AFC South: Tyson Alualu
Stephen Morris is a practice squad candidate.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
If the Jags elect to keep only four backs, Todman and Johnson likely would battle for the final spot. That is assuming Robinson continues to be very good in camp. He might end up getting more playing time than any of the other backs after Gerhart if he shows he can be a reliable pass-catcher. Johnson has to prove he can pass block and doesn’t have problems with ball security.
The first four players should be locks, but it will be an interesting competition for the final two spots among Brown, Taylor, free-agent signee Tandon Doss, undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, and former practice-squad player Chad Bumphis. Doss missed most of the organized team activities and minicamp because of a calf injury, allowing Taylor, Bumphis and Hurns to get valuable reps. Doss was not a consistent receiver in his three seasons in Baltimore and has more value as a returner, but Sanders’ strength is as a punt returner and the Jags have other options at kickoff returner. I have Taylor narrowly beating out Hurns because of his experience, but I can easily see that being flipped if the Jags want to add more size. Hurns is 6-foot-3; Taylor is 6-0.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Jensen flashed during OTAs and gets the edge over three other players. He’s a big kid (6-6, 270) who is a raw version of Lewis, one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Jensen will need a year or two to develop and likely will be used as an extra blocker more than a pass-catcher.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
- Luke Joeckel
- Zane Beadles
- Mike Brewster
- Jacques McClendon
- Austin Pasztor
- Cameron Bradfield
- Brandon Linder
- Luke Bowanko
Some of the battles for starting jobs along the line are going to be intriguing during camp. Joeckel and Beadles are safe, but every other spot is up for grabs. Even Pasztor, who started 12 games last season, is uncertain because we don’t know how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up during camp. If it’s fine, then he will win the starting job at right tackle. McClendon and Linder are battling for the right guard spot, and Brewster is going to have to hold off Bowanko and two others to be the starter at center. Bradfield has value because he can play both tackle spots.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
- Chris Clemons
- Sen'Derrick Marks
- Roy Miller
- Red Bryant
- Andre Branch
- Ziggy Hood
- Abry Jones
- Tyson Alualu
- Chris Smith
- Ryan Davis
This should be the biggest upgraded position on the roster thanks to the additions of Clemons, Bryant and Hood. Despite public perception, Alualu isn’t on the bubble for two reasons: He played solidly last season, and there really isn’t anyone else on the roster as talented as he is to back up Bryant. The Jags are excited about Smith, who could end up playing more than Davis as the No. 3 LEO (hybrid end/linebacker) by the time the season is over.
Either John Lotulelei or J.T. Thomas, two key special teams players last season, could stick if the Jaguars decide to keep an extra linebacker instead of five cornerbacks, or if Hayes’ surgically repaired knee doesn’t respond well. Reynolds did a solid job subbing for Watson (groin) during OTAs and minicamp at the new OTTO position (replaces strongside linebacker).
The Jags will have to decide whether to keep fourth-year player Mike Harris or Jeremy Harris, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a back injury. The 6-2, 185-pound Jeremy Harris is a better fit for what coach Gus Bradley wants in his cornerbacks than the 5-10, 188-pound Mike Harris, who was a member of former GM Gene Smith’s final draft class. Blackmon has been working inside as well, which also makes Mike Harris expendable. Fourth-round draft pick Aaron Colvin will begin the season on the PUP list and doesn't count against the roster limit.
Chris Prosinski has seemingly been a bubble player since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, but there is too much competition for him to survive this time. Martin started 36 games for Carolina in his first five seasons, and that experience gives him the edge. Evans seems to be the name everyone mentions when talking about the first Caldwell draft pick to get cut, but though he might lose his starting job to Guy, he’s likely to stick around at least another year.
These guys should have little or no competition to make the roster.
