JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the first eight days of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex and TIAA Bank Field
1.This team is motivated … This is tough to quantify, but you can't be around the Jaguars right now without feeling it: this team has lost none of the focus, motivation and edge that fueled last season's run to the AFC South title and AFC Championship Game. Motivation and drive doesn't guarantee success, but there is no lack of intensity around this team.
2…. and it's good. Not that we didn't know this before, but this team has looked during camp like one of the NFL's most talented teams. The difference in size, speed and strength compared to a few seasons ago is dramatic. Free agency worked in a rare way the past three offseasons, and the draft selections from that same era have grown into themselves. That gives this team a talent level it hasn't had in a couple of decades.
3.Leonard Fournette likes his weight. The second-year running back's reporting weight of 223 pounds has been well-documented. He's 15 pounds lighter than he was as a rookie, and looks quicker and leaner. His reasoning for reshaping his body? "I want to be great," he said. If he's significantly better than he was as a rookie, so is the Jaguars' offense.
4.DJ Chark Jr. has the feel of an impact rookie. The rookie second-round wide receiver has improved steadily throughout camp, and was consistently making plays by the end of the first full week. He has shown ability to get open on intermediate routes with consistency, and is showing the speed that made the Jaguars consider in him in Round 1 last April.
5.Blake Bortles is improved. The fifth-year quarterback hasn't looked spectacular every day, but he summed up the reason he looks better when speaking to the media early this week. "The positive is the lows aren't near as low as they were," he said. Yep.
6.Myles Jack is primed for a huge year. It's not just casual observers who believe the Jaguars' third-year middle linebacker is primed for a breakout season. Safety Tashaun Gipson discussed it early in the week. Cornerback A.J. Bouye mentioned it later in the week, saying "I think he does not get enough credit. I watch him a lot on film and even a lot of other players talk about how much better of a defense we are because of him."
7.Marcell Dareus looks improved. Few Jaguars defensive players stood out more than the veteran defensive tackle this week. His athleticism and power on the interior of the defensive line is rare. He has the look of a player who could return to the All-Pro form he showed in Buffalo in 2014.
8.The running backs are deep. This may be a deeper spot than many realized entering camp. Not only is Fournette leaner, but reserve T.J. Yeldon has looked good running and receiving out of the backfield – and reserve Corey Grant had at least three big plays in the practice inside TIAA Bank Field. A player to watch here: reserve Brandon Wilds, who impressed on Friday working with the backups.
9.Shane Wynn will be tough to release. The focus early in camp has been on a lot of other receivers. But Wynn seems to make a play in every practice. His speed and elusiveness will make him a tough player to release at a deep, deep position.
10.The sense of urgency for this team is real. The feeling that this should be a huge season for this team isn't reserved for observers. The Jaguars not only return six Pro Bowl defensive players from last season – ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, cornerbacks Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive tackle Malik Jackson – they also have former Pro Bowl selections such as safety Tashaun Gipson and Dareus. They also have a pair of first-round selections as "reserve" linemen: ends Taven Bryan and Dante Fowler Jr. This roster is unusually loaded, and players know it. And they know that such a roster is rare. "We just have too many athletes on defense, and we have to capitalize on this opportunity while it is here," Bouye said.
11.Malik Jackson doesn't regret the "16-0" comment … The Pro Bowl defensive tackle made headlines during the offseason by saying the Jaguars would go 16-0 this season. He said following the Florida Blue Family Night practice Friday he didn't regret the statement. "That's our standard. If any team in the offseason at that time of the year is thinking 8-8, that's crazy. Who are you going to lose to? We have a high standard. We have a great defense here. We have a great offense and special teams. Our standard is to keep winning. We're going to keep raising eyebrows and surprising people."
12. … and he also has really big goals. Jackson on his aspirations for '18: "I was a Pro Bowler last year, but my goal is to be All-Pro and reach for the planets … maybe Defensive Player of the Year. That's a huge goal. I want to work harder, reach these accolades for myself and for my team and just try to take us even further than we went last year. "