A crew of NFL officials will arrive in Jacksonville tomorrow to work Thursday night's practice, Friday night's scrimmage and Saturday morning's mock game, and by the time they pick up their penalty flags and leave town, we should have an answer to the burning question of this training camp.
What is that burning question, you ask? Well, very simply, the question is: Is the Jaguars defense really that good?
Allow me to explain.
Through the first five days of training camp, defense has dominated the action. In this morning's practice, the pass-offense may have reached a camp low in completion percentage, and the ineffectiveness was spread evenly among the quarterbacks. They were all similarly ineffective; unable to find open receivers.
We must note, of course, that Jimmy Smith did not participate in this morning's vigorous 11-on-11 drill. Smith sustained a minor shoulder injury in Tuesday night's practice.
The big play of this morning's practice was the final play of the morning, when rookie wide receiver Ernest Wilford made a diving touchdown catch in the back-left corner of the end zone. It must also be noted that Wilford made the catch after quarterback Byron Leftwich pulled the ball down to buy more time. Nobody was open on the first look and Wilford adjusted his route from a middle curl.
OK, what's the point of all this? It's training camp. Defense is traditionally ahead of offense in the early stages of training camp, right? Well, yeah, though not always, but there's another issue here, and that issue is that the league is cracking down this season on contact by defensive backs on receivers outside five yards from the line of scrimmage.
Oh, now you remember, huh? Last year's AFC title game; the Patriots mugged poor Peyton Manning's little pass-catchers all over the field, and poor little Peyton threw four interceptions. Can't have that, can we? If it's not good for Peyton, then it can't possibly be good for football, right?
"I love the rule," Leftwich said. "I wish it was three yards."
Sure he does. Why wouldn't he? Tighter enforcement of the pass-defense rules can't mean anything but more completions and more yards passing for Leftwich, right?
All right, so what gives now? Why is the simple act of completing a pass such an especially difficult task in this training camp?
We'll find out beginning tomorrow night. If flags fly all over the place, then we can assume the Jaguars defensive backs have not been complying with the league's mandate on the five-yard rule, and that would explain the defense's dominance through the first five days of training camp.
But if flags don't fly, and if the Jaguars defense continues to dominate the offense, then logic would dictate the Jaguars either have one heckuva defense, or something's really wrong with the offense.