As the Jaguars prepare to take to the practice field with pads on for the first time in 2020, I figured it was a good time to reflect on some of the more critical developments of training camp so far.
The major roster moves have included DT Al Woods and CB Rashaan Melvin opting out. Another veteran who was brought over in free agency, Rodney Gunter, is also dealing with an undisclosed injury and is on the Active/NFI list.
The Jaguars brought in Tramaine Brock to replace Melvin at cornerback. Brock has 11 years of experience and plenty of length to compete on the outside. They're also expected to sign DT Timmy Jerningan to help fill the void left by Al Woods.
Now that we've gotten some administrative stuff done, it's time to take a look at the top five developments of training camp so far.
CJ Henderson has rare movement skills. As someone who scouts over 100 rookies every year, it was clear to me on tape that Henderson had special athletic ability and length. Making the move to the next level can be tough for young players, but Henderson has impressed just about everyone we've talked to so far.
Veteran nickel cornerback DJ Hayden talked about the ninth overall pick earlier this week. "I like CJ [Henderson] a lot," said Hayden. I actually saw him do a couple of breaks today. You can tell the way somebody moves and how they come out of their breaks, whether they have something or not. CJ [Henderson], yeah he definitely has some amazing talent."
Whether on not Henderson is ready to take on the top receivers in football remains to be seen. But he'll be tested early. In week one, he'll need to help slow down TY Hilton and the rest of the Colts' receivers, and in week two, he'll face AJ Brown, one of the brightest young receivers in football.
Another Jaguars' rookie, second-round pick Laviska Shenault has also been turning some heads. At 6'1" and 227 pounds, he's not your typical receiving threat. Based on the first few days of team drills, it's apparent that the Jaguars are going to use him quite a bit in 2020. |You know, he's an incredible athlete," said Jaguars' head coach Doug Marrone. "I mean, when you get a visual on him I don't think you realize, until you actually see him up close, how big he is, how strong he is, how powerful he is. I think he can play multiple positions and it's just a matter of 'Let's get him off to a great start," which he has. Catching the ball extremely well, he can run, he can get in and out of cuts. So, it's going to be an exciting camp for that group. They're all showing that they have good ball skills, they all work extremely hard. [Wide Receivers Coach] Keenan McCardell does a great job with them. So, there's going to be a lot of competition there and you know, it's going to be good for everybody. Those young guys are going to push the older guys."
Sticking with the offense, Gardner Minshew and DJ Chark continue to show a strong connection. The two connected early and often in 2019, but with another offseason together and natural development by both players, these two look to be even more in sync. On the first day of team drills, Minshew and Chark linked up on two deep throws.
The players and coaches have been taking health and safety seriously during this pandemic. It's apparent from Doug Marrone, and each player we've spoken to so far, that the need for social distancing and testing on a daily basis is something the club is embracing. These guys want to play football, and they're going to do everything they can to ensure that happens. From an organization-wide standpoint, it's evident that the threat of COVID-19 is not being taken lightly.
There appears to be a "culture change" in the works. The Jaguars' young leaders, Gardner Minshew, DJ Chark, and Josh Allen are doing everything they can to improve their own game but to also push a team-first atmosphere. That sense of unity has been missing in Duval for the last couple of years, but these young Jags are pushing an all for one, one for all mindset. "There's a group of guys on this team, a group of leaders, that have a very real opportunity to change the culture here, to develop a winning culture, and I think it's already started," Gardner Minshew told the media. "The guys are very excited to get on the field, whether it's even just for practice right now. So, I'm glad to be here, super grateful for the opportunity and hoping to make the most of it."
While the Jaguars' young leaders are working to push the team into a bright new future, head coach Doug Marrone has his own way of doing things.
"I don't necessarily address those things with players individually unless they bring it up to me, said Marrone. "I think a lot of times, if you try—when things like that occur, at least for me, I'm always concerned of people thinking that I'm trying to manipulate a team or manipulate a group of players and that's not who I am. So I have a difficult time with that. But I do create a vision for what we want to have as a team. Whether you want to call it a culture, that's fine. But our vision of how we want to communicate, how we want to help each other, how we want to get better, how we want to commit ourselves to the team aspect of things rather than the individual aspect of things." Marrone continued, "So to have Gardner and maybe [DE/LB] Josh [Allen] or some of these younger players get together and want to create something that's going to be beneficial for the team, without any hidden agenda for themselves, is really a good step in what we're trying to create here as far as our vision for this team."
BONUS: Even though K'Lavon Chaisson is dealing with a minor hamstring issue, he's still be spotted working with Josh Allen after practice on a daily basis. These two have established a tight bond early on, and that should serve both young pass rushers well.
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