@ESPNdirocco: There really aren't any front-line guys that are on the bubble, to be honest. Defensive end Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu should make the team unless several younger players have outstanding training camps, but I still think they're pretty solid to be on the 53-man roster. Defensive backs Mike Harris and Chris Prosinski are going to be pushed by some undrafted guys. There may be a surprise or two but I really don't see many front-line guys on the bubble.
@ESPNdirocco: I know that the thought of Ace Sanders getting cut has gained legs recently but I'd be very surprised if he didn't make the roster. He caught 50 passes as a rookie and it's even more impressive when you consider the Jaguars really hadn't planned on using him that much as a receiver but were forced into it by injuries. The only way I see Sanders being iffy to make the roster is if he continues to be just average as a punt returner. That's his forte and that's why the Jaguars drafted him. The expectation is that he'll have a smaller workload at receiver because of the addition of the two rookies and that should allow him to concentrate more on returning punts.
@ESPNdirocco: The pass rush should be significantly better with the additions of Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood and Dekoda Watson. When healthy, Clemons is a double-digit sack guy even at 32 years old. Hood returns to his natural spot as a three-technique defensive tackle and that should boost the interior rush significantly. Watson is playing the new otto position, which replaces the strongside linebacker and includes some pass-rush duties. Coach Gus Bradley has consistently praised Andre Branch throughout OTAs and the 34-year-old Jason Babin should be more effective by playing less snaps. The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season and it'd be a surprise to me if they didn't top 40 in 2014.
@ESPNdirocco: There is no date. Blackmon has to petition the NFL to be reinstated and then it's up to commissioner Roger Goodell to determine what additional punishment -- whether it's a further suspension or a fine -- he would face.
The spot Bryant will play is opposite the leo, which is a hybrid end/linebacker whose main responsibility is rushing the passer. The opposite end’s priority is to act as a run-stuffer while also providing some pass rush. Tyson Alualu held that spot last season and did a solid job, making 44 tackles and recording 1.5 sacks and eight quarterback pressures.
Then-Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley moved Bryant from tackle to end in 2010, and Bryant thrived in that role from 2011 to 2013, making 87 tackles and serving as an anchor of the defensive line, and Bradley is hoping he can do the same thing in Jacksonville.
Bryant is a better player than 6-3, 295-pound Alualu, who has never lived up to his status as the No. 10 pick in 2010 and likely will take over as the starter. Alualu has one more season remaining on his rookie contract with a cap hit of $4.164 million, but it seems unlikely the team would release him.
The Jaguars’ rush defense was horrible in the first half of the season (161.8 yards per game). It did get better in the second half of the season, limiting opponents to less than 100 yards rushing in Weeks 10-14 before injuries along the defensive line and at linebacker limited the defense. The Jaguars gave up 461 yards on the ground in the final three weeks.
Addressing the offensive and defensive lines is the team’s top priority in free agency. The signing of Bryant has given the Jaguars a head start.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch, and interview prospects at the NFL combine.
Here’s a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on defense and some potential targets:
Potential targets: Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack.
Outside linebacker: Geno Hayes turned in a solid year in 2013 (78 tackles, two interceptions, three pass break-ups) despite playing through a nagging knee injury that eventually forced him to miss the last two games. But the Jaguars still need to upgrade both outside spots. It was partly due to his knee injury, but Hayes didn’t make very many impact plays and Russell Allen, the starter on the other side, made none. The leo spot is a hybrid end/outside linebacker that specializes in rushing the passer, so the outside linebackers don’t need to be elite pass rushers. They need to be athletic enough to play in coverage and have the ability to blitz if needed.
Potential targets: Ryan Shazier, Telvin Smith, Lamin Barrow.
Defensive end: This is the spot opposite the leo in the Jaguars’ defense and it doesn’t call for an elite pass-rusher. The Jaguars want a big, physical end who can anchor the line of the scrimmage in the run game. Tyson Alualu held the job last season and was solid (44 tackles, eight QB pressures, three tackles for loss), but the Jaguars need more production there. The only other player at that spot is Ryan Davis, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. They’re also hoping for a little more pass rush production than what Alualu had, but it’s not the primary responsibility.
