One of those exceptions was the emergence of the vertical passing game. The other one was the arrival of the defense.
During the morning session, the defense seemed to be somewhat subdued and not really pushing as hard as they should have been, but that changed quickly as the team took the field and began the normal drills. It turned into the James Wyche show as he continued to make the left tackles look like they were stuck in the mud out there. I will have more on that later.
First, on the injury front, there were a few minor scares during practice. In the case of the first two, it appeared to be ankle issues.
The first of the two players, Paul Spicer, limped off during practice and headed to the training shed early in practice, and did not participate in any of the drills after that point.
The other ankle that had the crowd pause to see belonged to the quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who got stepped on in 11×11 drills. Fortunately, it did not appear to cause him any lingering problems, or impact what mobility he does have.
The third injury in question was Matt Jones, who required attention from a trainer and was giving some indication that he was having an issue with the right groin area. He did not miss any snaps, but the trainer was working diligently on trying to get him stretched out during practice.
The same cast of characters on the injury list remained in their same spots for the evening practice. The guys returning from injuries who are fully participating, including Marcus Stroud, Mike Peterson, and Byron Leftwich, all were on the field and working without any concern.
Mike Walker was on the field, but I believe that he was being held out as a preventative method to avoid running into the same issues that he did during mini camp with swelling and soreness in that knee.
Now, let’s get to the practice session itself because there was some good stuff there to see tonight.
11×11 (Part I)
The quarterbacks continue to work on their roll outs, particularly during play action or on draw plays (yes, they were running the dreaded draw plays tonight, letting the pass rush come free into the backfield). Leftwich actually has the most accurate throw on the run of the three quarterbacks.
During the first 11×11 session, the offense remained in the AM mode, keeping everything in the short or intermediate range, mostly in front of the quarterback, and normally involving the Tight End or Running Back.
Leftwich made a couple of nice throws, including one to Dennis Northcutt in the first session that the veteran receiver made a nice grab in front of Reggie Nelson in coverage.
David Garrard seemed to be getting a lot of pressure during this particular drill, and it did rattle him initially. Pat Thomas came in on a blitz and got into the face of the quarterback on one particular play, forcing Garrard to throw the ball early, almost allowing it to be intercepted by Derek Landri (who alternated at left end and at tackle all night long). Garrard came back on the next play and connected with Reggie Williams on a quick out pattern. Scott Starks tried to go for the interception, but came up short, allowing Williams to make a nice play instead.
The offense tried to go vertical with John Broussard braking deep out down the sideline. Garrard overthrew him slightly, but Broussard once again made a solid physical effort jumping up to haul the ball in before going out of bounds.
During the individual position drills, there were some notable items to mention here.
First off, Mike Shula was once again working hard with the quarterbacks on footwork, particularly on those rollouts that they have been using early in camp. He also was working on three, five, and seven step drops to get back as quickly as possible, plant and throw.
Todd Monken was working with the receivers, talking to them all night long. During the individual drills, he was clearly focused on improving the route running skills of Matt Jones, forcing him to pick up his feet and be more deliberate in some of the moves he is making in order to sharpen that up a bit. It was interesting to watch him because he is a coach that likes to be in the face of his players, quite unlike his predecessor who was usually standing off to the side giving instruction. Monken is right there in the mix.
During drills, Reggie did have a couple of ugly drops on very catchable passes. But, he rebounded nicely and made quite a few really impressive grabs as well. So, Reggie continues to work on his consistency.
Dennis Northcutt was catching just about anything thrown in his area code. If it was out there for him, he went and got it. The label of being a guy with suspect hands is questionable based on what I have seen so far.
During 7×7 drills, both Marcedes Lewis and Jermaine Wiggins saw quite a bit of action, and all but one pass was caught. The only pass that Lewis dropped was a rushed pass in the flat by Leftwich that hit him low, and he could not haul it in. Other than that, both guys caught pretty much everything that came in their direction. Richard Angulo, Greg Estandia, and Isaac Smolko all made some nice plays in the drills, so clearly the Tight End is going to get a lot more attention in Koetter’s offense.
One of the more heads-up plays of the night came on an errant throw by David Garrard intended for Reggie Williams. The ball was thrown behind Williams on a little slant pattern. He made the adjustment to go back for the ball, but Scott Starks had jumped the route and had an interception on the play, but Williams batted the ball to the ground preventing the turnover.
