Postcard from camp: Jaguars
Mike Sims-Walker could better 2009 numbers of 63 catches for 869 yards, 7 TDs
Pro Bowl defender Aaron Kampman says ACL is healed; Jaguars being careful
Kirk Morrison still learning terminology after being acquired from Raiders
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Andrew Lawrence had to say about Jaguars camp. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
For the past seven years the Jaguars have held training camp at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, but this year decided to shake things up a bit. On Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 9-10, the team traveled to Flowery Branch, Ga., to practice with the Atlanta Falcons. The collaboration was made possible by the enduring friendship of Jags coach Jack Del Rio and Falcons coach Mike Smith -- who, before taking the Atlanta job in 2008, had served as Del Rio's defensive coordinator the previous five seasons.
"We starting talked about it way back at the combine," Del Rio said. "We wanted to make it more of a combined practice that would give us an opportunity to get different looks and work people whose plays and tendencies we don't know. It forces our guys to really rely on their fundamentals and technique. It's game-like, except without the wear and tear."
1. You could drive a semi through the gap in intensity between the Falcons and the Jaguars. It's tempting to dismiss the Falcons' passion as a product of their familiar environs, but it goes deeper than that. The Falcons have swagger. It radiates from position coaches such as Ray Hamilton and Alvin Reynolds, both of whom jabbered nonstop during defensive line and defensive backs drills, respectively; and it's echoed by players like middle linebacker Chris Lofton. When he felt one Falcons' drill had ended listlessly, he exhorted his teammates to "Pick this s--- up! This ain't us!"
Overall, it just seemed like there was a lot of doing on the Falcons' side, while the Jaguars' side featured much more teaching -- but that's understandable given the bevy of newcomers and young players on this roster. What's more, they've got some thorough instructors too. Tight ends coach Rob Boras in particular stood out for his contentiousness.
2. If there were a high-energy exception on the Jags, it was fourth-year receiver Mike Sims-Walker. On Tuesday, while his teammates monastically slogged through an 8:30 a.m. practice, he was more animated than the Tasmanian devil. He monologued to psyche himself up, stroked the ball after catches as if it might curry cooperation, and serenaded his fellow wideouts -- and, at times, this reporter -- with Usher's There Goes My Baby. In fact, his many broken falsetto renditions of that song's hook was the sole evidence of life at that Jags practice.
While the coaches can't be pleased with the team's downbeat note, they can take a measure of satisfaction in the upbeat Sims-Walker, who, it should also be noted, simply does not drop passes. That consistency portends an even bigger year for the 6-foot-2, 214-pound UCF product than his breakout '09, which saw him catch 63 passes for 869 yards and seven touchdowns. (This, after managing just 16 catches and no TDs the previous two years.) Doubtless that won't be the last time the team looks for a boost from Sims-Walker, who has firmly established himself as the Jags' No. 1 receiver.
3. Aaron Kampman isn't yet at full speed, but it's not because he doesn't have the gears to get him there. Though Kampman says he has fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered in Week 11 against the 49ers, the Jaguars are being delicate with the Pro Bowl defensive end, in whom they invested a heap of dough back in March.
The team has placed him on a one-day practice program. On Monday he was on the field in a helmet and pads, running through drills with his teammates. On Tuesday, he was on the fringes in shorts and sans shells, hurling a 20-kilo medicine ball and shaking four-inch thick rope to reactivate his abundant reserves of power and explosiveness.
"That's just one way to get some conditioning, get your heart rate up, without a lot of crazy banging," Kampman said of the solo drills, all part of his recovery process. "I started out real strong, and we're tapering just a little bit to make sure that everything is the right way. But everything's been going along real well."
The last time trade acquisition Kirk Morrison was on a winning team, the year was 1999. A two-way starter at running back and linebacker, he had led Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High to NorCal section 3A and HAAL championships the previous two years. In '99, his senior year, he carried the Dragons to a 12-0 record and to the brink of yet another title. But the day before that 13th game, he hurt his foot. He played a series, then hobbled back to the bench.
The Dragons ended that season 12-1. Morrison has been chasing another above-.500 finish ever since. The closest he came was 6-6, in his redshirt junior year at San Diego State. Excepting that year, he's has averaged about four wins over his remaining nine seasons with the Aztecs and the Oakland Raiders. During April's draft, Jacksonville sent a fourth-round pick to Oakland in exchange for Morrison and a fifth rounder in a bid to shore up a defense that ranked 23rd overall last season and registered a league-low 14 sacks. "We want to attack more, and that's something I can do as far as blitzing and getting to the quarterback," said the 28-year-old Morrison, who also led the Raiders in tackles last year with 109.
He's still grappling with the Jaguars' defensive terminology, but in Jacksonville he has little to distract him from his studies. "Oakland's my hometown, so family and friends were always around," he said. "This is the first time that I would say that I'm on my own. Me being out here by myself, all I have to focus on is football." That, and snapping his 10-year winless streak.
Regrettably, there's not much to report here, at least with regard to the rookies of greatest interest. Both defensive tackles D'Anthony Smith of Louisiana Tech and Tyson Alualu of Cal have been shelved with injuries. Smith, a third-round selection, suffered a potentially season-ending Achilles tendon injury during drills last Monday night. Alualu, the 10th overall pick, reported to camp a day later (after signing a five-year, $28 million pact that includes close to $18 million in guarantees) only to recently pull up lame with a "calf issue." Whatever that means, it wasn't severe enough to keep him from being a walk-through participant in practice. Most often he worked as a scout quarterback or running back in drills against his fellow linemen. Like all of us, he is day-to-day.
One would think that convening some 160 football players from two teams on three fields to push and shove one another around on a 90-degree day would be an invitation to skirmish. But I counted only three "near incidents" over the course of the teams' four practices together -- a number that speaks to how effectively both coaches were in impressing upon their players how detrimental fighting is to their preparation. "There are times when you can show your toughness," Del Rio told his players. "Being chippy or doing something dirty or late is not showing me that you're tough. Coming out here and fighting the heat and being dedicated to your craft and pushing through the fatigue and all those things, that's where you show me courage." Kudos to both sides for demonstrating that.
1. Who is Maurice Jones-Drew touting for your No. 1 fantasy football pick this year? "Myself!" said the player cum expert who enjoyed a career year (312 carries for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns) in his first season as the Jaguars feature back. "It wouldn't be right if I told you to take somebody else. It means I don't believe in myself."
2. Players aren't the only ones who use training camp to get their moves down. The refs are getting the players' moves down too. More than a few times, seventh-year official Jerome Boger could be observed taking a moment to go over finer points -- such as how many times a long snapper is allowed to readjust the ball -- with the college and high school refs who helped him keep order in practices.
3. Among the conspicuous non-participants in the two-day intersquad practice was Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson. You'll recall the 12th-year vet was a mainstay in the Jaguars' middle from 2003 through '08 before falling out with Del Rio and seeking refuge in Atlanta with Smith, his longtime D-coordinator in Jacksonville.
It seemed he'd be robbed of the chance to show up his old boss because of his own calf issues. (Guess that's going around, huh?) But he managed to do plenty of peacocking from the sideline. Clad in long red sleeves and baggy black shorts that ran to the bottom of his calves -- at that point, why not just wear pants? --Peterson snapped a white towel approvingly any time one of his teammates registered a big play, which was quite often.