Potential targets: Brent Urban, Jackson Jeffcoat, Scott Crichton.
Defensive tackle: The Jaguars’ two starters are set with Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, but the Jaguars need to add some quality depth here. Marks is coming off a career year and was awarded a four-year extension. Miller battled a shoulder problem all season but underwent surgery after the season concluded and should be fine by the time OTAs begin in April.
Potential targets: Will Sutton, Caraun Reid, Deandre Coleman.
1. Though there was only one period at the end of South team practice in which the entire offense faced off against the entire defense, Monday was a good day to evaluate the quarterbacks. It was mainly from a mental standpoint, Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. The offense was put in Sunday night and Monday was the first chance to see how well the quarterbacks transferred it from the meeting room to the field. Fisch said he was pleased with the way Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), Derek Carr (Fresno State) and David Fales (San Jose State) handled that. There were mistakes and issues, but all the quarterbacks did a solid job.
2. There isn't a lot of size among the quarterbacks for either team, with the exception of Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), who measured in at an impressive 6-5 5/8 and 250 pounds. Fales (6-1) and Carr (6-2) were both listed at 6-3 on the pre-measurement roster.
4. Ford had 10.5 sacks, including two in the national title game against Florida State, and was consistently beating the tackles around the edge. It'll be interesting to see how he handles coverage responsibilities. He's not really big enough to play a down end (6-2 1/4, 243 pounds) so he'd likely fit in the Jaguars' scheme as a leo.
5. Jon Halapio (Florida) had a rough start in one-on-one run-blocking drills -- defensive tackle Will Sutton (Arizona State) threw him aside pretty easily -- but he rebounded to have a solid performance in the pass-rushing drills. He handled Sutton and tackle Deandre Coleman (California) in pass-rush drills.
6. From the Don't Read Too Much Into This Department: Jaguars GM David Caldwell wandered over to watch some of the one-on-one run-blocking drills and stood next to end Ed Stinson for a while. The two appeared to be chatting while Stinson was sitting out some drills. Stinson weighed in at 292 pounds so he'd be a better fit for the spot that Tyson Alualu plays. The Jaguars were satisfied with the way Alualu played the run last season but they'd like more pass-rush production out that spot.
7. Here's a name to keep an eye on as the draft rolls into the later rounds: defensive tackle Caraun Reid (Princeton). He had a really strong day in run-blocking and pass-rushing drills. He moves very well for his size (6-2 1/8, 301 pounds) and showed good strength and quickness. He tossed guard Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State) aside and got underneath center Bryan Stork (Florida State) and drove him back.
8. Another small-school player that caught my eye was running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (Coastal Carolina), mainly because he's the biggest running back participating this week (6-0, 231 pounds). He had a couple nice runs during the short 11-on-11 period. He ran for 1,742 yards and 27 touchdowns and averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season. He has lost only 20 yards in 356 career carries.
9. Receiver Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) made a nice catch with a DB all over him during 11-on-11. Matthews (6-2, 209 pounds) is a physical player who caught 201 passes the past two seasons. He has good hands, knows how to use his body, and will make the tough catch. He doesn't have top-end speed, but he'll be one of the first several receivers drafted.
10. I wasn't that impressed with fullback Jay Prosch (Auburn), who struggled whenever he had to block an end or on the edge. Granted, there were only a few live periods but he seemed to be much better whenever he had to take on an inside linebacker.
They made the same kinds of mistakes that hurt them in the first eight weeks -- turnovers, missed assignments on defense, missed tackles -- but the difference in Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills is that the Jaguars were in the game and had a chance to win it in the fourth quarter.
Unlike their other losses, this wasn’t a blowout. In fact, it was the first loss this season by less than double digits. That means finding the top 10 Jaguars playmakers from the game is significantly easier than it was in the other nine losses.
