Opportunity knocks: Jaguars expect to have more than a dozen rookies on 2013 roster
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Georgia defensive tackle Abry Jones realized he wasn't getting drafted, he started looking around the NFL at potential landing spots as a free agent.
Jacksonville stood out, and not just because it was close to home.
The Warner Robins, Ga., native saw a new general manager, a new head coach and a gutted roster that surely would lead to open competition at nearly every position.
"It's a great place for rookies," Jones said Sunday.
No doubt. The rebuilding Jaguars expect to open the season with 12 to 15 rookies, maybe even more.
Most starters already have been penciled in. But several positions, including just about every backup spot, are up for grabs. That put a little extra emphasis on the team's three-day rookie minicamp that ended Sunday.
A handful of undrafted rookies stood out, including fullback Lonnie Pryor, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, tight end Ryan Otten, offensive tackle R.J. Dill, receiver Tobais Palmer, running back De'Leon Eskridge and defensive ends Paul Hazel and J.D. Griggs.
Eskridge and Griggs attended the camp on a tryout basis and could sign with the team Monday.
"I enjoyed every moment," Eskridge said. "It's a good opportunity."
None of those guys got as much attention as Jacksonville's draft picks. First-rounder Luke Joeckel, second-round safety Johnathan Cyprien and former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson drew the most interest.
But when Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley are filling out the 53-man roster in September, undrafted players are sure to be in the mix for the final spots.
"I really had a tough time initially with the NFL because there's a sense of disloyalty," Bradley said. "They're here and then you cut them. When I first started out, that was new to me. I didn't know if I liked that part because in college you recruited them and you grow with them through the whole thing.
"The way I've been able to deal with it is this: I've told them the loyalty comes with us coaching every one of you as hard as we can."
Still, the opportunities are obvious.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired general manager Gene Smith, the architect of the roster the last four years, after the worst season in franchise history.
Caldwell took over in January and started making changes.
The Jaguars parted ways with about two dozen veterans, including three-fourths of their starting secondary, a starting linebacker, a starting defensive tackle, a starting fullback, a backup running back, a backup tight end and a few receivers.
"I felt like if I had to go anywhere to get a starting position, this would be the best route for me to go," said Pryor, whose interest in Jacksonville grew after longtime Jaguars fullback Greg Jones signed with Houston. "This franchise has gone through a lot of changes and probably will have more."
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, linebacker Paul Posluszny, tight end Marcedes Lewis, defensive end Jeremy Mincey, receiver Cecil Shorts III, safety Dwight Lowery, place-kicker Josh Scobee, punter Bryan Anger and offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Uche Nwaneri, Brad Meester and Will Rackley are among those considered safe.
Jacksonville also seems committed to the six veterans signed in free agency.
Even quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne seem immune to the overhaul for now.
But that didn't prevent former Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers from signing as undrafted rookies.
"It's a good position for a quarterback to be," Scott said. "They're going to have open competition, so we'll see how it goes."
Scott (ankle) and Rodgers (groin) sat out Sunday's practice, but both expect to be ready when the Jaguars begin organized team activities May 13.
And just like the other 30-plus rookies on Jacksonville's roster, they all have a chance.
"They sense it," Bradley said. "That was one of the reasons why it was a good free agency group for us — because they knew the opportunity."