable of making up for early-camp losses at the position, and they need 2018 first-round tackle Taven Bryan to get past a bone bruise in his knee and continue what the team says was a very good start to camp. Just as key may be the continued development of Hamilton, a nose tackle and a third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft from Ohio State. He has been showing better consistency and penetration in pass-rush dills in recent days, and he also has been more disruptive in recent days than early in camp. "Not only is he a big kid, the kid is smart as heck," Jaguars defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich said Tuesday. "He's on himself all the time about being technically correct and he's got some athletic ability for 325 pounds. There's been a lot of really good things we've seen in a short period of time with D-Ham. And it's going to continue to grow…. D-Ham has got a really, really bright future."
1.Robinson and Will Richardson are competing. I know what Warhop said Sunday morning about Robinson being the starter at left tackle, but did he make that clear to Richardson? If all things are equal, Robinson is the better player. But my eyes tell me Richardson believes he can be the man; his aggressive posture on every rep is pushing Robinson to match his intensity. In one period during practice Tuesday, I watched Robinson dominate defensive end Josh Allen, then watched Richardson do the same to defensive end Dawuane Smoot. It was almost a "hold-my-beer-y'all-watch-this" moment, and it's exactly what Robinson needs to get himself physically and mentally ready for a season that will go a long way toward deciding how much the offense improves – his financial future.
2.Collin Johnson's acrobatic catches last week didn't impress me that much. Just like watching LeBron James dunk doesn't do much for me, I expect it. Johnson, a fifth-round rookie wide receiver, is a gifted player and athletic receptions are expected. But what has impressed me about Johnson is how he has attacked a role on special teams. Astute observers of the Jaguars will recall how Chark as a rookie covered kickoffs with abandon. I'll never forget watching Chark in Houston at the end of a forgettable season forcing a punt returner to look at No. 17 barreling down on him and momentarily forgetting about the ball. The Jags recovered and earned a field goal for Chark's efforts. Johnson has the same physical attributes; if he can play the same mental game on teams as Chark did, the Jaguars are going to benefit in a big way.
3.I think tight end Tyler Eifert has a chance to have a really big season. I'm talking as big as Kyle Brady had for the Jaguars at tight end in 2000 and as big as Marcedes Lewis had for the team at the position in 2010. Eifert is impressive in motion, effortless and efficient – and as surehanded a target as a quarterback could want. I can't help but think Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II texted General Manager Dave Caldwell with effusive praise and gratitude when the former Cincinnati Bengal signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March. Eifert mixed a few big seasons in Cincinnati with a few serious injuries, though after missing most of 2016-2018 he returned last fall and offered a few glimpses of his Pro Bowl season in 2015. The Jaguars aren't better for losing second-year tight end Josh Oliver to a broken bone in his foot, but they are much better for having Eifert in the tight end room a season after the team's tight ends combined for only 54 catches, 460 yards and three touchdowns. Eifert this season should easily eclipse those numbers all by himself.