Monthly Archives: July 2017

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has one last training camp as the de facto starter to prove he is ‘the guy’ in Jacksonville.

This is the season that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles must prove himself. He either is or is not the quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars moving forward. The talking heads are still putting the Jags at the bottom of their conference with another losing season. There are many reasons why this needs to be “his” season.

First, a long term contract is on the line. Next, the Jaguars have added some much needed talent. Also, his receiving corps is highly talented. Finally, the culture of the team has changed. Players will be held accountable, including the quarterback.
A long term contract is about more than just money

Blake Bortles enters his fourth year. He could be offered his second NFL contract after this season. He won’t be offered a contract if he fails to perform this season. That means he will become a free agent and will need to find a new team. He will have to compete for a starting job and will probably be a back up. This is quite a let down for a high draft choice both monetarily and professionally. Bortles is unlikely to find a team as patient with him as the Jaguars have been.

The Jaguars added offensive talent

The Jaguars added some valuable players to improve the offense. It is up to Bortles to take advantage of this additional talent.

To start, they added veteran left tackle Brandon Albert and a high draft choice, Cam Robinson, to shore up the offensive line. In addition, they drafted a potential franchise running back in Leonard Fournette. A wide receiver with speed, Dede Westbrook, was added to open the field even more from the wide receiver position.

The offensive line was weak and the running game was anemic in 2016, those should be fixed and will give Bortles even fewer excuses.

The receivers are a strong position group

The strongest unit on the team is the receiver corps. This unit is one of the best in the NFL. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns had great seasons in 2015. Marqise Lee had a positive season in 2016. The team added Dede Westbrook, a speedster, to a strong unit. The strength and growth of this talented unit depends on the play of the quarterback.

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There is a new sheriff prowling the halls of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ facility, and it is the same man who helped lead the franchise into the NFL more than two decades ago and to the cusp of the Super Bowl after the 1996 and ’99 seasons. Tom Coughlin was hired in January by owner Shad Khan to resuscitate the entire organization — just not as the head coach. Coughlin’s title is executive vice president of football operations, and he has final say on roster decisions, taking that responsibility away from GM Dave Caldwell. Doug Marrone, the offensive line coach from 2015-16, was promoted to head coach.

Does Coughlin still have the touch? Although the Jaguars were busy in free agency, signing three starters and multiple role players, the success of this season will rest largely on players Coughlin inherited, chiefly quarterback Blake Bortles. A total bust or ready for a boon? For as impressive as the defense looks — led by second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey and newcomers A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church — if the Jaguars are unable to score more points, Coughlin’s return will not equal a return to relevance for the Jaguars.

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OFFENSE
Since 2008, when the Jags’ current playoff drought began, their 18.3 points-per-game average is third worst in the NFL. And since 2012, a year after Maurice Jones-Drew won the rushing title, the Jaguars’ per-game rushing average of 92.1 yards is the league’s worst. The Jaguars are counting on Leonard Fournette — who rushed for 3,830 yards in three seasons at LSU — to impact both categories. The Jaguars selected Fournette fourth overall, and running backs taken that high have turned into Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk — but also Trent Richardson and Darren McFadden.

The Coaches
Head Coach Doug Marrone
Record With Team 1-1
Career Record 16-18
Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash
Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis
Quarterbacks Scott Milanovich
Running Backs Tyrone Wheatley
Wide Receivers Keenan McCardell
Tight Ends Ron Middleton
Offensive Line Pat Flaherty
Defensive Line Marion Hobby
Linebackers Mark Collins
Defensive Backs Perry Fewell
A one-man wrecking crew since he was in high school, Fournette will have to do the Jaguars’ heavy lifting, because Bortles proved last year he wasn’t ready for that task. Bortles had his 2018 contract option picked up on May 1, but it is guaranteed only for injury, meaning this remains his make-or-break season. If he wants to remain the Jaguars’ starter beyond this year, he must commit fewer turnovers (51 interceptions in 46 games) and be more accurate (58.8 career completion percentage). The Jaguars didn’t draft a quarterback, which can be viewed as a vote of confidence or a sign Coughlin is merely waiting until 2018 to take one.

The Jaguars believe they have provided Bortles with ample weapons. Now entering their fourth year, receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee have shown flashes of consistent play, just not at the same time. Robinson and Hurns eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2015, but their numbers dipped because of extra attention (Robinson) and injuries (Hurns). Lee hasn’t been able to use his speed to stretch the field. Although they enter as the top three receivers, rookie Dede Westbrook could become an option operating from the slot. After a rather ordinary junior season at Oklahoma — his first after transferring from junior college — Westbrook exploded for 80 catches for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. His 19.1-yard average was the best in college football for players with at least 75 catches.

Getting more production from the tight ends would help matters on the outside. The Julius Thomas experiment failed, and he was shipped to Miami in exchange for a seventh-round pick. The Jaguars want their tight ends to be equally effective as receivers and blockers. Marcedes Lewis, the longest-tenured Jaguar with 11 seasons of service, checks the blocking box, and the team believes that former Raider Mychal Rivera can be an efficient receiver.

