JACKSONVILLE – It's here. At last.
Rookies, first-year players and quarterbacks have been in the building all week. Other veterans reported Wednesday. The first Jaguars 2016 Training Camp practice is Thursday.
So, it's time for training camp storylines.
Quarterback Blake Bortles remains a big one, but we discussed his training camp/preseason goals Monday when quarterbacks and other first-year guys reported. Besides, the areas Bortles must improve – consistency, decision-making, etc. – will reveal themselves more in the regular season than training camp and preseason.
So, what other areas must the Jaguars improve and develop during training camp and preseason? What other things must the Jaguars do in the coming weeks to be ready for the regular season?
Here are 10:
1)Figure out left tackle.Of all Jaguars camp battles, this is the biggest. Kelvin Beachum, signed in March as an unrestricted free agent from Pittsburgh, will compete with Luke Joeckel – the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft – for starting left tackle. Beachum is expected to be ready to practice Thursday when camp opens, though the team will be cautious with his return. While Joeckel has struggled at times in two seasons at left tackle, it's not a dead-solid lock that Beachum wins the job. Look for this to be settled by around Week 3 of the preseason.
2)Get Joeckel and Beachum reps inside.Look for whoever doesn't start at left tackle between Joeckel and Beachum to start at left guard. So, while both will get extensive work at left tackle in camp, both also will get time at left guard, too.
3)Determine Myles Jack's role …Jack, a second-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, worked at middle linebacker during mandatory June minicamp. Those were his first extensive NFL practices and the Jaguars wanted him to learn the defense from what may eventually be his position. What will Jack's role be in the short term? Strong-side or weak-side backer? Reserve in base and starter in nickel situations? That remains to be seen, but Jack's role will be extensive.
4)… and determine Jalen Ramsey's role, too.Ramsey, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, is expected to work full Thursday after a meniscus tear kept him out of organized team activities and minicamp. Ramsey likely will be a starting outside corner sooner rather than later, but with nickel corner Aaron Colvin suspended for the first four regular-season games, Ramsey's nickel-friendly skillset could mean a lot of work there in preseason and camp.
5)Find Marqise Lee's role.The third-year wide receiver was healthy throughout the 2016 offseason. That was a big step. Staying healthy through camp is the next step. If he does that, the Jaguars can focus on finding a role to take advantage of the 2014 second-round draft selection's speed and playmaking ability. Don't discount Lee's potential to improve the offense. It's significant.
6)Start running."We're going to be as good as our running game is." Bortles said that on Monday, and establishing a running game that struggled last season is absolutely a key. Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon likely will split carries throughout the season, but establishing the beginnings of the continuity needed for an effective running game will be a camp/preseason priority.
7)Find a kick returner.Will it be second-year veteran running back Corey Grant? Or fourth-year veteran running back Denard Robinson? Both have difference-making speed – and Grant showed some potential in the role last preseason. The winner gets a roster spot and role as a reserve running back. The other player may have difficulty securing a roster spot.
8)Synch it up I.There is so much newness on defense that it's difficult to know where to start. Ramsey, Jack, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue all could play key roles; none have played an NFL snap. Prince Amukamara, Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson all could play key roles; none have played a Jaguars snap. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash is in his first year running an NFL defense. The potential is there for tremendous defensive improvement, but camp and preseason will be about those pieces coming together.
9)Synch it up II.As was the case in 2015, tight end Julius Thomas was a standout performer this past offseason. Thomas sustained a hand injury in the preseason opener last offseason and never quite regained his offseason chemistry with Bortles. Can Thomas and Bortles maintain their chemistry entering the season? That's a key offensive storyline.
10)Stay healthy.Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said it best Monday when addressing the media: "If we can stay healthy, and go into the season with a full squad, I think we have a chance at this." True, true: they have a young, talented roster. They have a chance to be a team that improves and grows into itself as the 2016 season continues. This is a season in which the team can begin to see where it's headed. It needs to stay healthy do get that done.