JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned around Jaguars minicamp and the 2013 schedule release this week . . .
1. Gus Bradley likes what he sees.This doesn't mean the job is completed. Far from it. It doesn't mean the Jaguars are going unbeaten. Bradley would be the first to tell you this. But after his first minicamp, it's clear the first-year head coach likes how players are approaching his philosophy of competition, high-tempo practices and getting better every day. That's only the first part of the process, but that's a key building block to Bradley's approach, and after the first three days on the field, he believes that building block is in place.
2. The players believe in Bradley.Again, doesn't mean the job is completed. And three days does not make a season. But players like Bradley's approach. Veterans such as Marcedes Lewis spoke this week of believing in it, and spoke in a way that let you know they meant it, and Will Rackley tweeted during the week that he couldn't remember enjoying a practice so much. Having veterans buying in isn't everything, but it's a good sign.
3. The quarterback competition is real.There has been perception nationally that the starting quarterback position is "Blaine Gabbert's to lose," or that he is penciled in as the starter. Know this: the competition that Bradley talks about is real all over the roster, and that's just as true at quarterback as anywhere else. Gabbert will compete. Chad Henne will compete. It's quite possible a rookie will compete. Winner gets the job.
4. Gabbert isn't done yet.Yes, it's competition, and no, Gabbert isn't being handed the job. At the same time, those who believe the third-year quarterback can never be a quality starter are going too far. Gabbert wasn't close to perfect early in the week, but by Thursday, he looked comfortable in the offense and seemed to have one of his better practices. Throw after throw Thursday you could tell why this guy was a Top 10 pick. There is special ability there. Again, it's one practice, but there's a reason Gabbert is being given a chance to compete. He's a first-round talent, and it would be ideal for this franchise if he develops into a solid starter.
5. Lewis could be poised for good year.Caldwell and Bradley have talked throughout recent months about liking Lewis, and his potential in the offense. That showed up this week, with Lewis catching the ball well and getting open consistently. Lewis' approach is that he's following Bradley's mandate of getting better every day. He will be an interesting storyline this offseason and next season.
6. The roster will be young.This has been obvious throughout the offseason, with veteran free agents not re-signed and other veteran players being released. Caldwell has talked about building through the draft, and while most position groups have an experienced veteran leader, each group also has spots available for young players. Fans last season wanted a young, overturned roster. They're getting it.
7. Opportunity is real.Bradley and Caldwell have talked since their hiring about the competition for roster spots being wide open. Of the 18 free agents brought in on a workout basis for minicamp this past week, two – defensive end Pannel Egboh and safety Chris Banjo – were signed to contracts. That means they'll be on the roster and if they remain there, they'll have a chance to compete on organized team activities and minicamps. They'll have to keep earning opportunities, but it's clear young players will get a real chance.
8. The schedule is tough . . .September and October make this true. The 2013 regular-season schedule was announced Thursday night, and the Jaguars play five of their first eight games away from EverBank Field with all games out of the Eastern time zone. Whoever the opponents, that's a tough draw.
9. . . . but not impossible.The Jaguars open against Oakland and Kansas City, and also have games against Arizona, Cleveland and St. Louis with a three-game homestand in December. Given the nature of the roster, it's tough to visualize what the Jaguars will be next season. But if they can negotiate the first half of the season, there's a chance to have a strong finish.
10. College free agency will be a big deal.Caldwell has stressed for several months that the Jaguars will be very active in the hours after the upcoming draft, meaning the Jaguars will be going hard after college free agents. It's very, very likely that multiple college free agents will make the roster. The Jaguars are likely to be exploring the deep end of the college free agent pool, and make no mistake: in a seven-round draft, there are capable players there.
11. The Jaguars like Andre Branch.Coaches aren't talking much about leaders for positions, not with the emphasis on competition. But defensive line coach Todd Wash talked positively about Branch – a second-year veteran end – early in the offseason, and Bradley did the same this week. "His length shows up to us," Bradley said, adding that while Branch missed a practice Thursday with a groin issue, "He wanted to go. You hope to see that development in a second year player where they learn to fight through those things and he did. We held him out some. But he's another one that I think we're excited to see. He's really challenging him on his elusiveness and his bend coming around the corner and things like that. I know coach Wash is working with him tremendously on that, and Andre is taking it all in."
12. It's on to the draft.Bradley's focus throughout the past week was on minicamp, but shortly after the final practice, he was headed to draft meetings with Caldwell. The two were expected to spend much of the weekend in meetings preparing for the April 25-27 Draft. With the Jaguars holding the No. 2 selection in the first round, Caldwell has said he has narrowed his choices to two possibilities. Who are those possibilities? Which one will it be at No. 2? Stay tuned. We'll learn that soon enough.