Starks was not done with his picking on Garrard. On the next play, he dove in front of John Broussard on a slant route and batted the ball down. Starks showed athleticism and speed in making the play because Garrard had put some effort behind the pass.
Matt Jones made a nice catch on the sideline, showing heads up play by making sure that the ball was secure and both feet were on the ground before falling out of bounds. He had a couple of grabs during this drill that showed what the Jaguars clearly want to use him for, and in almost every case, it involved Matt Jones being on the outside, or in the seam. He rarely was called upon to go over the middle on a play during the evening practice session.
11×11 (Part II)
This was the point in practice where James Wyche decided that it was time to step up and make some plays, and he really impressed the crowd with both his quick step off the line, his explosive move to the outside, and his physical play. He was giving the tackles, particularly Maurice Williams, absolute fits from that side. Pashos was able to run him behind the quarterback, but when Williams was in there, he did not have the speed to keep Wyche from disrupting the plays. This kid has a motor that will not quit. Any time he was on the field and part of a play, he was driving the line nuts. Now, keeping this in perspective because the tackles are not exactly hitting back, this is once again an issue that may not be there when contact begins on Monday night, but it is worth watching.
Wyche started the segment of practice by batting down a Leftwich pass intended to be dumped off to Maurice Drew in the backfield. Wyche had gotten a step on Williams and got between the quarterback and running back, recognized what they were trying to do, and got his hands up just in time to bat the pass away.
David Garrard was worked hard by Derek Landri, who was coming off the left defensive end on this particular play. Had this been a contact drill, Garrard would have been sacked as he rolled right into Landri. His pass intended for Jermaine Wiggins fell to the ground as a result.
Byron had another pass batted down by Tony McDaniel during this drill. McDaniel got solid penetration and was in the face of the quarterback as he was trying to deliver a pass intended for Matt Jones.
Fred Taylor looked sharp in practice tonight, making nice cuts and spin moves in non-contact drills. Maurice Drew also continues to wow the fans with his explosiveness out of the backfield, making a couple of nice runs.
The offense started to go deeper with the passing attack, and in most cases, the quarterbacks were hitting their guys. However, when they really tried to stretch the field with a pure go route, David Garrard overthrew Reggie Williams by about seven yards. Scott Starks had such blanket coverage on Williams that when the ball hit the ground, Reggie was the defender trying to keep Starks from getting an interception.
Jimmy Farris showed some nice play making ability out there. He is the new Chad Owens, only with better speed. He runs nice routes, and has a nose for making plays. On one play during this drill, he made a nice falling grab on a deep sideline pass from David Garrard, showing great concentration and nice hands making the catch as he was going down.
Andrew Carnahan was manhandled by James Wyche with Lester Ricard under center. Wyche beat Carnahan so badly that Ricard had nowhere to go, and ended up taking a sack instead.
On the next play, still rattled by the sack, Ricard tried to force a pass into triple coverage while trying to avoid the pass rush, only to have it intercepted by Bruce Thornton.
The play of the night was a really nice pass from Byron Leftwich to Dennis Northcutt. Leftwich rolled to the right slightly and came back across the field to Northcutt, who had broken out of the slot and was on the far sideline running a deep corner route. Leftwich dropped the ball right into Northcutt’s hands with coverage over the top and underneath, showing nice touch on his pass as a result. Clearly, the two of them are starting to find chemistry between them.
Byron did have one incident where Tony McDaniel, who really has started to resemble Marcus Stroud, came free into the backfield off of Khalif Barnes, and got a hand on the ball as Byron was trying to get a pass off, knocking it to the ground.
The defense stepped up their game in the evening practice, and really put the pressure on the quarterbacks. For the most part, the signal callers did a solid job of avoiding the rush and getting the passes off. However, the level of disruption that James Wyche and Tony McDaniel were creating is encouraging. Hopefully, that will continue into the padded practices where there is actual contact happening.
The offense is starting to tease us with deeper passes, showing more of that verticality that we have been hearing would be coming.
There is a considerable amount of optimism at this point as we watch the coaches really focusing in on minute details, making the players repeatedly go over the issues so that they are clear on what the expectations are. This coaching staff is really pushing the guys to take their game to the next level, and the guys seem to be responding right out of the gate. As the repetitions come, it should only get better.