It didn’t take long for Jaguars fans to get excited about the draft class of 2014. At the first rookie mini-camp at the practice fields, more than 2,000 showed up to see Blake Bortles, Marqis Lee and the other 7 draft picks take the field for the first time as professionals and for the first practice as members of the Jaguars organization.
“It’s my job to come out here and work my tail off and compete,” Blake Bortles said in front of a large media contingent after practice. Two national cable networks, a couple of statewide cable operations, three Orlando TV stations and beat writers from all over the southeast were an addition to the normal Jacksonville sports media in attendance.
Bortles looks like a quarterback. He has a quarterback’s presence. He walks like one, he talks like one, he acts like one.
“Its great having the same quarterback in there,” 7th round pick Storm Johnson told us in front of his locker. “Different cadence but the same voice. It was great to take the ball from him, catch passes from him. He knows what he’s doing in the huddle,” Johnson explained about his teammate from UCF.
While he has all of the attributes, Bortles does look like a raw version of what he and the Jaguars hope he becomes. He’ll know the offense better each day. He’ll become more familiar with the Jaguars personnel and he’ll get physically stronger. Some passes today were blown around by the wind; others came out of his hand singing.
Lee looks to be that explosive “stretch the field” receiver the Jaguars have been lacking since Jimmy Smith. He’s exceptionally fast and quick and has an upbeat personality that his teammates are drawn to.
“Marqis is always talking, always smiling,” Gus Bradley told us on the field after practice. “Allen (Robinson) is a little different, a little more straight focused but both good.” Robinson does have that big body coaches love to envision blocking out defensive backs downfield. He believes he has a lot of room for improvement, saying “You can always be a better route runner.”
“Route running” has come a long way since the “Square in” and “post” or “fade” days of yore. Coaches are always looking for the smallest nuance to get receivers in and out of breaks, getting them into open spots. It’s a combination of athletic talent, coaching and art. Robinson wants to use all three.
“You can always be a better route runner,” the Penn State product said in the locker room. “I want to work on my technique and get better everyday.
Much like last year’s draft class, this year’s has a wide variety of personalities with different skill sets. But when you spend any time with these guys, you see the similarity in that one thread of their personality: they love to play.
Bradley says he wants players who want to compete, and he and GM Dave Caldwell obviously put heavy emphasis on that when it comes to selecting new players. There’s no half-commitment on a Gus Bradley team. You’re either buying in or you’ moving out.
“I wanted them to get used to the tempo today,” Bradley explained. “Some guys were surprised. I want them to know that ‘this is how we practice’ and what’s expected of them. I liked what I saw today, running from one drill to another, the tempo out here. We’ll get them all ready and caught up for our mini-camp. It was great.”
You could see some of the players head spinning today during practice, trying to absorb all of the information thrown at them before they took the field. But you could also see the better, faster players Dave Caldwell talked about after this year’s draft.
Where they go from here is up to them. But after day one, optimism rules.