Jags training camp primer: Plenty of change all around

BY foxsports • July 25, 2013

Having turned 47 earlier this month, Gus Bradley is probably unfamiliar with John Mazur, who coached the New England Patriots during a largely unremarkable three-year stretch in the early 1970s.
But Mazur's philosophy of "if your work is not fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm" is one that Bradley seems to have adopted ever since the former defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks was hired to make the Jacksonville Jaguars a relevant NFL franchise again. A team that ranked 29th in total offense and 30th in total defense in 2012 has nowhere to go but up, and Bradley's relentlessly upbeat demeanor bordering on defiance makes him quite a fit.
"There's a lot of excitement going on with our players, our coaches, our wives -- I think they're probably the most excited, to get us out of the house and back here," he said earlier this week with the start of training camp approaching fast.
In what Bradley promises to be a physical camp over the next two-plus weeks, the Jaguars will continue to reshape their identity on both sides of the ball. There has been an influx of free agents, as with all teams, but none of them come with unrealistically high expectations or potentially burdensome price tags. If you're looking for quick fixes, Jacksonville is not the place.
"Our objective is to show progress every day in everything that we do with all position groups," he said. "And that's a challenge. It's easier said than done. It's simple, but not easy." Here's a look at how the Jaguars shape up beginning Friday:  -- T Luke Joeckel (first round, Texas A&M) will start at right tackle, with veteran Eugene Monroe continuing to anchor the left side, and should shore up a line which allowed 50 sacks a year ago. The 2012 Outland Trophy winner was a three-year starter at left tackle but appears to be making the transition without much difficulty. While both Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell speak highly of his character, they're also anxious to see his nasty streak manifest itself. -- S Johnathan Cyprien (second, Florida International) is a hitter who the coaching staff couldn't wait to see in action in full pads. That could take a while, however, because Cyprien strained a hamstring last week while working out back home in Miami and was placed on the physically unable to perform list. When he gets healthy, his 217-pound frame should give receivers second thoughts about coming across the middle. -- CB Dwayne Gratz (third, Connecticut) could become a starter, even if at 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds, he doesn't exactly fit the mold of the cornerbacks Bradley had with the Seahawks. He comes with the reputation of being durable and a sure tackler. -- WR/PR Ace Sanders (fourth, South Carolina) has the potential to make an impact right away on a team which didn't have a punt return longer than 28 yards last season. At 5-7, he is by far the smallest of the receivers they'll have in camp, although the suspension of Justin Blackmon for the first four regular-season games creates a window of opportunity for Sanders in that role. -- RB Denard Robinson (fifth, Michigan) will cause intrigue whenever he's on the field. There doesn't appear to be any lingering effects of the nerve injury to his right elbow that caused his storied college career to end with something of a thud, but he remains a work in progress at a new and vaguely defined position. -- S Josh Evans (sixth, Florida) was the starting free safety on a Gator team that finished fifth in the nation in total defense his senior year. He can play either spot and should also be looked at as part of the kickoff return unit. -- CB Jeremy Harris (seventh, New Mexico State) has the length that Gratz lacks but is an unfinished product. With all the turnover the Jaguars have had at this position since the end of last season, he might get more of a look. -- CB Demetrius McCray (seventh, Appalachian State) is another possible diamond in the rough with the versatility to cover receivers and help out on special teams.  Free-agent signees: -- WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland) averaged 18.4 yards a catch as a rookie in 2009 but is coming off two injury-riddled seasons. The unavailability of Blackmon (groin surgery) at the start of camp could make him the odds-on favorite to work with the first-string unit. -- RB Justin Forsett (Houston) has not started a game since 2010 but has proven himself to be a reliable backup or emergency fill-in. He ran for 619 yards and caught 41 passes with the Seahawks in 2009, and while he stands only 5-8, he is fearless when it comes to picking up pass rushers. -- DTs Roy Miller (Tampa Bay), Sen'Derrick Marks (Tennessee) and Kyle Love (New England) all figure into the plans of the Jaguars to bolster their defense against the run. Miller made 14 starts for the Bucs last season but missed many of the offseason practices in Jacksonville because of tendinitis in his knee. -- LB Geno Hayes (Chicago) was the first free agent signed by the Jaguars and is known to Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich from his time with the Bucs and Bears. The starting strong-side position is his to lose. -- CB Alan Ball (Houston) played sparingly for the Texans in 2012 but should compete with Gratz and McCray for one of the open spots. He is physical and aggressive. -- CB Marcus Trufant (Seattle) was a Pro Bowl selection in 2007 before back problems limited his availability and effectiveness. At 32, he is more apt to be used in nickel coverage. Departures: LB Daryl Smith (Baltimore), CB Derek Cox (San Diego), DT Terrance Knighton (Denver), CB Aaron Ross (New York Giants), FB Greg Jones (Houston), S Dawan Landry (New York Jets), DT C.J. Mosley (Detroit), FB Montell Owens (Detroit), RB Jalen Parmele (Tennessee), G Eben Britton (Chicago), CB Rashean Mathis (released, unsigned), WR Laurent Robinson (released, unsigned), LB Kyle Bosworth (New York Giants), DE Austin Lane (Kansas City).  -- Will the third season be the charm for Blaine Gabbert? Bradley said the person who has come in the earliest and left the team's training facility the latest since his hiring has been the third-year quarterback with a 5-19 record as a starter. Gabbert's willingness to meet with anybody and everybody -- he was part of the staff of the Manning Passing Academy, where Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel made unwanted headlines -- could be the sign of a new attitude under yet another new head coach and offensive coordinator. The Jaguars would prefer not having to wait days before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against Kansas City to decide between him and Chad Henne. -- Can Maurice Jones-Drew regain his mojo? The same question was asked almost a year ago, although that was under different circumstances. Back then, he was the NFL's reigning rushing champion but was embroiled in a contract holdout that wasn't resolved to his satisfaction. Now he's eight months removed from left foot surgery, with the good news for the Jaguars being that their medical staff gave him clearance Tuesday to practice with the team. With this being the last year of his contract, he might need to show that he's not damaged goods. -- Is Cecil Shorts III the real deal? After getting next to nothing in the way of attention going into camp last season, he had a breakout season with 55 receptions and would have gone over 1,000 yards if not for a concussion in Week 16 against New England. All indications are he's driven to get better, as evidenced by the two weeks he spent in Minneapolis working out with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. In what is sure to be a fast-paced offense, Shorts wants to be in the best of shape if he's going to put up the numbers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell did in the franchise's heyday. -- Will the Leo result in a lion-sized pass rush? Unlike Blackmon, veteran defensive end Jason Babin has healed from recent groin surgery and will be ready for the start of training camp. Babin, who was claimed off waivers last November, is the leading candidate for the Leo position where an end or outside linebacker lines up extremely wide in a 4-3 front. The Jaguars were near the bottom of the league in sacks, and Bradley wants to find out as quickly as possible if Babin or 2012 second-round pick Andre Branch can flourish in such a setting. -- Just how young will the secondary be? The departures of Cox, Mathis, Ross and Landry leave the Jaguars almost starting over from scratch in a division with Andrew Luck and Matt Schaub. Aside from Trufant, this is a group of players well under 30. So none of them are old enough to remember when the San Francisco 49ers started three rookie defensive backs on what turned out to be their first Super Bowl-winning squad. If Cyprien, Gratz, Evans or anyone else winds up remotely close to being the second coming of Ronnie Lott, the Jaguars will look like geniuses for what they accomplished on draft night. You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.


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