Jacksonville, Fla. • Fans waited in line to get in, filled every seat available and then packed the perimeter of the practice fields for a glimpse of quarterback Blake Bortles.
The crowd kept growing and growing, forcing the Jacksonville Jaguars to open an additional gate and create more space. Some onlookers even stood outside the fence for a peek.
It was the kind of buzz unseen at Jaguars camp since the franchise’s inception in 1995.
The Jaguars announced 6,214 in attendance for the final day of a two-day rookie minicamp that ended Saturday. That’s nearly 4,000 more than any previous turnout for a rookie camp and about 1,700 more than the previous record set in several training camp practices.
"Are you kidding me? That is awesome, man," coach Gus Bradley said afterward.
It’s easy to fathom, just hard to pinpoint, what brought so many to the practice field on a relatively cool and cloudless day.
Owner Shad Khan, team president Mark Lamping, general manager Dave Caldwell and Bradley have fans believing the team is on the verge of better days. They drafted Bortles with the third overall pick last weekend and added receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round.
The city and team are installing $63 million scoreboards that are expected to be the largest in the world and have other plans to renovate an aging stadium that lacks unique features and fan-friendly amenities.
"You’ve got to credit Shad and Mark and Dave and Gus," said former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, who was on hand for Saturday’s practice. "What they’ve done on the business side and the football side is remarkable. The energy is here, Gus Bradley is infectious, and when you draft a quarterback No. 3 overall, you’re going to get a bit of excitement."
Bortles completed 12 of 18 passes during 11-on-11 drills in his second practice, his numbers slightly hurt by two drops.
Lee and Robinson were even better, getting open early and often as the team gave the rookies a chance to replay Friday’s script with more poise and precision.
"We launched a couple today," Bradley said. "We got it going a little bit ... just to get everybody involved. We talked about trying to find the playmakers, so do those styles of throws just to see what they can do. I think it’s helpful for us to learn about these guys."
The Jaguars saw enough from two workout rookies to sign them to contracts.
They added safety Jerome Junior and running back Beau Blankenship, and waived place-kicker Jeff Budzien and punter Chad Zinchini.
But the bigger story was the unexpected crowd, a sign of how the city is responding to Khan & Co., and what it thinks about the future of the franchise.
"What a credit to Shad and his vision," Bradley said. "When I go around and talk to people, it’s just they feel so confident in his vision. It’s a credit to him and the organization. It feels good, I do know that. Our fans, we talk about connect with the following and try to help them go along this journey with us. And when we get excited, they get excited. When we have tough times, they do.
"We’re going to do this thing together, and to be able to come out and to see a group of people that are that passionate for good football and to watch passionate players is something."
For rookie tight end Reggie Jordan, the crowd was bigger than some of the ones he experienced at Missouri-Western State.
"That’s definitely exciting to see," he said. "It’s a new day."
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