There was a sigh of relief following Cleo Lemon's performance in the Jaguars' first preseason game against Atlanta last Saturday. Lemon signed an $8.1 million contract for three years during the offseason to serve as the backup quarterback to David Garrard. There was concern, however, when Lemon struggled through the team's OTAs during the spring.
Things didn't improve a whole lot during the early part of training camp, leaving many to wonder about the status of the Jaguars should Garrard go down with an injury. But Lemon put some of those fears to rest last Saturday when he turned in a workman-like 6-for-10 passing effort, good for 46 yards.
More importantly, Lemon, a fifth-year veteran who made seven of his eight career starts with the Miami Dolphins last season, marched the Jaguars' No. 1 offensive unit 55 yards to the 20-yard line. A possible touchdown was missed when receiver Mike Walker let a pass fall through his hands in the open inside the 20.
"It felt good to be in there with the first O-line and get some points in that first series," said Lemon of the Jaguars' successful field goal. "I've got some things to clean up, but for a start, first live action, I thought it went pretty well."
Rookie free agent Brian Witherspoon has been turning heads in training camp with his work as a return specialist. While Maurice Drew is slated to handle most of those duties, Witherspoon would like to relieve Drew of at least one of the kick return jobs.
The 5-10, 175-pound rookie out of Stillman turned some heads in the preseason game against Atlanta when he returned two punts for 49 yards, including a 37-yard runback, and had 35 and 29 yard kickoff returns. He also had two fair catches of punts, which he handled flawlessly.
"They brought me here for special teams as one of my roles. I want to show them I am not just a speed demon, but that I can also cover.
But on the negative side was Witherspoon's coughing the ball up on a 12-yard punt return. Atlanta recovered and while the Falcons didn't score, the turnover didn't please Jack Del Rio.
"We do like his speed and he did display that a little bit tonight and that's a good thing. Obviously we've got to protect the football. The one glaring thing as far as something I'm not happy with is the number of times the ball was on the ground," the Jaguars coach said.
Khalif Barnes appears to have withstood the challenge of Richard Collier for the starting left tackle spot in protecting quarterback David Garrard's blind side. When training camp opened two weeks ago, the starting spot appeared to be up for grabs.
Barnes has been the starter at that position since his rookie season in 2005 when he started 12 games, the fifth-most starts by a Jaguars rookie offensive lineman. But the coaching staff wasn't totally pleased with his performance last year and with the emergence and improvement of Collier, the starting spot was expected to be hotly contested throughout the preseason.
Del Rio pretty much put an end to such speculation when he announced late last week that barring any significant change by either player, Barnes would retain his starting spot over Collier.
"Khalif really did begin to separate himself from Richard and we're going to let the game play out tomorrow, but if something dramatic doesn't occur, Khalif's going to be our starter. He's played very, very well early in camp and really gone beyond Richard," Del Rio said.
Collier is more imposing at 6-7, 345 pounds, holding two inches and more than 20 pounds over Barnes. But the latter's experience and his overall game appear to have won out over the more-physical Collier.
Derrick Harvey will likely become Jacksonville's longest rookie holdout this week, surpassing the 19-day holdout of former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich in 2004. Harvey will surpass Leftwich's 19-day training camp absence if the former Florida standout at defensive end doesn't report to Jaguars headquarters by Thursday.
Harvey's representatives and Jaguars chief negotiator Paul Vance have been at an impasse since their initial discussions several months ago. A week ago, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio used the terms "ridiculous" and "outrageous" when referring to the contracts that were signed by some of the first-round selections in the draft. Even with all 31 other first-round draft picks signed and in their respective camps, the Jaguars and Harvey have failed to reach an agreement through the first two weeks of training camp.
Del Rio has said repeatedly that Harvey's not being in training camp with his teammates will have an adverse affect on how much the rookie DE will be able to help the Jaguars this year.
"Every now and then you'll see a great player miss time and come in and then play real well. But I think the higher percentage of a player that's out for a long period of time comes in and gets injured and then they're trying to catch up," Del Rio said. "The pace that we've been working at and condition ourselves with and the pace of the game, all the things that you have to catch up, it can be problematic from that standpoint.
"Those are the types of things you concern yourself with when everybody is not here on time."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to protect the ball better. In most cases I believe it was younger guys, probably a little anxious, but ball security is a must so we'll work on that, I promise you." -- Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, after the Jaguars fumbled three times and lost the ball all three occasions in their preseason win over Atlanta last Saturday.
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