Remember, this isn’t a list of MVP candidates, but a compilation of the players who are making the biggest difference each week.
Here we go, with last week’s rankings in parenthesis:
1. RB Jordan Todman (7): The first-year back filled in for an injured Maurice Jones-Drew and was the offensive MVP. He ran for 109 yards and caught four passes for 44 yards. He proved he can be a viable No. 2 back.
2. TE Marcedes Lewis (4): Lewis caught a touchdown for the third game in a row for the first time in his career. He led the Jaguars with four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. He was a big factor in the running game pounding out a season-high 159 yards.
3. K Josh Scobee (NR): He hit two field goals, including a season-long 55 yarder that is tied for the second-longest field goal of his career.
4. LB Geno Hayes (3): Hayes picked off a pass for the second consecutive week. He had only one tackle but he played through a knee injury and still managed to deliver a big play that set up a field goal.
5. S Winston Guy (NR): Guy seemed to be all over the field. He made six tackles, sacked EJ Manuel and forced a fumble. He’s still a little wild and lined up wrong several times, but he had worked at strong safety for the first time last week.
6. DT Sen'Derrick Marks (NR): Seems like he makes one or two big plays a game and he did it again against the Bills, sacking Manuel once and recovering the fumble that Guy forced.
7. LB Paul Posluszny (6): It was another typical Posluszny performance. He led the team in tackles (13) and added a quarterback hit. He has been the Jaguars’ most consistent player this season.
8. DE Tyson Alualu (NR): He plays a spot that’s not going to produce a lot of sacks and therefore gets overlooked, but he was solid against the Bills. He had six tackles, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit.
9. WR Kerry Taylor (NR): He rebounded from an early drop to catch four passes for 42 yards, including a couple tough catches. Taylor was forced into significant action because of the groin injury to Cecil Shorts and did a solid job.
10. DE Andre Branch (10): He recorded a sack -- his fourth in the last five games -- and added five tackles, including two for loss. The coaching staff has been lauding his effort and now he’s starting to consistently make plays.
First-down woes: The Jaguars continue to struggle on first down. Of the 27 first-down plays the Jaguars had against Seattle, they had negative yardage or no gain on 17 of them. The offense does not have the kind of playmakers, especially when the offensive line is struggling, to overcome that. It’s not because the Jaguars weren’t aggressive, though. Chad Henne threw 17 passes on first down, but he completed only seven. He did throw for 121 yards, but nearly half of that came on one play (a 59-yard catch-and-run by Cecil Shorts). Here’s a startling stat: Through three games, the Jaguars have 18 three-and-outs on 41 possessions (44 percent).
Tight end damage: Seattle tight ends Zach Miller, Luke Willson and Kellen Davis combined to catch nine passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Up until then, the Jaguars had done a solid job of limiting the damage done by the position (five catches for 40 yards in two games). Play-action hurt the Jaguars on Sunday. For example, safety Chris Prosinski got caught looking in the backfield on Miller’s 1-yard touchdown catch because of Russell Wilson's play fake to Marshawn Lynch. Miller cut-blocked defensive end Tyson Alualu, then popped up and was wide-open in the end zone for an easy catch.
More Denard: The Jaguars tried to get Denard Robinson more work on Sunday by having him return kicks. He was solid, averaging 27.0 yards on two returns -- but he also nearly had a disaster by starting to take the ball out of the end zone but taking a knee just behind the goal line. The team is in desperate need of playmakers, so it was a good idea to try to take advantage of Robinson’s open-field ability. That might be the best way to use him because the Wildcat formation is not working. Robinson fumbled an exchange and had minus-2 yards on his other carry.
That was a pretty quiet day compared to Sunday, when the Jaguars were awarded seven players off waivers, cut seven players and signed seven more players to the practice squad, the Jaguars front office was pretty quiet. And while things won't be as busy as they were Sunday, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have said they will be aggressive in terms of trying to improve the bottom part of the roster and special-teams play, which means the team will be signing and cutting players on a somewhat regular basis.
