Some areas around the perimeter of the practice facility were ten deep or more with eager fans trying to catch a glimpse of the Oklahoma drills, or to see the new offense in action. The fans were not disappointed. Easily, 5000 fans saw a lively full contact drill followed by the sharpest practice of training camp to date. Aside from the scrimmage to close out the first week of training camp, the first contact practice is always the most eagerly anticipated, and best attended session of the year.
Having the pads back on for the first time since the 2006 season ended, this was the first chance for the players, coaches, fans, and media to get a better idea of how their coveted draft picks perform in a more realistic environment, dealing with contact in full pads. This eye test is an important process in the evaluation of the young talent on the roster competing for some critical skill positions.
First, let's talk about the reason everyone came to the practice to begin with. The Oklahoma drill match ups were selected and announced beforehand, with the exception of the final pairing which only the coaching staff knew about. Each person had a different interpretation of what the final outcome of each pairing was, as did I.
For those that are not familiar with the Oklahoma drill, a brief explanation first is required so that you get the idea of what was going on. Two tackling dummies are placed approximately eight feet apart. You have a quarterback, running back, a blocker (either a Tight End or offensive lineman) and a defensive player. The goal for the offense is to get the running back through the tackling dummies without making contact with the dummies, or getting caught by the defender. For the defense, it is as simple as handling the block and stopping the running back. In most instances, the offense has a distinct advantage in the Oklahoma drill. For the casual observer, this is the closest thing to real contact that anyone will see before the first preseason game.
For each of the designated match ups, there were two opportunities to go head-to-head. For the match ups, here is how I scored them.
Marcedes Lewis vs. Justin Durant:
Round 1: Derrick Wimbush was the running back. Marcedes got a good push off the line, clearing Durant who committed too quickly.
Round 2: D.D. Terry was the running back. Again, Marcedes Lewis got the better of the two and worked Durant out of the way for Terry to run through the hole.
Richard Collier vs. Tony McDaniel:
Round 1: With D.D. Terry as the running back, Collier easily moved McDaniel out of the way and cleared a path for Terry.
Round 2: Collier got the advantage early and leveraged McDaniel enough to give Montell Owens enough room to clear the tackling dummies.
Uche Nwaneri vs. Rob Meier:
Round 1: With D.D. Terry as the running back, Nwaneri was able to hold Meier off enough to clear the hole, but Terry did hit the tackling dummy. While he did get through the hole, I would call it more of a push than a clear win for Nwaneri.
Round 2: Montell Owens got through untouched as Nwaneri was able to spin Meier out of the way.
Vince Manuwai vs. Derek Landri:
Round 1: Montell Owens was able to get through the obstacle as Manuwai moved Landri out of the way with relative ease on the first battle.
Round 2: Manuwai cleared a path for D. D. Terry, despite the fact that Landri managed to put Vince on the ground briefly, and remove the helmet from the Samoan's head.
Tony Pashos vs. John Henderson:
In the coach's choice, the best part of the match up was the reaction Henderson had when he was called upon to be part of the tandem. Prior to the selection, some of us sitting in the stands were discussing the ‘dream match up' for the drill, and the unanimous opinion was that it should be Pashos and Henderson. We discounted it because there was no way they would select two of the major starters for the drill. So, when the selection was made, the crowd erupted.
With Montell Owens carrying the ball, the violent collision did not disappoint. The initial impact was almost a deadlock as Henderson was able to hold point against Pashos, and still extend an arm to reach out for the running back, wrapping him up with one arm. When he got an arm on Owens, Pashos put the hammer down and twisted Henderson, catching him off balance and spinning him away, removing his helmet in the process. I saw this as a draw because Henderson got the back before he was removed from his helmet, but no matter how you slice it, the match up was every bit as entertaining as the crowd expected it to be.
With the Oklahoma drill out of the way, there was actually a practice that was one of the sharpest of training camp to date. Here are the details of the practice.
This drill is quickly becoming a fan favorite as it gives us a good opportunity to see the receivers dealing with coverage, running their routes, and gaining separation from a defensive back. With pads now on, this drill is even more useful in trying to see how those young receivers respond to the addition of pads and contact.
Garrard came back and overthrew Mike Walker on a deep sideline pass with Rashean Mathis in coverage. Owens had gotten a step on Mathis, but was unable to get enough distance to get under the pass.
Garrard did connect with Reggie Williams on a deep corner route, putting the pass just over the reach of Rashod Moulton. Reggie entertained the crowd with a little chicken dance in the end zone at the conclusion of the play.
Matt Jones gave the crowd a thrill on a deep sideline grab with good coverage by Brian Williams. The cornerback appeared to have gotten the advantage by getting the inside angle on the pass, but Jones used his athletic ability to get an arm around Williams and catch the ball one handed. It was a beautiful catch that reminded everyone of how gifted he can be at times.
Byron completed a deep pass along the sideline to Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt had gained separation from Jamar Landrom, and was able to haul in the touchdown pass.
Tim Couch showed to be significantly sharper than anyone expected. There were certain passes that he did struggle with, but overall, he looked much better than anyone could have anticipated with a three year layoff. On one particular play, Couch delivered a deep pass with nice touch to D'Juan Woods over tight coverage by Terry Cousin. It showed some promise in what Couch might be able to provide if he can become more consistent. Clearly, he has some rust to deal with, but overall, he was surprisingly sharp.
Byron dropped a deep pass into the hands of Charles Sharon. He made a diving grab in front of Dee Webb, but the ball was knocked out when he hit the ground. Sharon was shaken up on the play, but it appeared that it was just a matter of having the wind knocked out of him.
