JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer three quick thoughts on the first four days of Jaguars 2019 Training Camp
1.This first 2019 Training Camp Quick Thoughts is mostly first impressions and confirming what we believed; two non-padded practices, one with shoulder pads and one with full pads aren’t enough to dig deep and change minds. One thing that became clear during the offseason continues to become clearer – and that’s that quarterback Nick Foles has improved the passing game by bringing stability and accuracy. The offense hasn’t been perfect early, and Foles must improve chemistry with his receivers. But the receiving corps of Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and DJ Chark Jr. has looked smoother more consistently than last season. There’s a long way to go on this front, and the inconsistency of the early days must wane in the coming days. But if you don’t believe the Jaguars’ passing offense looks better, you’re probably not watching.
2.This is wa-a-a-a-a-y too early to say this, but the Jaguars’ 2019 NFL Draft class has looked good early in camp. That’s particularly true of the first four members of that class: edge defender Josh Allen (Round 1), right tackle Jawaan Taylor (Round 2), tight end Josh Oliver (Round 3) and linebacker Quincy Williams (Round 3). Allen worked mostly individual periods on Days 1 and 2, but he worked in team after that – and he has shown the athleticism/size that made him the No. 7 overall selection. Taylor is working mostly with the second team but stood out in one-on-one pass rush drills Sunday. Oliver has shown natural speed and ball skills. Williams has looked comfortable with the first-team defense; all indications are he will start at weak-side linebacker in the wake of Telvin Smith’s retirement. None of these early impressions matter until the pads go on, but this has been a good start for the rookie class.
3.If any player has stood out early in camp, it has been third-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook. He is solidifying his spot not only as the starter, but the team’s top receiver. Westbrook took strides toward this last season, when he led the Jaguars in every major receiving category – and he was the lone bright spot on offense as the season unraveled over the last eight games. But the Jaguars’ quarterbacks struggled so much last season that it was hard to gauge whether Westbrook could be a go-to guy. He looked very much like that sort of receiver during camp’s first four days, getting open in the middle of the field and near the sidelines consistently. Westbrook said early in camp he didn’t believe last season was his breakout season, and that he could perform at a much higher level. So far in camp, it looks like he’s right.
1.The more I watch Allen, the more certain I become that the Jaguars should make a fair offer for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue – but not a market-setting one. Allen looks like a “best-in-class” type of player with the size and length that makes him an-every down option. It’s early, but what he has shown in a few days of camp make it clear that if they can’t do a good deal with Ngakoue then they have their guy for 2020 and beyond. That won’t be a popular opinion, Ngakoue can be a game-changing pass-rusher. But, it appears Allen is too. Plus, at 265 pounds, he’ll be a bigger factor against the run. Let’s not forget, also, that cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s looming mega-contract and a tighter salary cap complicates matters. Ngakoue wants to be the highest-paid pass rusher in the NFL. The Jaguars can’t afford to give him that kind of deal and pay Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack – and eventually, some guys on offense. Allen’s presence means they don’t have to.
2.That, by the way, is why you always take the best available player on Draft Day.
3.I really like the depth at cornerback in camp. Both Quenton Meeks and Tre Herndon look ready to take a big step forward this fall. That’s crucial since we know how the defense struggled when cornerbacks D.J. Hayden and A.J. Bouye were down with injuries in 2018. Also: Those two players combine for $23 million in salary-cap room in 2020, which makes it likely either Meeks or Herndon or both will be called upon to be ready to start after this season. Professional football is a game of replacement, not maintenance. You have to find and develop young talent. These two guys are great examples of playing today while planning for tomorrow.
Take a look at images from Sunday's practice.