As one NFL beat writer said about the prospect of covering OTAs (organized team activities), “There are things you can talk about (nothing) and things cannot talk about (everything).”
Welcome to the spring edition of team practice for the Jacksonville Jaguars - a time where offensive and defensive game plans are put in place, players are evaluated and prayers are said for a successful 2013-14 NFL season.
While OTAs are voluntary, a team like Jacksonville is at full capacity, with players coming in to learn as much as they can about the new system, the coaching staff and the philosophy of this franchise.
Like I have stated in other stories, if the Jaguars want to know a thing or two about finding the right pieces to the puzzle that takes an upstart team to the playoffs, they need look no further than the great northwest, where current head coach Gus Bradley saw first-hand what finding the right combination of size, speed and a great quarterback can do for a ball club.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars want to know what it is like to play in a Super Bowl or catch a shooting star in the playoffs, they can ask players like Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love, two players who were in New England and played in the grand event two seasons ago.
Everything in the NFL is cyclic and repetition, teams going through the motions hoping to find better results. When the wheel finally stops turning, the organization looks for other parts to make the process smoother.
Here are some things we have learned from OTAs - so far with this franchise.
* There is a heated battle at the quarterback position. Don’t let all the talk about Blaine Gabbert getting one last chance to prove himself fool you. There is a real controversy here in Jacksonville.
Gabbert should be the starter, there is no real question about that. But Chad Henne has proven he can move the football down the field and showed great poise with the receivers when he replaced Gabbert following injury. I personally think Henne is the best option, but money and position dictate Gabbert start.
* Maurice Jones-Drew is progressing. Seeing Jones-Drew in Jacksonville is a welcome sight since the turmoil with all the holdout crap last year that lead to 38 days of controversy. A LisFranc injury has put the team’s best weapon on the shelf. According to reports, he is on the mend and will continue to rehab his injury in Miami with the blessing of the team’s officials.
* Denard Robinson will be a great part of this offense. Just watching him run and catch the ball out of the backfield, you get the sense he could be a dynamic part of the team’s game plan. I hope the Jaguars continue to use him in passing and running situations and not showcase him lightly. This is a chance to show the NFL the team is serious about scoring more than just 15.9 points per contest over last year.
* New faces, new energy. With every new face that comes through the doors of EverBank Field, there is a renewed energy that was lacking last season.
There was talk last year that former head coach Mike Mularkey lost the locker room midway through through the season.
That does not appear to be a concern this season with head coach Gus Bradley at the helm. If you cannot get excited about what Bradley is selling, then you do not understand football.
* Renewed hope for the offensive line. With the drafting of Luke Joeckel and the healthy return of Will Rackley and Mike Brewster, this is a team that could have a revitalization on the offensive line.
That will help get the running game back up to speed and protect Gabbert or whoever is behind center. If the line is better and the Jaguars can move the ball, the offense will be a serious improvement over last season.
* Finding Justin Blackmon’s replacement. Blackmon violated the league’s substance abuse policy and is suspended for the first four games of the season. He will compete in practices and the preseason. But there are a host of receivers who will compete to start for the first four games of the year. Mohamed Massaquoi should be the leader in the clubhouse, but Jordan Shipley or Trevor Price may have something to say about that.
* Veteran leadership. The team will look to Brad Meester to help lead this team on offense and Paul Posluszny and Marcus Trufant on defense. This is a very young team that needs help from those who have been there. Meester has been with the franchise since 2000. He will be asked to not only anchor the offensive line, but to help his younger teammates get better.
* A better culture. The free agents who have been brought in, most of them have a winning history to bring with them. Everything always has a back story. Football players have them as well. Their experiences are shared, their desire to win shared, their need to win again shared. Hopefully, the youngsters on this team will follow that lead.
* Rookie free agents make an impact. Paul Hazel and Lonnie Pryor have led a charge by undrafted rookies who are looking to make this franchise. Pryor has all but locked up a spot on this roster and will aid as a fullback and special teams player. If Hazel can play on the defensive line and at outside linebacker, he will be a welcomed addition to a team that had a combined 20 sacks last season.
* Jonathan Cyprien is a beast. Just looking at the Jaguars' second round draft pick, you cannot help but think he will be special. Cyprien may be a rookie, but he looks like a veteran, chiseled and ready to take someone’s head off. He has been spending time in Dwight Lowery’s back pocket, learning as much as he can to make an early impact.