NFL Nation: Damian Copeland

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- One of the expected battles of training camp has already started to play out for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first week of OTAs.

Seven players are fighting for two remaining spots at receiver behind Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. There are guys who were on the team last season, some practice squad guys, a veteran free-agent signing, and some undrafted free agents all trying to make the 53-man roster.

"That’s going to be a fierce competition throughout [the summer]," coach Gus Bradley said after Thursday’s OTA.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/John RaouxThe Jaguars' receivers, including Marqise Lee, have been competing hard during OTAs this week, coach Gus Bradley said.
Since this is the first week of OTAs, it’s still a pretty wide open race. It would be logical to assume that Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor and Tandon Doss have a bit of an advantage since Brown and Taylor were on the team last season and the Jaguars signed Doss to a two-year, $1.5 million contract in March.

Brown caught 32 passes for 446 yards and two touchdowns and Taylor caught 19 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown playing mainly near the end of the season because of the suspension of Justin Blackmon and Shorts’ season-ending sports hernia injury. Doss has only 26 receptions in his first three seasons with Baltimore but did lead the NFL in punt return average in 2013.

Special-teams play could be the deciding factor on which receivers the Jaguars keep, Bradley said.

"My challenge to our guys is -- especially like the fourth, fifth and sixth spots -- those guys have got to be really good special-teams players," Bradley said. "The competition you’re seeing really even takes place on special teams because they know how valuable that is, so there’s a number of guys in there that are really battling. A guy like Tandon Doss had a really good day [Wednesday], so you’re seeing each one of them really try to maximize their reps."

Bradley really lit up when talking about Brown, praising his work ethic and leadership. The former quarterback at Liberty missed four games after suffering a fractured vertebra in his back in the 2013 season opener but was impressive in his return. He was on the field for all but five of the Jaguars’ offensive snaps against Denver despite only having practiced minimally because of his injury. The following week he caught five passes for 120 yards, including a career-high 43-yarder.

"Mike Brown is really, really solid," Bradley said. "That’s what I would have said last year, but I feel like he’s stepped up his game because of the competition. He’s really taking command and you’re seeing him lead other guys at that position. That in itself tells me he has a better command of things, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Brown doesn’t worry about whether that gives him an edge over Doss and Taylor or any of the other players competing for the final two spots: 2013 practice squad players Chad Bumphis and Lamaar Thomas (who also played in two games) and undrafted rookie free- agents Allen Hurns and Damian Copeland.

"It’s the same thing every year," Brown said. "That’s one thing I love about this game. It’s all about competition. We’re all in here competing together, helping each other get better. Our focus is on being the best that we can be personally. Ultimately we don’t control the outcome of who’s here or who’s not, so there’s no use in even really thinking about it.

"You just go out there and you put your best foot forward and you get yourself to be the best that you can be and you kind of live with how it plays out. That’s the mindset you’ve got to take."

Brown, Taylor and Doss have gotten a lot of work during the first week of OTAs. The Jaguars have created what Bradley is calling an "opportunity period" specifically for the younger, less-experienced players to gain additional reps at the end of each workout. Hurns, Copeland and Bumphis have benefited from that extra work. Thomas had limited participation this week because of a knee injury.

There’s a long way to go before any kind of final decision and it will undoubtedly heat up during training camp, but the battle for those final receiver spots will be interesting to watch.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars begin organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday. While the players are only allowed to wear helmets and are restricted to six hours of work per day it marks the first time the veterans and rookies will be together, so it’s the first chance to get a glimpse at how the team may look in September.

Here are five things to ponder during the 10 OTAs and mandatory minicamp over the next four weeks:

Gerhart
The running back depth chart: Despite the Jaguars' confidence in Toby Gerhart, there is still some doubt among those outside the team over his ability to be a feature back. He has not done it since his days at Stanford, spending the past four seasons backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. The plan is around 20 touches per game, but if he’s not able to handle that workload or be productive, there are not a whole lot of options behind him. Second-year player Jordan Todman, who backed up Maurice Jones-Drew last season and ran for 109 yards in his only start of the season, is the only proven ball carrier behind Gerhart. Denard Robinson has to fix his ball security issues. Seventh-round pick Storm Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite, but he was taken that late for a reason. Moments after drafting him, coach Gus Bradley said Johnson really struggles in pass protection and he also has trouble holding onto the football. After Johnson, it’s undrafted rookies Beau Blankenship and Terrance Cobb.

Who’s No. 5-6? There are four locks to make the team at receiver: Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. After that, there’s a wide-open competition for the fifth and sixth spots between Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Chad Bumphis, Damian Copeland, Tandon Doss, Allen Hurns and Lamaar Thomas. Doss has more career catches (26) than any of the others, plus he’s got good size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds). However, his issue in Baltimore the past three seasons was running routes consistently and drops. He is a solid kick returner and that gives him an advantage over the others. Brown and Taylor were on the roster last season and have valuable experience in offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s system, but so does Hurns, a former Miami standout who played two seasons under Fisch as the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator.

Henne
Bortles vs. Henne: It’s not really a competition between first-round pick Blake Bortles and veteran Chad Henne at this point, but it will be interesting to see them throwing together. The thing to watch will be the 11-on-11, in which Henne should have a significant advantage. He is completely comfortable in the offense and therefore his throws should be quicker and more decisive. If Bortles looks comparable, that may be a clue the competition in training camp may start off closer than most anticipated.

Joeckel’s return: Luke Joeckel spent only about a quarter at left tackle before suffering a fractured ankle that kept him out for the rest of the 2013 season. He spent all of training camp and the first four weeks at right tackle, so this will essentially be his rookie season at left tackle. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich will at times put four leos on the field on third down, so it’ll be interesting to watch Joeckel match up against some of the pass-rushers. One matchup I’d like to see is Joeckel vs. rookie Chris Smith, who doesn't have prototypical leo size (he’s 6-1) but has long arms and is very quick off the line. The Jaguars want to see Joeckel play the way he did before getting injured against St. Louis when he pretty much stoned Robert Quinn, who went on to record 19 sacks last season.

Safety dance: Johnathan Cyprien is the starting strong safety. That’s set in stone. But the situation at free safety is less certain. Josh Evans (sixth round) and Winston Guy (waiver wire) shared the spot last season, but the Jaguars signed a pair of undrafted rookies -- Craig Loston and Jerome Junior -- to compete with Evans and Guy along with Chris Prosinski, Joe Young and Sherrod Martin. Evans really shouldn’t have been on the field as much as he was last season but was forced into action because of an injury to Dwight Lowery in Week 3. That experience should give him an advantage going into OTAs. This position battle will be one of the more interesting ones to watch throughout training camp and preseason.

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