Competition Intensifies: Observations and Notes from Jaguars' Friday Training Camp Practice
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — While the Jacksonville Jaguars will not be putting pads on until next week, the team is still currently putting in time, energy and plenty of sweat under the hot Florida sun on into their work on the practice field.
We have brought live observations to you on Wednesday and Thursday, and that continues today. The Jaguars may still be in just shorts and helmets, but today was noticeably different in the sense the Jaguars did more than just individual drills. They did some team drills and seven-on-sevens, which was likely the closest thing to actual football that the players have done all.
So who and what stood out during Friday's practice? Here are a few of our observations and other notes
Laviska Shenault looked the part without pads
If there is any offensive addition that the Jaguars need to have a big year, it just might be second-round rookie receiver Laviska Shenault. The No. 42 overall pick electrified the NCAA during his career at Colorado thanks to his big-play ability and overall versatility, and the Jaguars have already mentioned how they would like to use him all over the field in the best-case scenario.
On Friday, Shenault certainly looked like a receiver who can help an offense in a multitude of ways. Shenault has the size and frame of a seasoned veteran, but he moves much more fluid and smooth than you would expect for a receiver of his size. It is also hard to be impressed by his catching ability despite the lack of pads -- passes may not be contested to a high extent, but the strength of his hands is blatantly obvious. He is only a rookie so expectations should be tempered to an extent, but things have looked encouraging from Shenault so far considering his effortless movement, footwork and hands.
Following that thought, so did CJ Henderson
Another player who stood out during eye test on Friday was first-round pick CJ Henderson. Now it is hard to judge most defenders in just helmets and shorts, but cornerbacks and wide receivers at least can still have somewhat intriguing matchups. Among those players who stood out in these matchups was Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick from April's draft.
Expectations are high for the rookie out of the University of Florida, and it is clear why in terms of athleticism. Henderson has a combination of size and speed that is impressive on tape but even more so in person, where his movement skills truly stand out. When matched up with receivers, he allowed little separation and looked comfortable in coverage. Even when he was beat off the line, his recovery ability was noticeable. A successful rookie season isn't built upon early training camp practices, but these are good signs from the team's most important rookie.
Jacksonville's wide receiver group overall could be promising quickly
While Shenault may have been the highlight, he is far from the only Jaguars receiver who looks to have put in the work over the offseason to put them in a position to succeed in training camp. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has said on a few occasions how important it was to DJ Chark to improve upon his Pro Bowl season from the year before, and it is clear watching Chark on the field that he has "top dog" status in the receiver room. He simply is able to produce plays at every level of the field that are highlight-worthy, and it is clear he is practicing with a lot of confidence.
"A lot, a lot, we talk all the time. Any little tips or any little thing that I fail to do on the field, he’s helping me out," Shenault said about Chark Friday. "Like I said, he’s not the only one helping out, you’ve got everybody helping out. It’s a team so far, it’s a good team so far.”
Aside from Chark and Shenault, the Jaguars also have Keelan Cole displaying strong hands and Collin Johnson looking the part of a high-ceiling rookie. Add in Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook, two veterans with great yards after catch ability, and the Jaguars have a receiver room that could potentially be deep in terms of playmakers.
Dawuane Smoot attempting to carry over strong performance from 2019
It remains to be seen exactly what kind of role fourth-year defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot will play for the Jaguars in 2020, but they have to be encouraged in his development after a 2019 season in which he had six sacks as a rotational lineman. Smoot didn't record any sacks in his first two seasons, but his third season was a breakout for the former third-round pick. So far in camp, it appears Smoot is determined to continue to build upon that success.
It is hard to gauge the performance of trench players without pads on, but Smoot is practicing with intensity and looks to have a good amount of quickness for his size. With all of the turnover along the defensive line, the Jaguars will need Smoot to take another step forward and provide a big impact in 2020, so the hope is he can continue to impress when the pads come on.
Chris Thompson is a type of running back the Jaguars didn't have last year
While the Jaguars certainly threw plenty of passes to their running backs last season, they never really had a running back who was a true "space back" that would demand attention from teams as a pass-catcher. As a result, the Jaguars reunited offensive coordinator Jay Gruden with running back Chris Thompson this offseason, and so far Thompson has impressed.
Thompson's main obstacle in recent years has been his health, but nothing has limited him in practice thus far. He clearly doesn't have the size or strength of the other backs on the roster, but his simple movements are noticeably different than the other players in the backfield, giving the Jaguars a new type of option at running back.
- Defensive lineman Josh Mauro and Tramaine Brock practiced with the team for the first time after signing as free agents and passing all COVID-19 protocols.
- Tight end James O'Shaughnessy was limited with a knee designation "as part of his return to play," the Jaguars said.
- Three players are still in the Reserve/COVID-19 list in running back Ryquell Armstead and offensive linemen Ryan Pope and Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms .
- Jaguars will put pads on for the first time on Aug. 17.