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Jaguars open training camp without Jones-Drew, Blackmon

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Associated Press
7/26/2012 5:54:08 PM
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars unveiled their renovated locker room Thursday, a $3 million project that includes 80-inch televisions, two small waterfalls, a 41,000-watt stereo system and neon lights in every stall that can change eight different colours.

It did nothing to lure Maurice Jones-Drew back to town.

Jones-Drew failed to report with the rest of his teammates for the start of training camp, his latest attempt to get a new contract. First-round draft pick Justin Blackmon, one of the few remaining unsigned rookies, also was a no-show.

Complicating negotiations with Blackmon is that the fifth overall pick pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI in Stillwater, Okla., earlier this week. The Jaguars want protection in case the former Oklahoma State receiver has another off-field incident.

Jones-Drew's holdout is much less complex but could last longer. Jones-Drew wants a new deal after leading the NFL with 1,606 yards rushing last season. He has two years remaining on a five-year, front-loaded contract worth $31 million. He is scheduled to make $4.45 million this season and $4.95 million in 2013.

Owner Shad Khan and general manager Gene Smith insist they have no plans to negotiate a new deal with their star player, not wanting to set a precedent of paying players with two years remaining on lucrative deals that included large signing bonuses.

No one inside the building was surprised by MJD's holdout. After all, he skipped the team's entire off-season workout program, including a mandatory, three-day minicamp last month. New coach Mike Mularkey can fine Jones-Drew up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses.

"When I talk to him I've even asked him, for the team, to be here," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "But guys have their own agenda. Being in the NFL, it's about the team, but you also have to take care of home. I'm pretty sure that's what he's doing. We'll be behind him regardless. I can't wait for him to get here, though."

Coming off a career year, Jones-Drew wants to be one of the league's highest-paid backs. His average salary per year ranks eighth among NFL backs, behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Houston's Arian Foster, St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.

Both sides have valid arguments.

Jones-Drew signed his deal in 2009, before rushing for at least 1,300 yards in three consecutive seasons. Not only has he seemingly outperformed his contract, MJD is the face of the franchise and probably the only player on the roster known outside small-market Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, paid him based on the expectation that he would flourish as a starter after spending the first three years of his career splitting carries with Fred Taylor. And the team isn't enamoured with paying a running back into his 30s, especially one who takes as many pounding hits as Jones-Drew does.

"It's part of the business," quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "We can't dwell on that. We can't harp on the fact that he's not here. He'll be here in due time. He'll learn the offence when he gets here. We know what Mo's going to bring to the table day in and day out, game in and game out. He led the league in rushing last year and he's going to do that again this year."

Jones-Drew is entering his seventh season. He has 6,854 yards rushing, 2,473 yards receiving and 74 total touchdowns. He carried a career-high 343 times last season, averaging 4.7 yards even though defences knew he was the focal point of Jacksonville's offence.

Nonetheless, some wonder whether the Jaguars could have matched its 5-11 record without No. 32 in the backfield. Plus the Jaguars have missed the playoffs each of the last four years.

But with new ownership, a revamped coaching staff and added playmakers on the NFL's worst offence, they feel they are close to turning things around.

And Jones-Drew is a key to getting it done -- if and when he gets to camp.

"He's a competitor; he loves football," Knighton said. "Hopefully that's what bothers him the most about being away from the team and not being on the field and wants to come back. ... I hope he hurries back."

Maurice Jones-Drew (Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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