Jaguars training camp: 5 storylines to keep an eye on in

Head Coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]
Head Coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union] /

The first training camp in a new era of Jacksonville Jaguars football is quickly approaching — the league-wide start (excluding Dallas and Pittsburgh, who are playing in the Hall of Fame game) is set for Tuesday, July 27th.

There will be several new faces and lofty improvement expectations in Jags camp. Also, there are plenty of narratives to monitor, as the team prepares for the first 17-game season in NFL history.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on in Jaguars training camp:

1. Target distribution

The Jaguars quietly have a very solid group of skill position players, especially at wide receiver. D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Shenault are all viable candidates to lead the team in receiving yards. Rookie running back Travis Etienne should also make a sizable dent in team target share as well.

Beat reporters were raving about Chark’s performance in preseason practices prior to his breakout sophomore campaign two years ago; Shenault has earned the majority of praise this summer, and it will be interesting to see whether that continues or a different receiver ends up becoming quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s go-to guy before the season opener game in September.

2. Competition at left tackle

The Jags applied the franchise tag to left tackle Cam Robinson and drafted Walker Little in the second round. It’s clear that Jacksonville’s hope for the future is to let Robinson walk in 2022 free agency with Little prepared to take over as the blindside protector.

Robinson is the expected Week 1 starter. He has already displayed evidence of solid play at the NFL level and is part of an offensive line that will return all five of its starters from a year ago. However, if Little is able to continue excelling in training camp (offensive line coach George Warhop told media that Little is “as or more prepared” than any first- or second-round tackle he has ever coached), perhaps we could see a switch at left tackle earlier than anticipated.

3. Tight end position battle

One of Jacksonville’s biggest roster holes entering the offseason remains a firm need after the Jaguars added only 29-year-old Chris Manhertz (12 career receptions) and soon-to-be-34-year-old Tim Tebow (zero career receptions) to the tight end room.

The Jaguars have enough receiving talent at other positions that the lack of a threat at tight end won’t tank the offense. After all, there are just a few true game-changers at the position in the league as a whole. Nevertheless, a player who can take advantage of open seams and provide consistency in high-leverage situations — short-yardage, third/fourth down, red zone, etc. — would be very welcoming. Hopefully, at least one tight end is able to establish himself as a key part of the offense during training camp.

4. Snaps at safety

Safety was another roster hole at the beginning of the summer. However, the Jaguars did a much better job of revamping that position group after signing Rayshawn Jenkins and drafting Andre Cisco. While those two newcomers are expected to be the new starters, neither come without doubts. Jenkins was a viable player for the Los Angeles Chargers but isn’t a sure bet to make a significant impact in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Cisco is a third-round rookie with a recent ACL tear.

Jenkins and Cisco could step in immediately as reliable starters, but the Jags may also give substantial practice reps to second-year playmaker Daniel Thomas and veterans Jarrod Wilson, Josh Jones, and Andrew Wingard, who were the primary starters a year ago.

5. Injury management

One of head coach Urban Meyer’s strongest sentiments as Jacksonville’s new organizational czar is the need for top-notch performance treatment. The Jaguars have seemingly dealt with injuries every training camp (we’ll never forget you, Josh Oliver) and many of its best players clearly weren’t playing close to 100 percent by the end of the 2020 season.

Reports thus far have been encouraging. Players like Chark have reportedly made great offseason strides in body shape. Others, like Lawrence, have been practicing in limited capacities to prevent any rehabilitation setbacks. The number of injuries suffered in training camp, and the management and treatment of those injuries will be a noteworthy storyline in Meyer’s inaugural NFL season.

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