Training camp begins this week in Jacksonville. A couple of weeks back I posted a few things I will be observing when the Jacksonville Jaguars take to the practice fields in preparation for the upcoming season. I’ve been doing some thinking since then.
This season will be different. Yeah, I know we say that every year. This time I actually believe it though, and if you keep up with my posts I’ve been labeled a pessimist by some. Why will it be different? Because this year we saw a real overhaul of the roster. No more keeping around mediocre talents, the Kyle Bosworths, CJ Mosleys that have littered this roster for so long. No more overpaid, over-the-hill players like Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross. The one player I wish we could have kept was Daryl Smith, but I regress…
Many Jaguars observers are talking about our rookie secondary. 3rd round pick CB Dwayne Gratz will start. 2nd round pick SS Johnathan Cyprien will start. It’s a young secondary. We’ll be starting a rookie at right tackle. Our quarterback is only 23 years old.
We’ll be counting on young players like Will Rackley to step up and improve the interior of the offensive line. Everyone seems to be banking on Cecil Shorts to be even better than he was last year. Both of these players were taken just two years ago in the 2011 draft. 2012 2nd round pick, DE Andre Branch is being counted on to become a key part of the pass rush after an abysmal rookie campaign. Last year’s 5th overall pick, Justin Blackmon, once he’s healthy and he returns from his suspension, will try to become more consistent as he picks up yet another new offense.
What I’m getting at is that this team is very young. Even the free agents that were signed are young. Geno Hayes and Justin Forsett were drafted in 2008. Massaquoi, Marks, and Miller were all drafted in 2009. Of course there’s Marcus Trufant who has been in the league since 2003. The next oldest free agent signed, however, is Alan Ball who was drafted in 2007. Of the free agents signed, Hayes is expected to start. Ball is expected to start. Miller and Marks could start. Massaquoi will be looked to hold down Blackmon’s spot until the troubled wide receiver returns. Forsett will get his touches behind Maurice Jones-Drew along with 2013 5th round pick Denard Robinson.
What I’m getting at is that this team has officially become very, very young and more athletic. In comparison, last year Kyle Bosworth started at one of the LB spots at some points during the season before 2012 UDFA Julian Standford began appearing on a more regular basis. Chris Prosinski…enough said. No more Dawaan Landry, Laurent Robinson. Instead you’ll see Johnathan Cyprien, who according to most accounts looked beastly, and a slew of young receivers such as Jordan Shipley, Mike Brown and Tobias Palmer. No more wasting money. No more keeping players who can’t play.
Some fans need to get educated. I still hear a lot of pessimism regarding the team because we didn’t go out and sign a quarterback like Carson Palmer in free agency or “make a splash.” Too many fans still believe that we need to spend, spend, spend and get some “real talent” in Jacksonville. That was the old regime’s problem, however. The problem with Jacksonville hasn’t been that they aren’t willing to spend. The problem with Jacksonville has been their inability to develop young talent.
For too long the Jaguars have suffered from too many injuries. Injuries happen. Staying healthy is never a guarantee. If you ask me, what’s hurt the Jaguars isn’t necessarily injuries, but instead the depth. Chris Prosinski was the primary backup safety last year. Don’t even get me started with Eben Britton.
Whenever someone says “young team” they are more than likely referring strictly to the starters. The 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars will definitely be young in that aspect, but the depth behind the starters will be young as well. 2 rookies will be starting in the secondary. 5 rookie defensive backs were drafted, and a handful were signed in collegiate free agency. 6th round pick Josh Evans figures to take Chris Prosinski’s role. 7th rounders Demetrius McCray and Jeremy Harris could find themselves seeing time in sub packages and definitely special teams.
So what about depth? 23 college free agents were brought in after the draft and I would say that a good bit of those college free agents have a fair shot at making this roster. Allow me to take the time and tell you which ones I will be watching this weekend.
- WR Tobias Palmer. Speed is his main asset which is great for a team that has been lacking speed for so long. He runs a 4.39 and turned heads during rookie mini-camp back in May. He’ll be competing for a back up spot at best, but he could wind up on the practice squad.
- TE Ryan Otten: He’s athletic and young. Otten ran his 40 in the 4.6 range. He’s more of a pass-catching tight end that would bolster the depth behind Marcedes Lewis and be a better option in the passing game than last year’s second TE, Zach Potter who was more of a blocking TE.
- FB Lonnie Pryor: I have a feeling Pryor might have already made the roster. With Greg Jones gone, the Jaguars will need someone who can lead the way for Maurice Jones-Drew.
- LB LaRoy Reynolds: I think Reynolds will be competing with Julian Stanford for a backup linebacker spot. I haven’t heard very much about him so far, but I’m guessing that we’ll get to see more of him when the pads come on this week. Reynolds should be a major upgrade over Kyle Bosworth.
- OT RJ Dill: You probably haven’t heard much about Dill, and Caldwell has come out and said they like Cameron Bradfield. Offensive linemen are hard to assess in shorts though. Dill can play LT or RT. He played 3 years at Maryland and one year at Rutgers, so it’s not like he’s some division II guy. The swing tackle, aside from the backup QB, is the most important backup position on the team. The Jaguars will be counting on Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel big time this year. If one of them goes down, we’ll need someone who can step in and not miss a beat. While Bradfield does have all kinds of NFL experience over the last few years, we pretty much know what we’ve got. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing what Dill can do. He could have a higher ceiling than Bradfield.
Back to rookie free agent linebackers, I actually wouldn’t sleep on any of them. Jeremiah Green, Mike Zimmer and Malik Bomar all have a good shot at a roster spot on this team, maybe even a starting job depending on how Russell Allen and Geno Hayes show.
I liked UDFAs TJ Barnes and Abry Jones until Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick were claimed off of waivers. Now I don’t like their odds as much, but I’m sure they will be given a fair chance.
In all, I think we can wrap up what this year’s training camp will be about in two words: competition and youth. For a team that hasn’t seen much competition on their roster or much young developing talent for that matter, it will make all the difference
-David R. Johns