So while things are (relatively) quiet for now, here’s a quick breakdown of the 54-man roster (we’re including WR Justin Blackmon, who is suspended for the first four games):
According to data collected by The Philadelphia Inquirer and posted on its website, the Jaguars have the league’s fifth-youngest roster in the NFL. The numbers may not be 100 percent accurate now because the website used the rosters as of 9 p.m. Saturday and teams continued to add and cut players on Sunday, but it shouldn’t make too much of a difference in the final results.
Here’s how the Jaguars roster breaks down in terms of age:
The Jaguars have 38 players 26 years old or younger, including 12 projected starters: WR Cecil Shorts (25), LT Eugene Monroe (26), LG Will Rackley (23), RT Luke Joeckel (21), WR Justin Blackmon (23), QB Blaine Gabbert (23), DT Tyson Alualu (26), DT Roy Miller (26), DT Sen’Derrick Marks (26), LB Geno Hayes (26), CB Dwayne Gratz (23), S Johnathan Cyprien (23).
They have 12 players between 27 and 30 years old, including six starters: RG Uche Nwaneri (29), TE Marcedes Lewis (29), FB Will Ta’ufo’ou (27), RB Maurice Jones-Drew (28), LB Paul Posluszny (28) and S Dwight Lowery (27).
There are only three players older than 30, all of which are starters: DE Jason Babin (33), C Brad Meester (36) and K Josh Scobee (31).
Sixteen players are either rookies or first-year players.
The Jaguars have four players on the roster who were drafted under GM Shack Harris (2003-08) and 10 players who were drafted under GM Gene Smith (2009-12).
If you eliminate the 2012 draft class because those players are only in their second year and should still be on the roster (four of the six picks are), the number remaining from Smith’s tenure drops to six. The 2009 and 2010 drafts should have produced the core group of players that should be the strength of this year’s team since they would be entering their fourth and fifth seasons, which is when most players enter their prime. But only two of the 15 players taken in those two drafts remain: Monroe and Alualu.
Five completions in 10 attempts for 19 yards isn’t going to make anyone feel like Gabbert rose to the occasion or staked a claim in a 27-3 preseason loss at EverBank Field.
That’s 1.9 yards per attempt and 3.8 yards per completion. The Jaguars averaged 4.8 yards a carry when they ran the ball.
For comparison, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill also completed five passes. His were good for 75 yards.
All the disclaimers for the Jaguars’ passer in one paragraph: Gabbert was without the team’s top two receivers, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, and its top two running backs, Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Forsett. He got sacked early when Cameron Wake beat rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel. He suffered as a result of a drop by rookie receiver Ace Sanders and the lack of a play on a pass to Mike Brown that was probably catchable. On an early third-and-12 the Jaguars ran a screen pass with no chance of extending a drive. The interception he threw hit fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou in the hands and he failed to pull it in.
Even with all that context, a starting NFL quarterback needs to make more of his chance than Gabbert did. Chad Henne was far better: 8-for-11 for 87 yards for a 95.6 passer rating compared to Gabbert’s 16.7.
Henne deserves the start in the second preseason game.
A few other thoughts:
- Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks was active, with a sack on the second play from scrimmage and at least one more disruptive play. Working from the left end spot, Tyson Alualu also had one very nice early pressure.
- Dustin Keller pulled in the game’s first score, a 22-yard TD from Tannehill. Safety Chris Prosinski was all over the tight end but didn’t have the awareness to find the ball so it didn’t matter.
- Sanders’ second punt return went for 22 yards and showed some nice shake.
- Denard Robinson had one very nice change-of-direction play that went for a 7-yard gain, but in his first game action as a running back the production was poor as he averaged 3.6 yards. He got smashed in the backfield on a Wildcat keeper midway through the second quarter. The story of the run game was Jordan Todman, who turned six carries into 45 yards and seemed to get into his top gear pretty quickly.
- Rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz took advantage of a somewhat off-target throw from Matt Moore to confidently collect an interception.
- Jaguars quarterbacks combined to complete six passes that were good for 2 yards or fewer: two 2-yard passes, two 1-yard passes, one pass for no gain and one completion that resulted in a 3-yard loss.
New coach Gus Bradley believes trust is as important as any ingredient in his team, and in the early stages of a big rebuild he has earned a great degree of it from his players.
“It’s been really refreshing, his whole approach from day one,” said Jason Babin, the team’s most proven pass-rusher. “The way he’s laid out how we’re going to do things, the way we’ll go about our business, the way things are going to be here is genuine. As you know coaches often say one thing, and it’s not always entirely true.”
“To have a coach like that with the genuine sincerity is special. You believe him when he talks to you, and he’s done a great job developing relationships.”
Belief is big for a team that is coming off a disastrous 2-14 season, lacks a proven quarterback and has some areas of questionable talent. Bradley has preached a simple, core theme from the very start. He’s not talking playoffs, he’s not talking wins, he’s not talking success. He’s constantly talking improvement.
Bradley is high energy, and while he’s not trying to stamp his personality on his players, the enthusiasm can’t help but be contagious.
“He’s like a breath of fresh air, it’s like night and day,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “I’ve always said you can have good coaches but bad people. He’s actually a great coach and a good person who actually cares about you. You can tell when you come into work. It’s just a better working environment.
"When he first came in and we met him, I thought his enthusiasm was fake. Like it wouldn’t last. But that’s who he is, every single day. You can’t do anything but appreciate it.”
While Bradley would like his team to start fast, his bigger emphasis is on finishing strong. For a team that might not have a lot of success in the standings, it seems a smart approach. Because if you talk all about starting fast and you don’t, then what?
THREE HOT ISSUES
2. Maurice Jones-Drew’s foot. He looked good during my visit, very much the same guy we’ve become accustomed to. He could easily be the centerpiece of the offense just as he was before he suffered a serious Lisfranc foot injury in the team’s sixth game last season. We need to see him in games, over time show that the foot isn’t an issue. We need to see how effective the rest of the team can be so that it’s not overreliant on him. And we need to see how he takes on the final year of his contract when he desires a big new deal, but exists in a league where even effective running backs are devalued as they approach 30. While the team will run more zone plays, MJD said the rush offense won’t look that different from what we saw in the last few years of Del Rio’s regime.
3. The shape of a new scheme: Bradley ran Seattle’s defense under Pete Carroll, and the scheme put a heavy emphasis on big physical cornerbacks and pass-rushing Leos. Do the Jaguars have the guys to fit those roles? Third-round pick Dwayne Gratz looks like a good get. But Babin is the team’s best rusher, and he was let go by the Eagles during the season last year, not a great sign. The second option at Leo, 2012 second-rounder Andre Branch, remains mostly invisible. Jacksonville had 20 sacks last season. The end pool hasn’t really changed, though Tyson Alualu has shifted outside. The new interior guys -- Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick -- will solidify the run defense. But will they penetrate and get quarterbacks to move off their spot?
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
REASON FOR PESSIMISM
The talent gap. How many Jaguars would start for the two-time defending AFC South champion Houston? Joeckel would be the right tackle. Paul Posluszny, if he fit into a 3-4, could be a two-down inside guy next to Brian Cushing. Shorts would be a top-three receiver. That’s probably it. The Jaguars might be moving in a good direction, but the distance between their talent and the talent at the top of the division, conference and league is substantial. The more talented teams don’t always win, but you’d rather not be the team that has to remind itself that all the time.
- Denard Robinson is listed as a running back, a quarterback, a receiver and a kick returner on the team’s initial depth chart. The team already has tried to trim his workload -- he’s not involved as a punt returner for now -- to help him get good at a smaller role, and so he can really concentrate on ball security. They will definitely use him in the Wildcat. But Caldwell said he’s not really expecting anything from Robinson early on.
