Doug Pederson opened his first training camp in Jacksonville with a police escort.
The first-year Jaguars coach and 91 players loaded onto a five-bus caravan for a 5-mile ride from TIAA Bank Field to a nearby high school for their first practice Monday. Despite the extra security, the quick trip provided an old-school feel for a new-school coach whose main goal is leading one of the NFL’s bumbling franchises back to respectability.
“Ten minutes on a bus full of 50 guys, yeah, there’s quite a bit of bonding,” Pederson said.
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Jacksonville landed at Episcopal School for camp because of a $120 million renovation to the team’s practice fields. The 18-month project includes three new fields (one indoors) and a 125,000-square-foot sports performance center that will house meeting rooms, offices, a weight room, a locker room and more. It’s projected to open next June.
In the meantime, the Jaguars will be somewhat displaced for practice. They worked mostly from their game field for organized team activities, but that option wasn’t feasible given the daily workload associated with training camp.
So team officials scouted five local spots, including campuses at Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida, before settling on Episcopal because of its close proximity and the fact that it was wide open in June, July and August.
“When you abide by the (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and you have an 11-hour day, you have to factor in travel and all of that,” Pederson said. “It takes up either practice time, meeting time, whatever you can do. You have to work out some of those kinks. … It’s been kind of fun this summer to watch the progression of everything.”
The Jaguars renovated two lacrosse/soccer fields to mimic NFL-quality playing surfaces, installed a bank of electrical outlets and delivered two portable goal posts that were actually constructed and welded together from the six taken down at the old practice fields. They rented equipment, buses and security, racking up a total bill that topped $1 million for 14 days of practice.
“We can get everything done over here,” Pederson said. “The only thing we have to be careful of is the weather, but that’s why we’re in the mornings and hopefully the storms stay away in the morning time. We just don’t have a ton of shelter (and) player safety is No. 1, and we just have to make it work. We have plenty of time.”
Not as much as usual.
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The Jaguars opened camp nearly a week after Las Vegas. The teams play Aug. 4 in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
Pederson expressed no concern about having a preseason game in 10 days. He’s unlikely to play many starters and felt as if players got enough done in OTAs, so much so that he nixed one practice and released most veterans from a mandatory, three-day minicamp.
“We’re not starting over. We’re picking up where we left off,” second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Everything we’re talking about, we’re flying through because we’ve already installed it a couple times. Having that knowledge and everyone can just pick up quick when we install, that’s nice. We can add new wrinkles faster because we’ve already done it.”
Pederson’s first camp practice lasted a little more than an hour, the latest player-friendly approach taken by the longtime NFL backup QB.
Jacksonville didn’t place anyone on the physically unable to perform list and has several rehabbing veterans close to making full returns. Running back James Robinson (Achilles tendon) could be the last one to work his way back. Robinson, who has 1,837 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns in two seasons, tore his Achilles tendon in late December. He worked on the side Monday and is expecting a full return in mid-August.
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“It’s a good sign. I’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get himself back this spring and this summer,” Pederson said. “He’s done a great job of putting himself in the position to where we don’t have to (rush him back) but still be cautious with him and make sure he’s ready when he’s ready.”