JACKSONVILLE – Jay Gruden likes the progress so far.
But "so far" isn't particularly far when it comes to the task facing Gruden in the coming weeks during Jaguars 2020 Training Camp.
"We're still in diapers right now," Gruden said.
That makes the coming weeks critical for the Jaguars' offense, and it makes Gruden a key Jaguars story. He's in his first season as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator. And with COVID-19 having eliminated on-field work in NFL offseason programs, the training camp currently ramping up to full-contact work marks the first time Gruden has been on the field with the Jaguars' offense.
"We'll get it up to speed," Gruden said.
Gruden said the ramp-up nature of the early weeks of training camp will help on that front. Rather than holding full-contact practices early, teams are "ramping up" with walkthrough-oriented work. Meetings and conditioning have been the emphasis, which Gruden said is a positive for the Jaguars as they teach a new offense to a young team.
Gruden said the elimination of preseason games this season because of COVID-19 also could be a positive, with learning time replacing game preparation.
"We still have a lot of time," Gruden said. "Without preseason games, what that gives us is more time to have walkthroughs and get the looks we need to see getting ready for Indianapolis [the September 13 regular-season opener) and the teams we play as opposed to getting ready for a team that you're going to play in the preseason that you'll never see again.
"We're going to have plenty of time to get what we need to get in, understanding that we have a lot of young guys and guys in this offense for the first time."
While Gruden said patience will be needed in the coming weeks, "We also have to demand a lot of these guys mentally."
"We can't just go out in five formations and run 12 plays," Gruden said. "We have to challenge the defense. We have to challenge our guys and make sure we get the necessary looks and variety. …
"We've got a long way to go, but I'm excited about the guys. You have to guys who are willing to learn and willing to work. These guys are willing to learn and do things the way we want to do things now. Some things will be similar. Some things will be a little different.
"We have a long way to do, but I've been impressed with every one of them so far."
*Gruden on Wednesday praised seventh-year veteran center Brandon Linder. "I don't think people understand the importance of a center – a good center, a smart center, a durable center," he said. "It's a very important position in any offense." Gruden said the position is key to communication and pre-snap adjustments, adding that Linder has been "outstanding so far. I'm very excited to get more and more in-depth with him, once we get to see more blitzes, more looks and more fronts. I know it's something that he can handle, something he has handled. A veteran presence like that, especially at the center position, is critical to any offense. We're happy to have him." …
*Gruden said he has been impressed early with fourth-year running back Leonard Fournette, saying: "I didn't really have any preconceived notions of him as a person; I didn't really know him." Gruden said he studied Fournette before the 2017 NFL Draft, during which the Jaguars selected him No. 4 overall. "He's a powerful guy with a lot of speed," Gruden said. "He's a great player. His production last year was excellent. So far, so good. He has been working hard. He has been learning our new system. I'm excited to work with him. He's willing to learn. We're teaching some new things, some new concepts and new techniques. He has bought in and he's trying to learn it. From a mental standpoint, he has been a treat to be around." …
*Gruden expressed optimism about the tight end position, a group that includes at least three players – eight-year veteran and unrestricted free agent-signee Tyler Eifert, sixth-year veteran James O'Shaughnessy and second-year veteran Josh Oliver – with potential to be productive this season. "I think we have a number of tight ends, not just the three," he said. "All of them have a great skillset. We just have to figure out what their skillset is and how to best use them." Jaguars tight ends have struggled in the passing offense in recent seasons, with the group combining for 53 receptions for 459 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. "It's one of the toughest positions to play other than quarterback. You have to be firm and solid in the running game and in the passing game you have to know all the concepts and come out of breaks and get separation. Not many people can do both."