- All the receivers are learning all the spots. So while Sanders and Brown both look the part of slot guys, don’t pigeonhole either as strictly inside guys. And while Shorts and Blackmon look the part of outside guys, they could well get opportunities lining up inside, too. Mohamed Massaquoi and, to a larger degree, Jordan Shipley don’t seem to be very big factors right now.
- Alualu looked good as an end when I focused on him. Hopefully his knee is sound and he will be able to put things together in his fourth year. Meanwhile, Jeremy Mincey is going the other direction. He has added about 15 pounds and his primary role is likely to be as a nickel tackle.
- After what he did, and failed to do, in his chances in Houston last season, cornerback Alan Ball seemed like an uninspired signing to me. But he has been better through camp so far than I would have expected.
- Undrafted rookie linebacker LaRoy Reynolds is flashing regularly at practice. At this point, I expect he’s on the team and given a chance to be a special-teams ace. Maybe he even pushes starter Russell Allen. Look for six to eight undrafted guys to make the initial 53-man roster.
Some quick thoughts on what I saw and heard:
Blaine Gabbert: The quarterback had his right ankle heavily wrapped and didn’t participate in team work. But he said after practice that barring something crazy he’d be back to a full workload tomorrow. Mike Kafka worked as the No. 2 behind Chad Henne, with Matt Scott last.
Wildcatting: Denard Robinson ran several Wildcat plays, but didn’t throw on any of them, handing off or running.
I am generally anti-Wildcat, but the Jaguars are the right team to be playing with it -- a team without a high-quality quarterback.
Receiver Mike Brown did throw a pass on a trick play, after taking a lateral screen pass from Kafka to the left side. Brown threw to the right side of the end zone from about 40 yards out. Running back Jordan Todman had linebacker Julian Stanford beat, but couldn’t corral it. (See this play and some pictures from today on my Instagram account: pkuharsky)
I watched one-on-one pass rush (which was sometimes two-on-two), Andre Branch tried to bull rush Luke Joeckel and while he gained some ground, Joeckel had control. Will Rackley rode D’Anthony Smith wide on one snap. And Jason Babin slipped under Eugene Monroe’s left shoulder but then got pinned there and went to the ground. Tyson Alualu did some nice work against Mike Brewster working on an inside rush. That’s a matchup he should win. I’ll write more about Alualu and his move to end soon.
Good throw: One of Henne’s best throws was to Marcedes Lewis in the middle of the field for a mid-range gain. What made it especially good was that Henne initially looked and pumped left, then came back to find Lewis.
Fumble: Cecil Shorts and Henne shared responsibility on an end-around handoff being fumbled.
Well defended: Undrafted rookie cornerback Marcus Burley hasn’t been heard from much in camp so far, I am told. But he made a very good play in the end zone. From the 10-yard line, Henne threw a nice pass to Mohamed Massaquoi into the right side of the end zone. Burley realized he wasn’t going to be able to make a play on the ball, but that he could still prevent the catch and he broke it up even though he wasn’t on top of the receiver.
Option: Henne ran an option play to the left side, pitching to Maurice Jones-Drew on a well-executed snap.
Not long later, Henne easily hit Shorts under the goalpost for a red zone TD.
Detente? I was with some other reporters near the end of the open locker room and we had a fun, spirited chat with Jones-Drew, who was hanging out at a new, still net-less ping-pong table in the middle of the locker room. (Not so spirited that young receiver Tobias Palmer needed to check if MJD wanted his assistance to break free of it. But I found it to be charming naiveté.) MJD and I have some history, about which I try to be up front. We seemed to have benefited from a cooling off period. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to visit with a tape recorder running on Thursday.
The Oklahoma Drill -- I cringe when I see it because I think of how Jacksonville defensive lineman Tyson Alualu suffered an unnecessary knee injury as part of Jack Del Rio's version. What the Titans did here wasn't nearly as extensive and Mike Munchak emphasized how he doesn't believe it's risky.
