JACKSONVILLE – It's a relatively young group.
It's also new. Really new.
That describes the Jaguars' cornerbacks entering 2020 Training Camp, but Tim Walton also has other words for a position that has changed dramatically since this time last season.
Capable. Promising. And improving rapidly.
"Football is important to them," Walton said. "They're all very conscientious guys, and they can handle coaching. It's important to them, they've got good work ethic, and you know what happens when you put all of that stuff together."
Walton, entering his second season as the Jaguars' cornerbacks coach, spoke to the media via videoconference before practice Saturday. Cornerback Tre Herndon spoke afterward and both discussed a group that looks far different than a year ago, with cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye – Jaguars Pro Bowl selections following the 2017 season – having been traded to the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos in the last 11 months.
Herndon, a collegiate free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft, is expected to start at one cornerback this season. He moved into the starting lineup when Ramsey left it last season, intercepting three passes and defensing 13 passes in 14 starts – and finishing the season as perhaps the team's top corner.
He also finished it as a player the team believes can be a long-term starter, one who will start this season opposite first-round rookie CJ Henderson.
"He can make big strides for us," Walton said of Herndon. "He has an all-business personality. He's serious about his craft. He's serious about his work. He takes pride in doing the right thing. He's a detailed player, good understanding, good football IQ. … I look forward to him taking a big stride this year, from last year, because now he's a little more seasoned and now he can apply those things with a more confident level."
Herndon, who played sparingly as a rookie, called last season "a good step for me" in terms of gaining experience. He said he learned game speed and opponent's tendencies, with the idea now to improve in study and preparation entering a season in which he expects to make a significant jump.
"Having that first year [playing extensively] was definitely a confidence-booster," he said. "Getting those consistent starts, you get the feel of game day. I definitely feel understanding that – and coming into my third year and second year starting – will be definitely a step for me. I feel like I'll be a lot more comfortable knowing I've been in these situations before."
As for Henderson, early in camp he has shown the athleticism and cover skills that caused many scouts to consider him the 2020 NFL Draft's best cover corner.. The No. 9 overall selection in that draft, Henderson has missed the last two days of practice with an illness – but he has impressed early in camp against team's top receivers.
"He's a very good athlete," Walton said of Henderson. "He has good movement skill. He's smooth out of breaks. And he studies the game a lot. The thing that I like is his technique. He came in and worked on his technique. I saw the improvement from the first few days moving forward of how he can improve each week, each day, on the technique.
"He's done a great job. The main thing is learning the different technique at the time. The learning of the football will come. But applying the techniques with the right coverage, and learning to get decent at those things, is the hard part. You're trying to maybe break some habits or some things that were taught differently throughout your whole college career."
D.J. Hayden, an eight-year veteran, is one of the NFL's best nickel backs and was among the Jaguars' best defensive players last season. The Jaguars selected cornerback Josiah Scott in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft and selected cornerback Chris Claybrooks in Round 7, signing veteran Tramaine Brock recently after veteran free-agent signee Rashaan Melvin opted out of the 2020 season for COVID-19 reasons.
"They will continually get better every day," Walton said of a group that also includes collegiate free-agent rookie Luq Barcoo, second-year veteran Brandon Watson, third-year veteran Parry Nickerson and collegiate free-agent rookie Amari Henderson. "Some guys get better every day. So they learn to fix their problems, they improve in other areas.
"Over a period of time, with that kind of work ethic and dedication, at some point it's going to gel and come together. You'll see guys, individually, start to rise in their play with that approach."