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Jaguars Training Camp, Day 8: Observations on Antonio Johnson, Brenton Strange and More

The Jaguars saw some of their draft picks put together a solid day of work during the eighth practice of training camp.

The Jacksonville Jaguars took the shoulder pads off on Thursday, turning in practice No. 8 of training camp before an off day on Friday.

So, what all did we see during the afternoon at Miller Electric Center? We break it down below. 

Antonio Johnson continues to make an impression 

One player who drew high praise on Thursday was fifth-round safety Antonio Johnson. The rookie defensive back has been played all over the field for the defense, taking snaps both at safety and inside at the nickel spot. But it has been on special teams where he has stood the most, with Johnson being singled out by special teams coordinator Heath Farwell before practice. 

"We got a ton of guys that come up, but a guy that show up a ton is Antonio Johnson. He’s a guy that’s been spectacular," Farwell said. "You see him out there playing defense, but he’s been great for us as a gunner, vise stuff has been really good. Kickoff he’s been doing well."

Farwell's note on Johnson made us pay special attention to the safety during Thursday's practice, and everything he said held up. Johnson's practice and game speed simply puts his timed speed to shame. With his frame and length and ability to get downfield in a hurry, it is hard to imagine Johnson not making a giant impact on special teams.

Jaguars keep the intensity down before the weekend's practices

In terms of intensity, Thursday was a toned-down day for the Jaguars. The shoulder pads were off after two days of physical contact, while the Jaguars mostly sued the day to allow their starting offense and defense to get work against the respective second- and third-team units. There was a clear emphasis on mental reps and scout team looks, so there wasn't quite as much action as on past days.

With Friday set to be the team's off day, though, this likely means their practices on Saturday, Sunday and Monday can be expected to be some of the toughest of training camp. Calvin Ridley said after practice that the first eight days of camp have been some of the toughest camp days of his career, and the Jaguars likely have designed it like this for very specific reasons. 

Jaguars continue to explore their options for backup returner 

Farwell made one important note on Saturday: the Jaguars want to explore their options for Jamal Agnew's backup. Christian Kirk performed in the role last year, but it is obvious the Jaguars would prefer not to have their big-money receiver returning kicks and punts. Considering the position battles going on at cornerback, running back and wide receiver, it could be pivotal for a number of players to make a case for the backup role. 

Players who have stood out in the role so far: rookie receiver Parker Washington, rookie running back Tank Bigsby, and, surprisingly, veteran safety Andre Cisco. Each have gotten plenty of reps throughout training camp and have shown the burst and vision needed to play the role, with Cisco and Washington drawing strong praise from Farwell on Thursday. 

"He’s a natural fielder back there. He’s got some quickness to get out of his break. He’s done a really good job as a returner. That’s something I’ve talked to him specifically about, is Jamal Agnew [WR Jamal Agnew] is here and has done a great returner, he’s an elite returner," Farwell said about Washington/ 

"But Jamal has also missed a few games in his career, so you got to make sure you’re ready to go and you got to prove to us throughout training camp and preseason games that you’re the guy that steps up. Christian Kirk [WR Christian Kirk] did it for us last year, I’d love to not use Christian. As good as he is, I don’t want him out there. As a team and organization, we don’t really want him out there. I’d love for a guy like Parker to be able to do that. I think he has the skills to do it, but again, it’s part of the evaluation of if he can do it in the preseason, what it looks like off a punters foot under the lights.”

"He’s been great. In the offseason, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’d love to be a returner and get back there with those guys.’ No problem, did it, he’s been great," Farwell said about Cisco.

"He started out just learning the position, and if you guys have watched some of the training camp practices, he’s been great. He catches them clean, he’s smooth, he’s reliable, he’s smart, he’s tough, he’s a guy that can compete for that emergency guy. We love him, he’s a great teammate, he cares and wants to win, wants to help, he knows Jamal [WR Jamal Agnew] is there, but he also knows, ‘Hey, I can help out the team if there’s something I can do’ and he’s done a great job. He’s learning every day and it’s been really cool to work with him.”

Brenton Strange continues strong showing 

The last week was a positive one for rookie tight end Brenton Strange. It takes a while for rookie tight ends to adjust to the NFL, and Strange has had to compete for snaps with three impressive veterans in Evan Engram, Luke Farrell, and Gerrit Prince. Strange has managed to stand out in his own right in recent days, though, and it continued on Thursday.

Strange made his best play of camp during team drills late in practice, making a leaping catch to beat starting cornerback Tyson Campbell at the catch point on a pass from C.J. Beathard. Strange has shown off an ability to haul in tough passes in recent days and has looked like a safer and more consistent target for both Beathard and Trevor Lawrence than one would expect from a rookie.

Play of the Day 

The best play of the day came from second-year wide receiver Kendric Pryor. On a deep toss from Beathard that split defenders in the secondary, Pryor made a diving catch over his outside shoulder for a deep score that drew big cheers from the crowd.

Other Notes

  • The Jaguars moved some pieces around their offensive line. Right tackle Anton Harrison again didn't take part in team drills, while left guard Tyler Shatley also did not practice. This led to Josh Wells at right tackle and Blake Hance at left guard with the first-team.
  • The defense was able to pick off Nathan Rourke a handful of times. Shaq Quarterman picked him and C.J. Beathard both off, once off a deflection from Adam Gotsis, while Caleb Johnson also recorded a pick off Rourke.
  • Also recording an interception as Montaric Brown, who was able to catch a deflected Rourke pass after Devin Lloyd tipped it. 
  • Calvin Ridley said after practice that he had a sore foot on Tuesday in relation to the cleats he was wearing, but it is a non-issue.