As the Jaguars opened camp, they started in shorts and helmets, moved to shells, then shoulder pads and helmets and finally on Monday night to full pads. Head Coach Jack Del Rio is following the recommendations of the NFL, allowing the players to acclimate to two a day practices before the hitting begins. He’s also realistic about the amount of risk he wants to expose his players to this early.
“We play the game in shoulder pads so it’s important to see everybody in them. We’re going to get our work in. In Dallas with Jimmy Johnson in 1989 we had 21 days straight, double days, in pads. So I’ve been through it, know what it looks like and what it feels like. In today’s salary cap era, it’s really almost impossible to try to do something like that. You can’t afford to lose guys that you’ve invested in, that your team is counting on, so you can’t subject yourself to that type of camp.”
Just like most teams, the Jaguars are full of optimism, and running around in shorts, everybody makes the “all-airport” squad. That’s the one where a guy looks fantastic walking through the airport. But with the off season conditioning programs and the number of passing camps and veterans camps the Jaguars have had since last season, getting out of shape was hardly an option for anybody who wants to be on this team.
“The way the off-season is structured, first of all the camps are smaller. Dallas would take upwards to 200 guys to camp. So you could practice for three hours and they weren’t getting the number of reps we’re getting now. The limitations on roster sizes have an impact on what you can do and how long you can do it as well.”
Most the two-a-days are scheduled for mid-morning and evening practices, getting the Jaguars out of the heat of the day, and allowing them to work under the lights, away from the rain, and in front of the hometown fans. But getting some work in the summer heat is a time honored football tradition. One that Del Rio will respect.
“We’ll work some in the heat. We’ll work on Wednesdays at 4 p.m., which ought to be pretty hot, in pads. As we get closer to the actual season, we’ll practice during the middle of the day. There is a lot of time for getting prepared for the opener. Right now we’re just trying to get our work in and go on about our business.”
“Getting their work in” is Del Rio speak for working on the things that didn’t work last year. He knows some of the problems can only be solved with better talent and faster players. So they tried to get that on the roster in the off season. But some of it, particularly getting the defense off the field on third down is something he believes can be fixed through hard work.
“I think being able to stop the run and run the ball effectively, the 9-on-7, the middle drill, whatever you want to call it, I think it’s an important part of it. I think rushing the passer and building a strong offensive and defensive line that can handle pass rush and be able to rush the passer, I think you have to drill those things and work at those things. So, we’re going to spend our time doing all of that.”
One thing particularly pleasing to Del Rio is the full roster that’s in camp. Last year, Byron Leftwich’s holdout was a distraction that the new head coach didn’t like. This year, first round pick Reggie Williams agreeing to a contract on the eve of camp put everybody on the field from the first practice.
.“To have everybody here was huge. I thought particularly with our first round draft pick, we seemed liked we were quite a ways apart just a couple days ago. Paul Vance kept hammering away. I think it was Reggie’s determination to be here. So, I’m proud of the fact we were able to get a deal. I know it was extremely fair and it’s one that’s good for both parties involved. So, we’re glad that he’s here and able to make our first practice so we didn’t come in with any distractions. That was important, so I was pleased with that.”