They did some work with linebackers and offensive linemen Saturday and then looked for coaches to request matchups today. They intend to do something like that, something competitive in practice, on the nights they are in pads.
"It's a safe thing, there not a whole lot that can go wrong there," Munchak said. "There are only a couple bodies in the way, it's low impact."
I'm not sure about the low impact part.
Michael Roos won against Kamerion Wimbley, Fernando Velasco beat Colin McCarthy, Taylor Thompson got the decision over Michael Griffin, and the timing on a Quinn Johnson-Bernard Pollard snap was messed up so it was hard to judge fairly.
Jake Locker -- The quarterback performed better than he did during Friday's practice. The offense as a whole, which got beaten pretty badly Saturday afternoon, bounced back nicely.
I saw him throw a dart in red zone work to Damian Williams in the back left of the end zone, a ball Williams caught with Tommie Campbell practically draped over him.
One sequence was particularly good.
Locker hit Kendall Wright on a midrange pass at the right sideline. Wright dove, pulled it in, and his shoulder landed in bounds. The next play Locker found Nate Washington in stride well down the right sideline for a big play on Jason McCourty.
Locker also took off a couple times on plays that would have produced real headaches for a defense in live action.
Drops or fumbles -- Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains isn't standing for them.
When Darius Reynaud fumbled, it might have been the result of a botched handoff, but it didn't matter. "Give me a new running back," Loggains shouted, motioning to the rest of the offense. "That can't happen."
Craig Stevens and receiver Roberto Wallace got similar requests to leave the offense after drops.
Fitzpatrick's block -- On a play where Reynaud started to run right but then cut back, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the blocking caravan and kept Alterraun Verner out of the play.
The crowd ate it up.
"I think he knew that, that he's wearing the red jersey and no one was going to hurt him," Munchak said. "You can see the energy it brings, I think quarterbacks realize that. They can get involved in a play like that when someone reverses fields, they can maybe get a cheap block and not get hurt on it. It brought a lot of energy to the practice for sure."
But the defensive end looks at the Jacksonville Jaguars' new scheme and doesn’t see limitations, he sees additional opportunities.
His attitude is a big reason he appears to be a guy worth rooting for.
Mincey signed a big contract in March of 2012 -- four years and $20 million with $9 million guaranteed. His cap number this season is $3.55 million. His sack production went from eight in 2011 to three last year, when the Jaguars had just 20.
“We have a role for Mince, and we’ll use him in a variety of different fashions,” GM David Caldwell said. “He has some inside pass-rush skills and he has some outside pass-rush skills. There are going to be different packages where he’s going to be valuable for us.”
Mincey played 83.67 percent of the Jaguars' snaps last year. That’s too many and he wore down.
He sounded especially enthusiastic about opportunities to sometimes play against guards as an interior guy.
“I think they like me at the guards, you know one-on-one isolating me, man,” he said. “Last year was hard on me. I was on the radar, teams were coming at me. We didn’t have much last year, not as much as we have this year, so I think this group can open the gates. Sen’Derrick Marks is a phenomenal player, I can feed off him, and read off of him. I haven’t had that in years, man. Had a guy, you know, that’s going to get up the field and penetrate and come up off of him.
"And Tyson [Alualu] on the end, I think that’s a real good fit for the scheme they’re running. We got a bunch of guys that can clog the holes, that can actually allow us to rush the ends the way we need to rush them.”
Mincey also said more aggressive coverage will help pass-rushers, forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball. That secondary is very young and unproven, but Mincey is encouraged.
“I mean that secondary we’ve got, I haven’t seen one like that in years,” he said. “I’m very, very, very, very pumped for what we’ve got going on this year. I mean just more man to man. Anytime you got man to man you have a QB patting the ball, you’re going to have more opportunities as opposed to him with him dinking and dunking and wearing you down then running the ball.”