Rookie minicamp: “We want to challenge them…”

Rookie minicamp: "We want to challenge them..."

That was the first thing Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson mentioned Friday when discussing rookie minicamp — and that’s the spirit of the coming days around TIAA Bank Field.

It is a time for learning. And for acclimatization.

And a chance for the team to learn about young players as well.

“We’re trying to really see what these guys can do,” Pederson said Friday morning, shortly before the Jaguars’ first 2022 rookie minicamp practice at TIAA Bank Field.

42 players participated Friday — including seven 2022 NFL Draft picks, four first-year players from last year’s roster, 18 players signed as free agents this offseason and 14 tryouts. Included in that group were the team’s two ’22 first-round picks – outside linebacker Travon Walker (No. 1 overall) and linebacker Devin Lloyd (No. 27 overall).

Friday’s practice was mostly drills and instruction, with the offense and defense working through the basics of the schemes and with a late – and short – 11-on-11 period.

“Obviously, today is Day 1,” Pederson said. “You just want to see gradual improvement every day — whether it’s in drill work or in a team setting. That’s what you’re looking for from these young guys, just to see how they fit in and how they interact with the veterans when we get the vets here next week.”

The weekend marks the first rookie minicamp under Pederson, who took over as Jaguars head coach on Feb. 6.

“We want to challenge them in the classroom and take it to the practice field and kind of let them showcase their talent,” he said. “We want to let them play fast, protect each other and just learn how we do things here. That’s all I’m looking for the next few days.”

Pederson added, “We just want to see how much they can take from the classroom to the field, showcase their talent and begin the competitive process.”

The rookies will participate in minicamp on Sunday, then join the team’s offseason program as part of the 90-man offseason roster on Monday. The Jaguars are currently in Phase 2 of their offseason program with the third and final phase — a four-week period that includes organized team activities and minicamp — scheduled to begin May 23.

“Our team has really embraced the offseason extremely well,” he said. “These guys are excited. There’s a lot of energy in the room right now, in the building. This is just another element of it. It’s a weekend right now where rookies don’t have to feel the pressure of veterans that are around, where we can focus on them and get them caught.

“Come Monday we are all together as a team. It is an exciting time for me and for the organisation.”

Pederson on Friday updated the injury status of several returning veterans, saying running back Travis Etienne Jr. — who is participating in the offseason program after missing his rookie season in 2021 with a Lisfranc injury — “is doing extremely well. It’s a process and we’re “going to continue to monitor it and take it slow.” Running back James Robinson, who missed the final two games last season with an Achilles injury, is “developing well,” according to Pederson. “He’s doing obviously not the things physically right now on the football field,” Pederson said of Robinson, “but we’re hoping at some point during training camp that becomes more of a reality for us.” Pederson said wide receiver/Jamal Agnew, who suffered a season-ending hip injury in a loss against San Francisco on Nov. 21, “probably a little bit ahead” of Robinson. “We’re going to be very careful with all three of those guys going into the season,” Pederson said.

Among Friday’s tryouts: Wyoming running back Trey Smith III, son of former Jaguars wide receiver and Pride of the Jaguars member Jimmy Smith. Pederson said Elder Smith’s status in the organization factored into the move. “Something that I’ve adopted philosophically is the respect factor of it,” Pederson said of Smith (6-foot-0, 210 pounds). “Obviously, Jimmy was a great athlete and player and played here. His son is a talented player as well. It was a good fit to extend that to him.” Pederson said among the qualities he looks for in a tryout player is “how professional they can be.” He added, “We’re always looking to develop our roster and add talent and value to our roster. If someone catches our eye like that and you want to make a move, you make a move. It’s not out of the question for a experimenter to do it even if it’s three days. It would take something pretty special for that to happen.”

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