JACKSONVILLE – What We Learned in Jaguars 2014 organized team activities and minicamp at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields …
1. This team is better than last year.This is as it should be, because Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell has had two drafts and two offseasons of free-agency acquisitions, waiver-wire pickups, etc. The rebuild isn't complete, not yet, but this is a more talented team than this time last offseason. And even without full contact in the offseason, it's visible. It's visible on the defensive line. And on the offensive line. And in the secondary. It could be better elsewhere, too, but it's notable there.
2. This team is deeper than last year.That's particularly true on the defensive line, with at least some evidence to that effect being the release Thursday morning of veteran defensive end Jason Babin. He led the team with 7.5 sacks last season. But the Jaguars signed free-agent Chris Clemons and drafted Chris Smith in the sixth round. Add to that an improving Andre Branch and there was enough depth at the Leo-pass rusher position to release Babin.
3. The team is ahead of last season.Yes, the Jaguars are deeper and better, but when Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley wrapped the offseason Thursday he focused on the team's maturity. That, he said, should enable the Jaguars to make greater strides in camp than a year ago. Bradley spent last offseason and the regular season trying to establish a culture. He never would say "mission accomplished," but the mission is a whole lot closer than it was last year.
4.The offseason has gotten loo-o-o-o-ng.Maybe it's pushing the draft back. Maybe it's the open, much-publicized nature of organized team activities, but the NFL offseason just feels longer than ever.
5. Denard Robinson is improved from last season.The second-year running back from the University of Michigan always has had the speed to make big plays in the NFL. He struggled with ball-security issues as a rookie, but with a nerve injury sustained late in his senior season improving, he caught the ball significantly better this offseason than he did last offseason. Robinson still must prove himself with pads, but so far, so good.
6. Chad Henne is the starting quarterback. We knew this before the offseason, but we know it for sure now. The plan all along has been for Henne to start this season, and that remained the case after drafting Blake Bortles No. 3 overall. Henne is solidly in the starting role, and that's not going to change before training camp.
7. Henne deserves to be the starting quarterback.This isn't just a case of the team not wanting to play Bortles to keep the pressure off. Right now, Henne is the better player and clearly ahead in practice. He is more accurate, more poised and appears to be making better decisions. That's as it should be. Henne is a veteran and has a year in the offense. Bortles is a rookie.
8. Bortles has looked how he has supposed to look.The last line in No. 7: "Bortles is a rookie." That's not slamming Bortles. He's supposed to be a rookie. The Jaguars knew he was a rookie, and expected him to look like it at times. He has looked like a rookie should look. He has struggled at times. He has looked good at others. He has had a few days on which he was inaccurate and others on which he has seen receivers at the second or third level and completed passes. He has had some plays where he moves in the pocket very well, keeps his eyes downfield and makes the right throw. Overall, he appeared to improve from the start of OTAs until the end of minicamp, and that's what the Jaguars hoped to see.
9. Bortles is diligent – and honest.Bortles made headlines on occasion during OTAs and minicamp when he offered some candid assessment of his play. On Wednesday, in fact, he said he had thrown "average" much of the offseason. He explained not for the first time that he had been relearning his footwork on a significant level, adding that he had been doing it "wrong" for 22 years and that the adjustment wasn't easy. That sort of candor is relatively rare, and raised eyebrows, but Bradley said this week he liked hearing it. "He's strong and I think it shows a sense of strength," Bradley said.
10. Joeckel and Brewster are healthy.Left tackle Luke Joeckel and center Mike Brewster spent the first part of the offseason rehabilitating, unsure how much they would participate in organized team activities or minicamp. As it turned out, they participated a lot, working with the starters and taking a vast majority of their share of the reps. Each finished last season on injured reserve with significant ankle injuries. Each apparently will be full-go in training camp.
11. Training camp is going to be important for the receivers. That was true anyway, but with rookies Marqise Lee (ankle) and Allen Robinson (hamstring) missing most of the offseason – and with veterans Cecil Shorts III and Tandon Doss and rookie Lamaar Thomas also missing time – training camp became a touch more important. Lee and Robinson have been in meetings and they have been at practice, but training camp for each will be about extensive time with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan drilling fundamentals.
*12. We got us a battle… *Once the pads go on in training camp, there could be a few competitions. Otto linebacker with Dekoda Watson and LaRoy Reynolds, and perhaps – perhaps – free safety with Winston Guy and Josh Evans. But there is definitely a battle at right guard with veteran Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder. McClendon started out the offseason working with the ones, and Linder began taking reps with the starters late in the offseason. Look for Linder to start by the start of the season, but this is a storyline as camp opens.
The Jaguars closed out their second open mandatory minicamp of 2014.
13. Paul Posluszny is really solid …The Jaguars' middle linebacker is clearly a player on whom the Jaguars are relying …
14…. And Marcedes is, too. …and so is tight end Marcedes Lewis. Bradley mentioned both he and Posluszny – along with Shorts and Henne – several times during minicamp and OTAs as players who have stood out and approached things impressively this offseason.
15. Youth could be served. The team liked a lot of young players in OTAs and minicamp: defensive tackle DeAndre Coleman, wide receiver Allen Hurns, offensive tackle Josh Wells, wide receiver Damian Copeland, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, quarterback Stephen Morris, defensive tackle Ricky Havili-Heimuli, tight end Marcel Jensen. That's a lot of undrafted free agents and not all will make the team. A few could, though, and the ones that do could stick a while.
The Jaguars started off mandatory minicamp with a practice open to the public on Tuesday, June 17.
16. Etc., etc.OK, etc., etc., isn't really a What We Learned category, but we're wrapping things for the offseason. The team didn't just like the undrafted rookies. It liked, too, what it saw from players such as Joeckel, Henne, Brewster, defensive tackle Abry Jones, guard Zane Beadles, safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz – not to mention young defensive linemen such Branch and Smith. That's a lot of liking going on, but this is a young team with developing players. That's going to mean an intriguing training camp. We'll start learning again then.