Postcard from camp: Jaguars
The Jaguars have camp at their home stadium, EverBank Field, and hold their practices on three fields abutting the stadium. That's another way of saying that the Jaguars might be the smartest team in the NFL. By staying hyper-local (no plush suburban headquarters for them either), they keep costs down and fan support up. (About 15,000 came out for an intrasquad scrimmage inside EverBank.) By staging practices in the evening, they treat you to some singular scenery. Camp is closed to the public now, but past attendees will surely attest to the quasi-romance in that setting's cool breezes, brilliant sunsets and in the broken croaking of defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Seriously, I'm worried he might be mute by Week 1. Listen to him coach a drill and see if you don't want to pass this man a lozenge.
Garrard was back in the mix this week and taking the majority of the snaps, which should come as welcome relief to Jaguars fans. Hard as it is to suppress excitement for Missouri rookie Blaine Gabbert (more on him later), it's just as hard not to root for Garrard, who has put this team on his back before and could do it again if near full strength.
On the subject of playing hurt, Jones-Drew will never bite his tongue; for him, the better recourse is to grit your teeth. That's essentially what he did last year while playing on a bum right knee, an injury later discovered to be a torn meniscus. He thought hard about having reconstructive surgery last August, but pride kept him from sacrificing the significant playing time that procedure and recovery would have cost him. He went under the knife in January instead and solo-rehabbed back in California. He said doctors banned him from running for seven months, but you'd never know it from seeing him out here. Though his participation in practices has been limited, his abilities have not. The burst, the cutting, the acceleration -- which he memorably flashed on a completed deep route -- are all there. "It's just better now because I don't have that pain," he said.
"Of course every offense is going to have different terminology," said Gabbert, who showed poise in his preseason debut against the Patriots, has fast entrenched himself as the Jaguars' No. 2 passer and is filling Garrard's rearview mirror. "But we run extremely similar concepts here as I did at Missouri. The reads are almost the exact same. When I hear the [anti-spread] argument, it just makes me think people don't really know what they're talking about."
It's easy to forget that this team (technically in rebuilding mode) came a whisker from clinching the South at the three-quarter pole last year. This year's edition is miles better. The middle of the defense still looks vulnerable -- especially against the beefy chorus-line running games of the AFC North -- but it's certainly strong enough to challenge the high-flying attacks inside this division. That alone could be good enough for at least a two-game improvement on last year's 8-8 mark.