Training Camp Postcard: Jaguars
Posted: Saturday August 4, 2007 12:30AM; Updated: Saturday August 4, 2007 2:09AM
With the Jaguars at their season-long training base at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium: Two grass fields and one FieldTurf surface adjacent to the former Altell Stadium. Ample seating for spectators and a nice, fenced autograph gauntlet for players to run at the end of practice, giving fans a nice chance to interact with the Jags.
Unlike some teams (the Texans, for instance), the Jaguars require all players, whether rookies or veterans, to stay in a designated team hotel for the duration of camp, lending a camp-style ambience to what is otherwise just the same routine that will unfold during the season.
Thursday was a rare -- and frantic -- training camp doubleheader: In the morning with the Bucs at Disney and in the evening with the Jags in Jacksonville, 140 miles northeast. The idea for the twinbill struck me while talking with Alan Schmadtke of the Orlando Sentinel (an old friend from covering Bobby Bowden's Florida State juggernaut in the mid-and late-1990s). Alan reminded me that the Jags go at night and I decided to rush north and catch the evening practice. The Jags and Bucs share little in terms of training camp setting or personnel, but on Thursday they shared one thing: Rain. Pouring in Orlando, drizzling in Jacksonville.
Here's The Drill
1. Byron Leftwich is at his own personal career crossroads. He is in his fifth season, and the last year of the rookie contract he signed when he was taken seventh overall out of Marshall in the 2003 draft. His uneven performances left Jags' fans clamoring for backup David Garrard, but Garrard proved no better when Leftwich was put on the IR a year ago. The Jags took a hard look at signing Daunte Culpepper, but couldn't strike a deal, and so it's Leftwich or bust.
Leftwich thinks he's ready. Offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his left instep and clean out the left ankle joint have left him pain-free, he says, for the first time since 2004. "The only thing that's gotten in my way the last two years has been my left ankle,'' said Leftwich. To demonstrate, he put himself in a throwing position and showed how ankle pain prevented him from planting properly on the sore left ankle.
I'll write more about Leftwich in Sports Illustrated's NFL season preview, but suffice to say that after talking to him in the rain Thursday night (actually, under cover from the rain), it's obvious that Leftwich both understands the pressure on him and embraces it. It will be a fascinating story line to follow.
2. Massive defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, who was also hampered by ankle issues last year (and before that, he says), feels much better after offseason surgery to repair microfractures.
That doesn't mean he feels good, but in professional football, good is relative. "I'll say this,'' Stroud said between Friday's workouts. "Even when it hurts now, it feels better than it did last year.'' Translation: Stroud still has pain (and has missed workouts), but he should be closer to the dominant player of 2003-05 than he was last years, when he had just 34 tackles in 12 games, although perhaps not in September.