JACKSONVILLE – This was the beginning.
And if it's a beginning that will lead to various paths and destinations, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson said the players participating in Jaguars 2023 Rookie Minicamp shared one trait.
"We're all Jaguars this weekend," Pederson said.
Pederson, speaking Friday on Day 1 of '23 rookie minicamp, said that was one of his messages as 49 players of various experience and status gathered at TIAA Bank Field Thursday.
The goal of rookie camp, Pederson said, was simple: "To put our eyes on them for meaningful purposes, to see what they know, take it to the classroom and then just be able to watch them just move around and kind of begin the process how are they going to fit with our team."
Among the players participating: Offensive tackle Anton Harrison, the No. 27 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. He and the other 12 members of the largest draft class in franchise history attended, as did 11 players signed as collegiate free agents shortly after the draft.
"It's definitely different," Harrison said. "I'd say it's more intense. You have a better, higher-level skill with defense and offense. It's just a high IQ everybody out there. It's definitely a higher intensity.
"It's great just to be out here, finally back on the field, learning from the coaches and the older guys. It's definitely good to be out here."
Three draft selections were limited/not practicing because of injuries: Linebacker Ventrell Miller (Round 4), wide receiver Parker Washington (Round 6) and defensive lineman Raymond Vohasek (Round 7).
"It's a great opportunity," Washington said. "I'm just excited and ready to work. I'm ready to get after it and learn. I'm excited to be a Jaguar and get to work."
Fourteen rookie tryout players also participated along with five veteran tryout players and six veterans who were on the Jaguars' practice squad and/or roster last season: kicker James McCourt, safety Ayo Oyelola, offensive lineman Darryl Williams, wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr., wide receiver Seth Williams and tight end Gerrit Prince.
"I think it's great for all the guys, especially those guys," Pederson said. "These guys have been on NFL rosters, whether it's a practice squad or active roster. It's what can they show us? I want them to put their best foot forward, and possibly you find somebody coming out of this weekend."
Rookie minicamp practices are non-padded, as are the Jaguars' upcoming voluntary organized team activities and a mandatory mid-June minicamp. The collegiate free agents and draft selections will participate in those, with Jaguars Training Camp 2023 – which will include the first padded, contact practices of 2023 – scheduled to begin in late July.
"It's always difficult outside of maybe your first-round pick, or your second- and third-round picks," Pederson said. "The rest of the guys are competing with our guys. That's what you want. As the head coach, I want that – the depth and the competition. That younger guy or that veteran guy behind you pushes you and motivates you to be at your best.
"That's where we are as a football team. That's the exciting thing going into training camp. When the pads come on later, we begin to see where things fall out and who's not afraid of the competition."
Pederson said while making a roster this weekend is difficult for tryout players, the experience is often part of a long-term process.
"It is hard because we're at 90 [players on the roster] right now, so we'd have to let somebody go to bring somebody on the team," he said. "But what it does do is it puts you in the memory bank for us. If we have an injury down the road or something like that, we know that, 'Hey, this is a player we had in rookie camp. We can plug him right in and he can play.'
"You kind of increase your bank of players as time goes through the rest of OTAs and training camp."