Jaguars take business-as-usual approach to first day in full pads
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As someone who hadn’t practiced in full pads since fracturing his right ankle almost 10 months ago, you would think Luke Joeckel had Wednesday circled on his calendar.
As two of the hardest hitters on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense, you would think Paul Posluszny and Johnathan Cyprien were considering this to be the first real day of training camp.
You would be wrong.
Aside from when Joeckel, their top draft pick a year ago, got a rise out of the fans in attendance when he flattened rookie Chris Smith during a drill involving the offensive and defensive linemen, it was largely business as usual for the Jaguars in their latest two-plus-hour workout under hot, humid but dry conditions.
"Even though it was really not that much different from just being in shorts, it just felt like being in full football gear was nice again," Joeckel said.
There was no release of pent-up aggression, no drilling of vulnerable receivers by defensive backs, and no extracurricular skirmishes after the whistle.
"There’s a lot of guys who say, ‘Oh, we’re in pads the first day.’ It’s all the same to me," said Cyprien, the second-year strong safety who has already emerged as the leader of the secondary. "I’ve been playing with pads my entire life. I’ll play anywhere — pads, no pads."
"For us to be all-out full contact, all we need is shoulder pads," added Posluszny, the middle linebacker who has been the Jaguars’ leading tackler in all three of his years with the team. "It doesn’t matter if we’re wearing anything on our legs or not. So the two days that we had prior to our day off (Tuesday) were just as physical and just as spirited as this."
When the Jaguars practiced Monday night at a local high school, Cyprien delivered a glancing blow on rookie wide receiver Allen Robinson which must have caused coach Gus Bradley and his staff to hold their collective breath for a moment. With Cecil Shorts III out the next two weeks because of a strained hamstring and second-string tight end Clay Harbor now out at least four weeks with a calf strain, the last thing the team needs is a further thinning of the pass-catching ranks.
Cyprien and his cohorts made it a point Wednesday to play hard but clean.
"We haven’t been hitting the receivers," he said. "There are soft tissue issues — no bruises, no contusions. It’s more about taking care of the body right now."
"We would never dive at anybody’s legs or anything like that," Posluszny said. "We need to be really, really physical up top, using our hands, striking people, getting off blocks. That’s the type of work we need to get done when we have pads on."
And while there has been no shortage of talking between the members of the offense and defense during practice, it isn’t of the jawing back-and-forth variety. Joeckel and 11th-year pro Chris Clemons, the defensive end signed by the Jaguars after being waived in March by the Seattle Seahawks, have struck up a cordial, professional relationship.
"He’s a vet," Joeckel said. "He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s been great for a long time. One of the hardest things about him is he’s got a book of pass rush moves. And being able to talk with him afterward … we’re helping each other out."
"We were in the middle of the field the other day," Bradley said. "And I looked, and I saw Austin Pasztor and Red (Bryant) were talking. Then I look over to my right, and Luke Joeckel and Clem are talking. And then it was Poz (Posluszny) and (rookie Brandon) Linder. That’s what it should be. When it’s time to hydrate and things like that, there’s a lot of conversation like that taking place."
Linder, a third-round pick out of Miami, has been with the first-string unit at right guard with greater frequency. Jacques McClendon, who was listed ahead of Linder when training camp began, got a few reps in Wednesday at center as the Jaguars try to figure out who else will be teamed with Joeckel and free-agent signee Zane Beadles.
"Right now, we’re just trying to find the perfect fit for five guys," Joeckel said. "We’re trying to find the five guys that jell best together. That’s what training camp is for."
From the looks of things, the Jaguars could also stand to work on their offensive execution in the red zone. Other than a touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Robinson, the defense held the upper hand in drills run from inside the 20-yard line.
"I think we may need to increase our volume on the number of red zone plays we work," Bradley said. "I know offensively we got better the last six or seven games of the season in the red zone. But it is an area of emphasis for us."