In the first 5 days of camp I’ve seen Gus Bradley just light up one of his players. I’ve seen a quarterback go down like a ton of bricks. I’ve seen Denard Robinson look clueless and like a Pro Bowler – all within 5 minutes. And I’ve seen Cecil Shorts have the best camp of anybody.
Which means it’s been a pretty typical camp when it comes to work and production. Not too many surprises and not much unexpected. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be upbeat about.
Bradley’s heated dressing down of one of his linebackers in practice isn’t completely new. He’s a defensive coach, coming off a defensive coordinators job and now running a camp as a head coach for the first time. He wants it right. And he wants it right now. Bradley has said all along that it would be up-tempo, uncomfortable and hot and it’s been all three. So the players have to keep up and perform at a high level over and over. Every movement is recorded for review in practice and with every job up for grabs, it could be the little things that are the difference between staying on the team or leaving or being a backup or a starter.
If there is a quarterback competition going on, Chad Henne might have a slight edge but all of this posturing early in camp isn’t going to determine who starts or even who plays the most once the regular season starts. We’ve seen Gabbert be brilliant in practice but not be able to transfer that kind of production on to the field in games. Gabbert went down at the end of practice Monday when he was clipped on the ankle by an offensive lineman but was back on the field Wednesday.
We’ve seen Henne be a serviceable quarterback who might not get you beat, but he hasn’t shown that he’s the “franchise” guy who can win a game nearly by himself. The coaches are putting a lot of heat on the quarterbacks to perform and we’ve seen them be sharp and not so much in practice. But Bradley always says he’s looking for who can bounce back from adversity as well as who can put two and three good practices together.
When it comes to that, it’s hard not to overlook three guys: Cecil Shorts, Mike Brown and Luke Joeckel. I asked my photographer, Matt Kingston if he thought Shorts had gotten taller. “No,” he said, “that’s just what better looks like.” (It’s my favorite quote of camp so far.) But he’s exactly right. Shorts is by far the most consistent and best receiver on the field. Sharp routes, open on deep balls and maybe one drop in five days. He’s had a great camp.
Near him is Mike Brown at WR. Bradley singled him out on Monday saying “He’s put some good practices together back to back. He’s doing a real nice job.” And Joeckel is, according to Bradley, the “quietest number two pick ever in camp.” And he’s right. Joeckel has been plugged in at the right tackle spot and looks like he’s been there ten years. Knows the plays, works hard, listens and performs. In other words, just what you were hoping to get with the number two pick.
And everybody’s paying attention at camp when Denard Robinson lines up in the backfield. It’s been called a “wildcat” formation but Robinson brings so much more to the position than just somebody who’s a run threat. He’s the most dynamic player on the field (with Ace Sanders a close second) and it’s fascinating to see all the things he can do. The Jaguars are right to call him an “OW” (offensive weapon) because he’s certainly that.
Week one of practice is a good time to establish a routine for both coaches and players and to get a sense of expectations. It’s the second week where the players start to separate themselves as contenders or pretenders. We’ll know more about that perhaps after the scrimmage on Saturday night.