Byron attempted to drop a deep pass in on Reggie Williams on a post route. Williams was unable to shake his coverage. This probably was because of the fact that he was being covered like a blanket by Rashean Mathis, who was able to knock the ball away.
The offensive coaching staff worked with the running backs on protecting the quarterback. Each running back was required to hold off an oncoming pass rusher. When you have this type of contact between players, things will get heated very quickly. This drill was no exception.
Justin Durant was causing all sorts of problems for the running backs, dancing right by them and getting to the quarterback repeatedly. After beating Fred Taylor the first time through, when he came back to do it again, Taylor made sure that the rookie knew who was in charge. Taylor handled Durant, walking him behind the quarterback with authority. After they had cleared, Durant and Taylor continued to lock horns briefly, but coaches came in and broke it up before it escalated.
At the beginning of practice, the team was in special teams drills punting out of the end zone. Terry Cousin had the highlight of the drill, blocking a Podlesh punt which ended up being downed in the end zone.
Adam Podlesh booted a booming 75 yard punt into the wind with Dennis Northcutt lined up to return. Northcutt got the crowd going as the ball soared over his head and he turned to chase it. As he was following the ball, he looked at the crowd and said, "There's no way I'm ever gonna catch that!" The crowd appreciated the humor.
11x11 (Part I):
Byron Leftwich and Marcedes Lewis connected on a deep crossing route that ended with a touchdown. With the pass rush closing the pocket, Byron showed off his newfound footwork by sliding up in the pocket to avoid it, and delivering a strike to the big Tight End.
Maurice Jones-Drew showed his explosiveness and burst tonight on several occasions, blasting through the line, pulling off his patented spin moves, and cutting right through the teeth of the defense without much difficulty. He appears to be more focused and quick to exploit the holes in the defense.
James Wyche continues to show this ability to disrupt plays. During this drill, he forced enough pressure on David Garrard by bull rushing Greg Estandia into the quarterback, forcing him out of the pocket, and into a sack.
D.D. Terry showed explosiveness and outstanding speed on a run off tackle to the right side, getting around the corner and beyond the defense and ending up in the end zone.
Byron delivered a picture perfect pass over the top to Ernest Wilford on a deep sideline route. Wilford had a step on Rashean, and had the ball in his hands, but did not hold on to it, allowing it to fall incomplete.
Greg Jones showed that he can make the cuts tonight, taking a quick pass over the middle from Garrard, and cutting up field to turn it into a big gain.
Fred Taylor showed his patented hands as a receiver, going over the middle on a slant and gator arming a pass from David Garrard. He might have been more willing to haul the pass in if Justin Durant was not one of the guys in coverage that was waiting to apply a hit. Perhaps memories of the scuffle that almost occurred lingered in his mind?
11x11 (Part II):
Greg Jones continued to show that he is capable of making the cuts. On two separate plays, one a screen pass from Byron Leftwich, and the other a pass from David Garrard, Jones turned up field, made a cut, and did a spin move. He then proceeded to go up the field showing the burst that he has been displaying consistently during the early part of camp. It will be interesting to see how he responds in practice tomorrow because he really pushed it more than anyone expected this evening.
During the session, Derek Landri and Stockar McDougle got into a scuffle. Landri seems to have a gift for driving the offensive linemen to the point of rage with his aggressive play, and it appeared to boil over after he got the better of McDougle on a play.
Reggie Nelson found himself in an unenviable position having to cover John Broussard. The rookie receiver ran a deep slant, hitting the burners when he turned across the field, leaving Reggie Nelson in his wake. Trying to make up the gap, Nelson did not see Dave Campo in the middle of the field, and flattened the coach as Broussard took the pass from Byron into the end zone. Nelson came back a few plays later and almost intercepted a Leftwich pass intended for Matt Jones on a short out. He showed his speed after recognizing the play, almost jumping the route and taking the pass away from Jones.
Reggie Williams closed out practice with two very nice catches on passes from David Garrard. One was on a deep out that went for a big gain. Reggie made the catch and got both feet down as he was being forced out by coverage. The pass itself probably never would have happened in a real situation because Justin Durant had gotten into the backfield and would have knocked the ball out of David's hand. But, the defensive players have to go hands up when they are about to make contact because they are not permitted to hit the quarterback. On the other reception, Reggie concluded practice with a touchdown in front of Scott Starks on a short crossing route. Shockingly, Reggie did not do any sort of dance, probably because they blew the horn ending practice before he had a chance to celebrate.
Tim Couch did not look nearly as rusty as I expected him to look. Quinn Gray was on the sideline for the majority of practice, and had to feel the heat when he saw how Couch stepped up and delivered. While he was not without flaws, he appears to be in a position to give Gray a run for his money.
It is great to have the team back in contact drills. The young receivers showed that they are potentially the real deal. Broussard and Walker both showed that they are capable of maintaining their speed and route running ability with the pads on. They have now crossed hurdle number one on their path to rebuilding the receiving corps.
Reggie Hayward may actually be in better condition than anyone has anticipated. He participated in most of the drills with the first team defensive line, with McCray playing opposite him. Hayward was getting an effective pass rush and squeezing the pocket in the same manner that he was prior to the injury. How his body responds to the rigors of practice remain to be seen, but he has clearly worked hard to get to the point that he is at, and all signs are encouraging.
The Jaguars are clearly building something that could become very special if they are able to continue their progression. The offense is starting to form an identity, and the defense is clearly hungry to right the problems that were encountered last year late in the season.