SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Damon Hack had to say about the Jaguars' camp in Jacksonville, Fla. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
The Jaguars hold their annual training camp on the grass and turf practice fields next to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. There's no need to travel, really. The average temperature in Jacksonville in August is 81.2 degrees, with an average relative humidity of 91 percent in the morning and 61 percent in the afternoon. During especially hot summers, Jacksonville can have more than 20 days in August with temperatures above 90 degrees. It's a sweaty camp. Water bottles and sports drinks are in abundance at Jags camp -- even reporters are given a bottle -- and hydration is every bit as important as shuttle drills. I took a swig from my water bottle and watched quarterback David Garrard and a team with 40 new players on the training camp roster take the field. After going 5-11 in 2008, it was time for the Jaguars to go to work.
1.The receiving corps has to excell for Jacksonville to succeed. A year ago, I visited Jaguars camp to write about their receivers, in particular Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Jerry Porter and Dennis Northcutt. All failed to perform well during the season, and none is with the team in 2009. This year, Garrard will look to former St. Louis Ram Torry Holt and the talented but injury-prone Mike Walker. Troy Williamson, the one-time replacement for Randy Moss in Minnesota, also has a chance to make an impact, but he must catch the football in traffic. Of the team's nine draft picks, three were spent on receivers -- Mike Thomas of Arizona, Jarett Dillard of Rice and Tiquan Underwood of Rutgers. That spoke volumes about Jacksonville's desire to finally turn a weakness into a strength.
2.Jack Del Rio showed his congenial side. I'd long considered him a hyper-serious guy. The black leather jacket. The set of his jaw. To me, he never looked happy. But I was surprised to see another side of him at a recent Jaguars practice. Del Rio addressed a local high school football team (guests of running back Maurice Jones-Drew) and implored the youngsters to hit the books as hard as they play football. Del Rio placed his arm around Jones-Drew, telling the players what a great role model his running back is. Later in the day, Del Rio was giddy recalling Oklahoma drills from his days playing college football at USC. After getting knocked around in a particular drill, Del Rio remembered one of his assistant coaches, the late Marv Goux, "gonging me on the side of the helmet." OK, I still think Del Rio is hyper serious. But it was nice to see him smile for a change.
3.Del Rio's soft side only goes so far though. The Jags coach said that Jaguars training camp will be tougher than in years past - more hitting, more 9-on-7 drills, more block protection. "When you're practicing twice a day, you're fighting for your livelihood," Del Rio explained. "You've got a family at home that you're feeding, and whether or not you can bring checks home for you family is at stake. I think camp's hard. We're constantly throwing talented [younger] guys at the older players and they have to fend them off. Young guys are looking for a role and the older guys don't want to give up their role. It's going to be a competitive camp."
After making the Pro Bowl seven times in St. Louis, Holt was released in March, setting him on a new path in Jacksonville. While strange not seeing Holt in Rams' blue and gold, he is excited and motivated about the opportunity. He is also aware of the critics writing him off. "It's a new team, a new conference, and you kind of feel like a rookie again," the 33-year-old Holt said. "You feel revived and renewed and that's exciting. And then there's just showing people that I can still play at a high level. There's a lot out there about, 'Do I still have it? I lost this, I lost that.' Ten years into it, who hasn't lost something? In terms of being passionate, the work ethic, the training, concentration, focus, I still have it."
After the Jaguars' receiver purge, Holt immediately becomes the team's No. 1 receiver. And on a team heavy on youth and inexperience, he becomes a No. 1 mentor, too.
Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, taken with the eighth pick in April's draft, is billed as a player who can anchor an offensive line for a decade. But he has to sign a contract first.
The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Monroe remains unsigned and out of camp. "I'm optimistic that we'll get him in shortly, but until it's done, until he's here, we're just going to focus on the guys that are here," Del Rio said. "I know he wants to be here and hopefully it'll get resolved soon." The veteran tackle Tra Thomas has been impressive in Monroe's absence.
Sitting across from Holt in one of the Jaguars meeting rooms, I noticed the mangled middle finger of his left hand. The finger was bent in the shape of an 'L.' It was not in line with the rest of his fingers. It had a mind of its own. "That's my trophy," he said of the finger.
Holt explained that the finger had been beaten up through the years by catching so many balls. Sometimes, the finger joints would pop out and he had to pop them back in. Once, against the Steelers, he tried to pop the joint back in and it simply wouldn't move. So it stayed in the shape of an 'L.'
"It scares little kids, too," he said.
1. Jones-Drew, taking over as the team's primary running back, says he is playing at his rookie season weight of 208 pounds after playing the last few years between 212 and 215 pounds. He believes he will maintain his strength, even at the lighter weight. "I ate a bunch of fish and vegetables and whenever I got hungry I just drank water and I worked out in the prime heat of the day, six days a week," he said.
2. The Jaguars players are growing beards during training camp to foster camaraderie on a team with so many new faces on the roster. "We feel like it's just something to get everybody to buy into the way," Jones-Drew said. "It's camp. You don't have to look pretty."
3. Fullback Greg Jones should see increased touches with the departure of running back Fred Taylor, but he is not a lock to hold onto the No. 2 job behind Jones-Drew. Jones will be pushed by several players, including rookie RashadJennings, a seventh-round pick out of Liberty who is fast rising up the position depth chart.
4. The Jaguars will find out quickly in 2009 where they stack up in the AFC South. They play all three division opponents -- Indianapolis, Houston and Tennessee -- in the first four games of the season. The other opponent? The NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals.
5. Del Rio on the team's Twitter policy: "We have no electronic devices of any kind at any point during meetings. So [at] games, all that type of stuff is off limits. If they want to Twitter before they come in here in the morning or when they go home at night, tweet away."