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What to watch: 2016 minicamp


JACKSONVILLE – There should be quite a bit to like.

That's how Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley sees this week's mandatory minicamp.

The three-day session will close the official on-field portion of the team's offseason, but for the fans who attend the open-to-the-public practices Tuesday and Wednesday, the week isn't about putting a wrap on anything.

Rather, it's about firsts, because it will be many fans' first look at a 2016 Jaguars team that on paper – and in offseason practices thus far – appears much improved from previous versions.

So, what will fans see?

Bradley, entering his fourth season as the Jaguars' head coach, was asked that late last week as the team closed organized team activities and prepared for the mandatory minicamp that will begin Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

"Hopefully these guys making plays," Bradley said. "I feel like we have more playmakers on this team, both offensively and defensively. You'll see them put in positions to make more plays.

"I think it'll be a fun deal now. I think it'll be enjoyable."

Tuesday will be many fans' first look at a 2016 unrestricted free agency class that includes not only defensive tackle Malik Jackson, but free safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Prince Amukamara, guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, running back Chris Ivory, left tackle Kelvin Beachum, punter Brad Nortman and defensive end Bjoern Werner. All should be on the field except Beachum, who is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained with Pittsburgh in Week 6 last season.

It also will be a first look at the much-praised rookie class that included not only first-round safety Jalen Ramsey but linebacker Myles Jack. Ramsey was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, and Jack was projected around that same position until concerns over a knee injury caused him to slide into Round 2.

Jack's practices this week will be his first with the Jaguars after he missed OTAs because of an NFL rule prohibiting rookies to participate in the offseason program until their college finishes spring classes. Ramsey will not participate while recovering from a small tear in his right meniscus.

Not surprisingly, Jack is among senior writer John Oehser's five things to watch in minicamp:

1.Marqise Lee.Is the third-year veteran wide receiver ready to make a significant impact? We won't know for certain until the regular season, but Lee thus far has attained his goal of being healthy through the offseason for the first time since he was drafted in the second round in 2014. The result has been an impressive string of OTA practices, particularly last week. If you're attending minicamp, watch Lee's quickness and acceleration to the ball. It has been impressive.

2.Dante Fowler Jr.It's a close call as to who has been the most impressive Jaguars player during OTAs. Some would say Lee, but Fowler has been equally impressive – and there may not be a more important Jaguars offseason storyline. Whereas Lee's development would add a dimension to an already ascending offense, the Jaguars need impact from a defensive front that didn't make one often enough last season. Fowler's suddenness and athleticism has been obvious in OTAs, and he has shown little or no hesitation after rehabilitating a torn ACL that cost him his 2015 NFL rookie season.

3.Myles Jack.Fans won't be the only ones watching Jack Tuesday. Players, coaches, media … anyone around practice will be watching because it will be the first time the rookie second-round selection will practice in the NFL. With Ramsey rehabilitating, Jack will be the highest-profile member of the Jaguars' highly-regarded rookie class participating this week. Bradley said late last week that he expects Jack to be medically cleared to participate 100 percent. Jack is expected to work at middle linebacker during minicamp. That's the position coaches were teaching him during rookie orientation because it's the best way to learn the overall defense.

4.Julius Thomas.This may sound like a repeat of last year's offseason storylines. Thomas was the star of last year's OTAs and minicamp after signing as an unrestricted free agent from Denver. He then sustained a hand injury in the preseason opener and never quite seemed to get fully in synch with quarterback Blake Bortles. That made this offseason important because he and Bortles wanted to further establish chemistry and it appears they have done so. It's worth noting that Thomas' standout offseason perhaps hasn't stood out quite as much because there are more players playing really well around him.

5.Athleticism and speed.There are a slew of individual offseason Jaguars stories to watch. Brandon Linder. Thomas. Gipson. Jackson. Johnathan Cyprien. All have impressed at times, but it's tough to stand out at non-padded, non-contact work such as OTAs and minicamps. What fans likely will see on Tuesday and Wednesday is how much faster and more athletic the 2016 Jaguars appear than past versions. Gipson, Fowler, Prince Amukamara, Jackson, a healthy Lee … all have combined to make this team look far faster and more athletic.

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