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Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: First full week

Jacksonville Jaguars during a training camp practice session Monday, July 30, 2018 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex in Jacksonville, Fl.  (Rick Wilson/Jacksonville Jaguars)
Jacksonville Jaguars during a training camp practice session Monday, July 30, 2018 at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex in Jacksonville, Fl. (Rick Wilson/Jacksonville Jaguars)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts as the first full week of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp continues at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex …

Oehser …

1.Uncommon depth. How good is the Jaguars' defensive line? The thought here is it might be better than last season, which is a tall order for a unit that in many ways defined one of the NFL's best defenses in 2017. The Jaguars last season had three Pro Bowl defensive linemen – end Calais Campbell, tackle Malik Jackson and end Yannick Ngakoue – in addition to a former All-Pro tackle in Marcell Dareus and another end with 10 postseason/regular-season sacks: Dante Fowler Jr. They added end/tackle Taven Bryan in the April draft, but what has stood out early in camp has been the play of two of the aforementioned players. Dareus, acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills last midseason, has looked dominant in early padded work and has the feel of a player ready to return to the Pro Bowl level he reached with Buffalo in 2013 and 2014. But perhaps no Jaguars defensive player has looked as good early as Ngakoue. He made the Pro Bowl with 12 sacks last season, and has improved at a remarkable rate in two NFL seasons. He looks nothing if not motivated early in camp, and it's easy to see why Campbell believes he eventually could be the NFL's best pass rusher. Whether he eventually reaches that status remains to be seen, but he absolutely has the look of a player ready to improve – and he might this season be the best player on what could be the NFL's best defensive line.

2. Good early signs on offense. Camp's early days have been positive for the Jaguars' offense, which appears to be a deep, talented unit that understands its identity. That starts with quarterback Blake Bortles, who appears to be making good practice decisions in addition to showing accuracy, confidence and poise. The early practices of '18 camp haven't featured a slew of one-handed catches. They also haven't featured deep pass after deep pass designed to make attending fans go, "Whoo." What they have shown is an offense that will run consistently and a quarterback with a clearer understanding than in years past of where to go with the ball and when. Perhaps most notably: this offense is deep, with at least nine "skill players" appearing capable of key roles. Running backs Leonard Fournette/Corey Grant/T.J. Yeldon, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receivers Keelan Cole/Marqise Lee/Dede Westbrook/D.J. Chark/Donte Moncrief … all have stood out at various times in camp or the offseason. Will this be a spectacular offense? Maybe not. But all signs in camp point to a group with a collective understanding of the offense in coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's second season, and all signs point to a tougher unit to defend than a year ago.

3.Ready to shine. A short line from free safety Tashaun Gipson's Monday media availability shouldn't be overlooked: "Myles Jack does not get enough [publicity]; I'll say it again: he is going to be one of the best linebackers in the league for years to come." That comment reflects a feeling that has pervaded the organization since late last season – that Jack is on the verge of fulfilling the potential that had him projected as a Top 5 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft before concerns over a knee injury caused him to slip into Round 2. Jack made a momentum-turning play in all three Jaguars playoff games last season, showing uncommon athleticism and playmaking ability. Something to watch in the preseason: Jack's transition full-time to middle linebacker, a position he played in nickel situations last season. He will play there all downs this season following Paul Posluszny's retirement, and the guess here is the comfort of having one role – and the experience of being in his third season in the Jaguars' defensive system – will produce a more comfortable, instinctive player. If so, look for Jack to emerge quickly as this team's next superstar.

Sexton …

1.The defense is whole again. Defensive end Calais Campbell is the face of the Jaguars defense, the player people around the NFL know and respect, while linebacker Telvin Smith is the voice of the defense – the guy who stands before the players and the media and tells the story. But cornerback Jalen Ramsey is undoubtedly the soul of the defense, the player whose vibe and energy drives the swagger with which the unit carries itself. The defense is ridiculously talented with top competitors all over the lineup, but what makes this defense is the incredible attitude with which it plays. The talent is always evident, even when a player is missing, but when Ramsey isn't on the field the swagger isn't the same. His return Tuesday brought IT back and the Jaguars played with IT on Day 5 of training camp. On a defense with so many impact players who belong in the conversation there can be a lot of "straight dogs" – as Oehser likes to say – but there can be only one true Alpha and it's two-point-oh for sure.

2.The mental game. Training camp is a physical grind for sure. Head Coach Doug Marrone likes it that way and the game demands intense preparation. But I don't think that's what makes training camp so tough; after all, the Jaguars go out of their way to keep these guys fresh and out of harm's way more than ever. Practice is much easier than when Tom Coughlin got the ball rolling here in 1995. What makes Marrone's version of camp so demanding is the time off the field, or the lack of it. When Gus Bradley was head coach, he believed in giving guys plenty of room in their day for personal time. It was part of his core philosophy. Marrone leaves almost no time; players are here early, here all day and leave in time to go back to the team hotel and fall into bed only to rise again the next morning. There are multiple meetings, classroom sessions and time in the weight room with very little time to sit around and think how sore and tired you are or to complain about how hot it was out there. Marrone is challenging his team now so that when the season gets difficult the players are ready for anything. He wants guys who are as tough mentally as they are physically. Like the physical side, you can prepare your mind to bend to your will. That's what he's doing and why camp is such a grind.

3.They're working their plan. Marrone and his team have a plan intended to keep the players fresh and ready for when it counts for real. Strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski is all over the field monitoring the guys he prepared in the spring. After practice, they use sophisticated software to analyze practice and prepare the plan for the next day. If you pay attention to the way they move guys in and out of the lineup and work up and down the depth chart it's clear they're maximizing their time on the field while working to minimize the wear and tear on bodies. You can't avoid the kinds of injuries that cost then-Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson his entire season last fall; those just happen. But you can help guys work through nagging issues so they don't become the kinds of injuries that keep a player on the sidelines watching instead of on the field playing.

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