JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars' six padded practices in seven days that ended with Florida Blue Family Night Friday at EverBank Field …
1. This team wants to be tough.Anyone listening to Head Coach Doug Marrone knew this, but this week made it clear. This week's practices were physical, peaking with a Thursday practice that stood out as one of the team's most physical in recent memory. The highlight was rookie running back Leonard Fournette going airborne in a live goal-line drill, but the hitting was real throughout.
2. Marrone *really *wants this team to be tough.It's one thing for an NFL coach to preach toughness. It's quite another to let players hit – really hit – in practice. Marrone put players through practices that were as physical as any you'll see in the NFL: daily 9-on-7 seven run drills, live goal-line work, two-offensive-linemen-on-one-defensive-linemen drills. Did that risk injuries? Sure, but Marrone's not joking about this physical-team thing.
3. And speaking of Fournette …He didn't need to go airborne to make the week memorable. Fournette was the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. He showed why all week, with his speed, power and agility standing out from the Jaguars' other backs.
4. … this team will run.The Jaguars entered last season wanting to run. They entered 2015 wanting to run, too. They somehow got away from that approach early both seasons. It's unthinkable to think of them losing their way on this front this season. This team will run. And if that doesn't work, it probably will run some more.
5. Blake Bortles has made some strides …The Jaguars' quarterback's week was well-documented. After a five-interception practice Saturday, he strung together three interception-free practices – and was sharp again Friday night inside EverBank Field. Give Bortles some credit: in a week in which he faced constant scrutiny, he had some very encouraging moments.
6. …. and he needs to make more.You can't talk about Bortles' week in pads without mentioning the interceptions. The five he threw Saturday caused a Twitter uproar. He threw two more Thursday. For all of his moments, the interceptions continue to concern you because he must avoid game-turning, crucial-moment interceptions this season. He simply must.
7. Allen Robinson may be the Jaguars' best player …The fourth-year wide receiver has been consistent throughout camp, getting open deep, on intermediate routes and in the red zone. His one-on-one matchups with free-agent cornerback A.J. Bouye have been worth the price of admission. And that would be true even if there were a price of admission to training-camp practices.
8 … or that may be Bouye.We said Robinson may be the Jaguars' best player? It's actually hard to choose between him and Bouye. The unrestricted free-agent signee from Houston has covered front-line receivers throughout camp and hasn't been remotely overmatched, consistently defending passes over the middle and down the sideline.
9. Cam Robinson is the likely left tackle …Marrone hasn't made it official, but the retirement of veteran Branden Albert Monday means the rookie second-round selection from Alabama almost certainly will be the Week 1 starter at left tackle. He was expected to compete with Albert for the position, then worked with the starters Wednesday and Thursday. Marrone wants young players to earn their roles, and the Jaguars will make Robinson do that. But earn it he almost certainly will.
10. …. and Patrick Omameh is the likely left guard.This is more uncertain than Robinson at left tackle, but Omameh worked at left guard with the starters much of this past week and is listed as the starter on the depth chart.
11. Chad Henne is the backup quarterback. Marrone said this early in the week, and the unofficial depth chart released Friday confirmed it.
12. The talent level is up.This doesn't mean the Jaguars are a great team yet. It means there are more good players – and as importantly, good players with NFL experience – than before. Bouye, Robinson, linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, defensive end Calais Campbell, center Brandon Linder, wide receivers Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, strong-side linebacker Paul Posluszny, safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. These are veterans who have played at a high level in the NFL and are doing it again in camp. Throw in young players such as Fournette, Robinson, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. … the roster is getting there. It's definitely getting there.
13. Marrone doesn't care about talent.We close with this, because it's worth noting that Marrone, when interviewed by Neil Reynolds of Sky Sports this week, reiterated a comment he first made when serving as interim head coach last season. We'll paraphrase, but he told players at the time that being considered a talented team didn't mean much considering they weren't winning. He told Reynolds this week, "I am tired of people saying we have talent and we are a talented team. We have to find a way to win." True that.