JACKSONVILLE – Chris Conley likes a lot about his surroundings.
He's encouraged by the young players at his position. He likes how they're practicing. Perhaps most importantly, the veteran wide receiver really likes the Jaguars' young quarterback.
Conley's assessment of Gardner Minshew II? So far, so good. Really good.
"I've very impressed with the way he's shown up in this camp," Conley said via videoconference shortly after a Jaguars 2020 Training Camp practice Sunday at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex.
Conley said he worked with Minshew in the offseason and said the improvement the second-year veteran showed during that time has translated to camp.
"Since he's gone into the huddle with a defense, with coaches breathing down his neck – with a little more pressure – he's really performed well," Conley said, adding that he has seen Minshew take more chances and a smarter understanding of reads than he did as a rookie. "He has seemed very comfortable.
"I'm excited to see how he continues to progress. He's put in a lot of work. There's a lot of work yet to be done. But the mentality he has right now is he's not afraid to put in that work. I'm excited about that."
Conley, a sixth-year veteran who set career-highs with 47 receptions for 775 yards and five touchdowns last season, enters camp as the most-veteran player on a young receiving corps. Pro Bowl wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. is entering his third NFL season, with Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole entering their fourth seasons. The Jaguars selected wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson in Round 2 and 5 of the 2020 NFL Draft, respectively.
"It's a great room," wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell said during a pre-practice videoconference Sunday. "For us to get to where I want us to be, we've got to continue to make plays for this offense every time our number is dialed up, you know, and be accountable to this offense and accountable to this team. And understand that sometimes we have to take the burden off of Gardner [Minshew II] and strike past long runs. We need to be able to be dynamic outside."
Most encouraging to Conley about the position's two youngest players – Shenault and Johnson – is how they're approaching practice early.
"These guys are extremely talented, and you guys are going to get to see that very soon," Conley said. "They're handling [practice] very well. They're playing fast, which is always something you want to see. Typically, young receivers go one of two ways. They run everything 100 miles per hour or they tip-toe through everything, kind of thinking about it. So far, they're playing very fast and lights out, which I love to see. They're attacking the defense and they're going out to make plays."
Conley, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from Kansas City in the 2019 offseason, said he understands that his experience could necessitate a different – and more veteran – approach this season.
"It's a tremendous opportunity – to kind of be a gatekeeper and to be watching out for those guys, seeing what they're doing well and things they can work on – and making sure you voice those things," he said. "It comes with experience, just helping them learn the ebb and flow of this offense and getting in and out of the huddle quickly, recognizing the defense and just going out there and attack."
Also on Sunday:
*Conley said COVID-19 without question has made 2020 Training Camp unique, with TIAA Bank Field laid out and labeled to ensure social distancing. Among the extensive, organization-wide COVID-19 protocols: Jaguars support staff disinfecting equipment throughout each day, and support staff such as equipment managers and trainers wearing masks during practice. "Honestly, for me this feels completely different from any other training camp that I've been in," he said. "The virus has changed a lot of things in a lot of our lives and it has had a big effect on how we do things in the building. There's even more necessity for players to push and spend more time working on their craft, working on the game mentally, because we're limited in the amount of time we can spend together. We're limited in the number of players you can have in one space. Communication and effort have to elevate. It's different, but it's a good opportunity for us as a team to show that we want it.'' …
*Conley also said the absence of preseason games because of COVID-19 also changes how players must approach preparing for the season. "Preseason games are excellent opportunities for teams to realize what areas they need to speed up in," Conley said. "The first game may be one of the fastest or sharpest games that we've seen in a long time because people are healthy, or it might be one of the sloppiest games we've seen in a long time because guys haven't had the opportunity to go out there and make mistakes in the preseason." …