A Premium on Speed: Observations and Notes from Jaguars' Thursday 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.
Yesterday was the first Jaguars training camp practice made open to the media, and our own Kassidy Hill delivered a few observations and notes from the day. Today, we again ventured out to TIAA Bank Field to do the very same. So, what did we see in today's interesting, albeit limited, practice?
The overhaul along the defensive line is glaringly obvious
Every NFL team sees dramatic change over the course of the offseason, but it is still a bit jarring to see the current state of Jacksonville's defensive line compared to last season. Gone are Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus and Lerentee McCray, and Yannick Ngakoue has still yet to report to camp. Add in K'Lavon Chaisson's "minor hamstring issue", the unavailability of Rodney Gunter and injuries to Brian Price and Dontavius Russell, and the Jaguars' defensive line unit looks completely re-made compared to practices last season, with new faces aplenty.
The four who stick out from last season are, of course, Josh Allen, Abry Jones, Dawuane Smoot and Taven Bryan. Luckily for the Jaguars, each of those four players look to be in great physical condition. Allen specifically is moving with a noticeable burst, which is hardly surprising considering the level of athlete he is.
"He really looks great, he really does. I mean, he’s moving better than he’s moved before, at least from what I’ve seen from last year," head coach Doug Marrone said in a video press conference before Thursday's practice.
Cam Robinson is moving with confidence
Fourth-year left tackle Cam Robinson said earlier this week "health-wise, it is like night and day" compared to last season, and it isn't hard to see what he means. Robinson has always been an athletic tackle, but he was still working his way back to complete strength and comfort last season after a season-ending ACL injury in 2018. He never quite looked like himself last year, but he looks plenty comfortable in camp. His movements looked fluid, quick and he carried a sense of confidence with him. If Robinson can improve in 2020, it would be welcomed news for the Jaguars.
"What I’ve seen from Cam as he came back, he’s stronger, he’s moving extremely well, the footwork and the technique coming back is much better than I’ve ever seen from him," Marrone said before practice Thursday, lofting some high praise to his likely starting left tackle.
Easy to see why Jaguars signed undrafted free agent fullback Connor Slomka
Jacksonville didn't utilize a fullback last season after having Tommy Bohanon fill the role in 2017 and 2018, but could that change this year? It remains to be seen if it will, but if it does it may be because of undrafted free agent Connor Slomka, who signed with the Jaguars this offseason after a college career with Army. Slomka looks quite a bit more athletic than your typical fullback, and it looks like he has a lot of potential as a fullback who can both block and catch out of the backfield. He posted an unofficial 38.5-inch vertical jump at his Pro Day to go with 32 bench press reps. Only six running backs had a better vertical jump at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, and none had more than 29 reps on the bench.
"Now, if it’s that type of player, you’ve got to ask yourself, what are we getting out of that player from the standpoint of the passing game? What are we getting out of that player from a standpoint of special teams? Connor has that ability, he’s tough, he can run well, he does have some ball skills. So, those are the keys for him going at that position," Marrone said Thursday.
Overall team speed is noticeably impressive
Just compared to last season, the Jaguars' team speed is noticeable improved. Sure, the Jaguars lost their top athlete in cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but new additions like Joe Schobert, Laviska Shenault, Collin Johnson, CJ Henderson, Tyler Eifert, Chris Thompson and DaVon Hamilton, Daniel Thomas and Chris Claybrooks have all improved the athleticism of their respective position groups.
Wide receiver and the secondary specifically look to be units with plenty of speed. Henderson is obviously a speed demon, but Claybrooks, Tre Herndon and Daniel Thomas were all moving with ease as well. As for receiver, the Jaguars essentially looked like they had a couple of power forwards with field-stretching ability between Shenault, Johnson, DJ Chark and Chris Conley.
“I like C.J. [Henderson] a lot. 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. C.J. [Henderson], yeah he definitely has some amazing talent," D.J. Hayden said on Aug. 10.
Josh Oliver's added strength and bulk lives up to the hype
Marrone talked up Josh Oliver's improved strength, bulk and explosion earlier this week, and he wasn't wrong. Oliver looked plenty athletic in the few weeks of practice he was in last season, but it is obvious that he added a lot of muscle to his frame over the offseason. Considering Oliver needs to prove that he can be both durable and an impact player in the running and passing games, it is a win for the Jaguars that he showed up to camp in such good shape.
"I think Josh is one of those guys when he walks in, you’re going to go ‘Whoa.’ He looks put together; he looks bigger. He’s stronger on the sled, stronger in the weight room. He looks explosive. He’s obviously healthy," Marrone said on Aug. 10.
So far, Marrone's assessment looks dead on. Now, the Jaguars will need Oliver to translate his improved physique into production on Sundays.