JACKSONVILLE – The pads are on, and Josh Oliver’s glad about that.
He’s glad about that not only because it has been a while since he and the rest of the Jaguars have been in pads, but because being in pads mean being physical.
And if some observers/analysts question that – and if some wonder about his ability to block at the NFL level – the rookie tight end said he understands it’s his task to prove otherwise.
“It’s definitely like a chip on the shoulder, and it’s just a doubt people have,” Oliver said early in Jaguars 2019 Training Camp, which continued Sunday at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex adjacent to TIAA Bank Field.
“You have to be the one who believes in yourself the most out of anybody. I’ve got to work on it, just like anything else.”
Oliver’s one topic we’ll cover in this Sunday Training Camp Update. We also caught up with tight ends coach Ron Middleton – who discussed the position group in general – as well as the radio voice of the Jaguars Frank Frangie, who offered his thoughts on the key to the ’19 season.
And make no mistake about this:
Oliver could be a key to that season – if not immediately, certainly over the course of the season. He is an athletic tight end with potential to be a factor in the passing game. New quarterback Nick Foles has a history of emphasizing the tight end, and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo likes to lean on the position as well.
Oliver, a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft from San Jose State University, caught 56 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns as a senior in 2018 – and Middleton said those receiving skills are translating to the NFL.
“He’s fun to watch,” Middleton said of Oliver. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast.”
Middleton was asked Oliver’s biggest challenge as a rookie at a position at which it often takes young players a year or more to develop in the NFL. Middleton’s answer: pad level, both in the running and passing game. He said while Oliver must improve as a route-runner, “he does have straight-line speed.”
“We have to get him comfortable in and out of breaks, but he’s a physical mismatch, which is going to bode well for us,” Middleton said.
Middleton said a major positive is that Oliver very much seems like a willing blocker.
“He has shown toughness,” Middleton said. “I heard some of the commentators in the draft say that was one of the things: I went to him with that and it ---- him off, which is a good thing. He hasn’t backed off. He’s more than willing. He takes coaching well. It’s just going to take him doing it over and over and over.”
The Jaguars won’t realistically know about Oliver as a blocker immediately, but the natural receiving ability Middleton referenced was evident throughout the offseason program – and it has remained clear early in camp, with Oliver able to get open and make plays in the passing game on a comparatively regular basis.
“Any time you’re on the field for an extended time you get more confident,” Oliver said. “That’s definitely something I’ve been able to gain over time – just with the offensive system, Coach Flip (DeFilippo), the quarterbacks … everybody. Repetition, I think, is the biggest thing.”
Other takeaways from early in camp:
*Middleton not only likes what he has seen from Oliver thus far, he feels good about the group overall. The team allowed veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to leave as an unrestricted free agent early in the offseason, then signed Geoff Swaim as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas. The group also features four-year veteran Ben Koyack, five-year veteran James O’Shaughnessy and undrafted rookies Michael Colubiale and Charles Jones. “First of all, we’ve got some good guys,” Middleton said. “The character in that room has definitely been an upgrade. Guys are very professional. They go about their business. They understand how to work. They’re very conscientious and they pay a lot of attention to detail.”
*Middleton said of Swaim: “He has come in and hit the round running. His football IQ is off the charts. He works at it.” Swaim caught a career-high 26 passes for 242 yards and touchdown in nine games for Dallas last season, and Middleton has been impressed with his athleticism. “I knew he had good hands, but I didn’t think he could move as well as he can move,” Middleton said. “He has some savvy to him. He has shown some signs of toughness. Once we get the pads on, we’ll see for sure.”
*Frangie on the 2019 season: “At the risk of saying the obvious thing, they have to get quarterback play. These guys are going to be good on defense. If Foles is what we think, I think they have a chance to be very good. I think they have a good defense. I think the receivers will be better. Good quarterback play can mitigate an OK offensive line, but you have to get good quarterback play.” Asked the biggest concern, Frangie said: “Youth and depth at linebacker, youth and depth at offensive tackle what version of [running back Leonard] Fournette will show up.”