With the release of the training camp schedule earlier this week, we can begin speculation on certain events that seem to occur every year in training camp. In general, training camp provides a fairly inconsistent measurement of what to expect when the regular season begins. Specifically, we tend to see:
- A rookie who shines during practices.
- A young veteran who appears to be making the next step.
- A veteran who doesn’t participate in most of the practices but doesn’t miss a beat.
- A surprising veteran struggling for a bit.
- A new starter emerging at an unexpected position.
Last year, the five culprits mentioned above could have been (1) Cecil Shorts, (2) Austen Lane, (3) Maurice Jones-Drew, (4) Eugene Monroe, and (5) Guy Whimper.
Guy Whimper’s name is too easy. I won’t stoop that low.
This year, it would be fairly shocking if any player ends up with the distinction in (5) because of the strength the Jaguars have established at most of the roster spots, but you never know. Let’s take a look at which players could wind up with in the five spots I described above.
- Andre Branch – Last year, Cecil Shorts looked like he could land one of the top two receiver positions with his performance in training camp. He showed great hands and had a knack for finding open space to catch the ball. This year, expect Branch to show some flashes on the defensive line. He has good speed off the edge and has a high motor, which should lend itself to some highlight plays in practice. Unfortunately, like Shorts I don’t expect him to translate his success to the regular season right away – rookie defensive ends usually take a while to adjust to the NFL.
- Will Rackley – Austen Lane was the star of the Oklahoma drill last year and looked the part of a starting defensive end in training camp. Like Shorts however, he started out slow during the season and he eventually ended up in the injured reserve. Expect Will Rackley to impress during camp and to carry that into the season. Unlike Lane, Rackley gained a wealth of experience last year to build upon this season.
Will Rackley doing his best “total badass” face.
- Rashean Mathis – I was going to choose Mojo again, but I expect most of the starting offensive players to take a lot of reps because of the new offensive scheme. With that in mind, I went with Rashean Mathis. He will be limited coming off of his injury anyway, but he has a good handle of Mel Tucker’s defense and he knows his way around the league at this point. Rashean should be fresh and rested come the regular season and starting opposite Derek Cox.
- Mike Thomas – Eugene Monroe struggled last year because he showed up too light to camp. This year, Mike Thomas is going to struggle because there are two (Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson) and possibly three (Cecil Shorts III) receivers more talented than him on the roster. I’m not insinuating that he’s going to look terrible during camp, but it’s possible he will be outshined by the other receivers on the roster.
- Cecil Shorts III – This is a result of Mike Thomas’ appearance in the previous spot. Guy Whimper earned his spot because of Eben Britton’s injury and his strong play in camp in 2011. Shorts could stake his claim as the number three receiver this summer if he flashes in a similar way. With the new offensive scheme, the Jags are going to run several more three receiver sets than in the past, making the third receiver of the bunch an integral part of the offense.
With training camp only weeks away, we’ll be finding out if these predictions are right or wrong pretty soon. Until then, let’s keep the speculation going to liven up the dead zone!