Training camp notebook: Drops plague receivers on Wednesday; defense looks sharp

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson, left, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) watch players on the field during a practice at the NFL football team's training camp, Monday, July 31, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (John Raoux, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While some things change, some things just stay the same.

Last season, the Jaguars were near the top of the league in dropped passes, not a category that any team wants to lead. After adding Calvin Ridley and paying Christian Kirk a year ago, plus adding players like Zay Jones and Evan Engram, on paper, the Jaguars look like a team that shouldn’t have a problem with dropped passes anymore. 

Wednesday told a very different story. It was a rough day for the pass catchers. The defense deserves some credit, but the guys were just flat-out dropping passes. If the fans in the stands watching were the soundtrack of practice, their most used sound today was, ‘Awwww.’

While this could sound like I am waving a red flag and sounding the alarm, overall I’m not too concerned. These are the sorts of rough patches you want players to work through during camp. And just see the positives from some of the plays, even if they didn’t all come together. During team drills, Ridley was matched up with Tyson Campbell and went up for a play that would have been a “SportsCenter” Top 10-type of catch.

He lost it on the way down, but you have to see the vision. A year ago, I watched Engram during a rainy camp day drop more than a few passes. When the season rolled around, he was ready to go. Drops can be worrisome but don’t press the panic button just yet. Speaking of Engram, he was the star of the day. He made some tough grabs during team drills and 1 on 1′s.

While dropped passes are some history the Jaguars hope won’t repeat itself. The trajectory of Campbell is some history the Jaguars hope will repeat itself this time with Gregory Junior. Last season, Junior spent most of the year on the Jaguars practice squad. Now Junior is hoping his career will take a similar trajectory to what Campbell did.

Junior said he feels “10 times more comfortable” right now than he did just a year ago. Campbell echoed that evaluation of Junior.

“You can see how the game has slowed down for him,” Campbell said. “I’m proud of him.”

The pieces may be coming together now on the field where everyone can see them, but the work was being done behind closed doors for a while now. Junior said he never felt like he wasn’t a part of the plan. The veteran players like Campbell, Darious Williams and Rayshawn Jenkins took him under their wings.

“They always had me on the board the night before the game, even though I wasn’t playing,” he said.

Junior’s growth wasn’t all about the mental side of the game. He has changed a lot physically. Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell pointed out how Junior reshaped his body over the last year.

“My body is totally different. I’m a whole new person,” Junior said.

Part of that process was putting down the ice cream and fried foods and giving up late-night snacking.

Now that all the work that was done in the dark has Junior competing for the nickel corner job in the light. The preseason game will be huge for Junior as he continues to take steps to “prove a point” out on the field.

📓 Notebook 📓

  • Calvin Ridley was a full go at practice. According to the team, he missed time on Tuesday because of his cleats. They think the issues have been resolved.
  • Foye Oluokun watched all the team drills from the sideline. He wasn’t with the trainers. This may have just been a chance for Chad Muma and Devin Lloyd to get some extra reps.
  • Brenton Strange had two of the best catches of the day. The tight ends are starting to separate themselves. literally. During drills Engram, Brenton Strange and Gerrit Prince all ran slot routes, while Luke Farrell, Sammis Reyes, Prince and Derek Parish all did more of the inline work. It will be interesting to see how spots shake out.
  • I was team fullback early on. Now I think Parish is more likely to land on the practice squad. He is learning a new position and is just flat-out raw.
  • During wide receivers against cornerbacks 1-on-1′s Tyson Campbell sought out Calvin Ridley. The pair battled on every rep. Two drops skew the stats a bit, but Campbell had great coverage and Ridley didn’t make any catches during the drills. When asked after practice how many receivers he will guard on Sundays that are better than Ridley, Campbell said “not many.”
  • O-line vs D-line drills. I’d really like to keep a closer eye on for the second day were in a location with no clear vantage points.
  • Erik Hallett showed some versatility on the field he lined up at safety and cornerback during team drills. Hallett also had a pass breakup in the end zone during 1 on 1′s. He is a guy who is firmly in the competition for a roster spot.

About the Author:

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.