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051024 First 24 Hours MiniCamp - 2.0
Welcome to the NFL: First 24 Hours
The Jaguars are holding their 2024 rookie minicamp at the Miller Electric Center, with much of the weekend – particularly the first 24 hours – about introducing young players with an NFL dream to the reality of professional football
By John Oehser May 10, 2024

JACKSONVILLE – This was the dream, and now it was finally real.

Maason Smith and the entire Jaguars 2024 rookie class knew that immediately Thursday afternoon when they reported for 2024 Rookie Minicamp. One by one, they departed a bus and looked up at the state-of-the-art Miller Electric Center adjacent to EverBank Stadium.

Welcome to an opportunity. Welcome to the future.

"It was great," Smith said of the moment. "It was sunny outside. They got the palm trees going in the front. I've been dreaming about something like this since I was six years old."

Smith, a defensive lineman and a second-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, called the moment "surreal." It also began a whirlwind weekend in which the Jaguars' '24 rookie class began living a lifelong dream while learning the realities of their new working environment.

"The rookies, they don't know anything right now," Head Coach Doug Pederson said Friday.

Which made the weekend – and particularly the first 24 hours – more about acclimation than competition.

"We won't get them caught up to where the vets are, but at the same time it's a great opportunity for them to learn and show us how much they can maintain in a short period of time," Pederson said.

'...It’s a great opportunity for them to learn and show us how much they can maintain in a short period of time...'

The Jaguars' '24 rookie minicamp follows the NFL norm for rookie camps these days: Unpadded, un-helmeted practices with a weekend-long emphasis on teaching, introductions and mostly making sure wide-eyed rookies exit the three days uninjured and somewhat more comfortable with their new world.

Practice reflected the nature of the weekend.

"It's a lot of individual drill work, fundamentals, teaching," Pederson said. "There's no pass rush, no offense, defense stuff. It's more than just watching them run around. We're not doing one on ones. We're not doing the seven on sevens. This is a time just to see how much they can understand.

“We’ll know more when they get to training camp and the pads come on.”

Added Pederson, "We're going to test these guys mentally this weekend more than we are physically. It's about getting out of the huddle, getting lined up where we're going and executing the play. All of this stuff plays a big part in their development, their growth and how best they can help us."

Smith was among 31 players participating this weekend. The numbers: Four "tryout" players, nine '24 draft selections, 13 undrafted free agents, one free agent through the NFL's International Pathway program and four players who were around the Jaguars last season.

For the four with Jaguars experience, and even for a tryout player such as nine-year veteran NFL receiver Jarvis Landy, the weekend has elements of routine. For rookies, it has elements of appreciation for the opportunity at hand.

“You have your dreams right in front of your face”

"You have your dreams right in front of your face," Smith said. "I'm just soaking it all in and I never take it for granted, just being able to live in my blessing that I'm having in life, just to continue to do that and continue to progress and grow."

All the while, the weekend has an orientation feel. Particularly in the first 24 hours.

After arriving by bus Thursday afternoon, rookies broke into small groups for three hours that included extensive physical examinations with stops to meet with team nutritionists as well as strength and conditioning staff.

Players during this time were also fitted by the equipment staff for helmet and shoes, as well as specific pads and other uniform preferences.

Official team head shots also were taken during this period, with players also learning their locker location and the location of position meeting rooms.

Dinner in the MEC came next, followed by the first "team" meeting and "position meetings" of the weekend beginning at 5:45 and lasting into the evening.

Friday morning was more of the same, with the focus throughout the weekend largely less about putting players through taxing practices and more about ensuring many participating players will be equipped when they begin working with veterans in the coming days and weeks.

Friday's schedule: Team lift, followed by a meeting then more position group meetings immediately thereafter before the first practice.

The task for tryout players? Try to make the team. For players with Jaguars experience? Gain more experience. For the draftees and undrafted free agents? Get familiar enough with practice and routine that they can maintain pace when they join Jaguars veterans in the offseason program Monday.

"These two days will kind of prepare them for next week, because once they get in here … now they're with an NFL club," Pederson said. "Right now, they're just rookies. So come Monday, when everybody starts walking in here, and they start seeing all the guys, it makes an impact on them.

'...They’re going to compete for starting positions or at least compete for that backup spot, and it changes just a little bit for them.'

"A lot of these guys, they were they were starters in college. Now, they're going to have to take backup roles. They're going to compete for starting positions or at least compete for that backup spot, and it changes just a little bit for them. This weekend, though – from the meetings to the on-the-field stuff – is really preparing them for the next five weeks."

Said Smith, "I feel like I'm going to be ready. Once I get around the older guys, I want to be a sponge, to be able to soak everything that they're going to bring to the table for me and just add my own to it, put my own spin on it."

Smith was among several rookies speaking to the media after practice Friday. Others included first-round wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. and fourth-round offensive lineman Javon Foster. Once the media sessions ended, the introductory weekend continued with lunch and more meetings – and while the 24 hours that followed were different from the 24, the theme remained much the same: Keep learning, keep getting acclimated, keep getting ready for next week.

The dream continues Monday. Welcome to an opportunity. Welcome to the future.

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