Along the offensive line, there are issues. Again. Branden Albert will be the third left tackle in as many years. The Jaguars drafted Cam Robinson — a three-year starter at Alabama — in the second round to eventually replace Albert, but moving him to guard could be their top option this year. Center Brandon Linder is their best lineman, but the right side of guard A.J. Cann and tackle Jermey Parnell must be better this year. Neither missed a snap in 2016, but they did miss plenty of blocks.

DEFENSE
At least the Jaguars didn’t fall in love with some of their misleading 2016 stats and stand pat defensively. Coordinator Todd Wash was retained, but myriad other changes occurred: Five new assistant coaches, new starters in Campbell (strong-side end), Church (strong safety) and Bouye (cornerback), as well as Myles Jack’s move to middle linebacker.

The Jaguars tied for 19th in the NFL with 33 sacks; their seven interceptions were fewest in the NFL; and their 12 completions allowed of at least 40 yards tied for fifth most. It was a defense that was unable to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, take the football away or prevent the explosive play downfield. The Jaguars spent accordingly.

Up front, free agency and the draft have helped overhaul the line. Among the top eight linemen, only nose tackle Abry Jones played for the Jaguars before 2016. Added since then are Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, Sheldon Day and Dawuane Smoot in the draft and Campbell, Malik Jackson and Stefan Charles via free agency. Wash wants two-platoon depth, and the Jaguars have achieved that. Ngakoue, the starting weak-side end, led the team with eight sacks. His production could increase if Campbell — when he slides from end to tackle — and Jackson form a solid interior pass rush.

The Jaguars’ starting linebackers will be the same as the end of last year, but Jack is now in the middle and veteran Paul Posluszny was moved to the strong side — and his playing time is expected to be greatly reduced. Jack showed his lights-out athleticism last year in run pursuit and coverage, but the Jaguars played him on only 25 percent of the snaps, unwilling to take Posluszny off the field. Telvin Smith remains at the weak-side spot and must reduce his missed tackle total (team-high 26 last year).

Half of the Jaguars’ secondary is new. Bouye, following a breakout year in Houston, was one of the game’s top free agents, and the Jaguars poached him from their division rivals. Bouye will team with Ramsey to give the Jaguars one of the top cornerback duos in the league. Aaron Colvin is the favorite to play nickel, but Ramsey could also cover the slot receiver depending on the matchup. Tashaun Gipson returns as the free safety after a disappointing debut season marked by too many missed tackles and not enough takeaways. Church, the former Cowboy, was signed to replace Johnathan Cyprien, who was allowed leave via free agency. He signed with AFC South rival Tennessee.

The major change Wash will make to the scheme is having Church and Gipson be interchangeable, which will allow the Jaguars to be less predictable.

SPECIALISTS
The Jaguars needed to do something to improve a special teams unit that committed 30 penalties last year (at least one in 15 of 16 games), allowed 12.5 yards per punt return and rarely flipped the field. New coordinator Joe DeCamillis, most recently with Denver and in his second tour with the Jaguars, was lured back to Jacksonville due to Coughlin’s commitment to special teams.

Placekicker Jason Myers, punter Brad Nortman and long snapper Carson Tinker return in the same roles, but many faces will be new. The Jaguars signed Audie Cole, Josh McNary and Lerentee McCray in free agency and drafted Westbrook, Blair Brown, Jalen Myrick, and Marquez Williams in an effort to find some core special teams players. The Jaguars need to get more positive game-changing plays in the kicking game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Starting with the 2009 season, the Jaguars are 7–24 in September, a .226 winning percentage that is worst in the league. Slow starts have led to draft talk in November, coaching changes in January and roster overhauls in March. If Fournette can lead the offense and the defense jells quickly, the Jaguars could finally start quickly and develop a buzz that has been lacking. But their streak of non-winning seasons will reach a full decade because the offensive line won’t be able to protect Bortles well enough and the defense still doesn’t produce enough of a pass rush.

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The Jaguars are hoping Leonard Fournette can be a dominant force in their backfield right away. Although there are few obstacles in front of that reality, the least insurmountable are the team’s incumbent running backs, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon.

The combined injuries and ineffectiveness of that pair is what prompted Jacksonville to use the No. 4 overall pick on Fournette. The rookie didn’t get an immediate declaration from coach Doug Marrone that he would be the starter, but there will be no hiding the fact that Fournette is the clear No. 1 coming out of training camp.

MORE: Fournette among 2017 impact rookies

Ivory, 29, is coming off a rough first season with the Jaguars. He failed to show the early-down power from his three-year stint with the Jets. He also showed signs of wear by ending 2016 hamstrung and on the shelf. Like Toby Gerhart before him, Ivory is a pricey free-agent bust in that capacity after getting $10 million guaranteed.
The still-youthful Yeldon was supposed to complement Ivory as the so-called change of pace, third-down type of back. He struggled more than he did as a rookie, with both limited receiving impact and a similar lack of quickness and pop in the rushing attack. Adding to his plodding ways were more durability issues tied to a bad ankle.

For Fournette to fully replace both in one explosive package — and likely displace one from the roster — a bit of transition needs to take place. Fournette is accustomed to running with a fullback from his days at LSU, and the Jaguars are accommodating that with either Ivory’s former Jets lead blocker Tommy Bohanon or rookie seventh-rounder Marquez Williams. That brings a little familiarity to balance out what will be a challenge running out of the team’s frequent shotgun formations.

It’s good that the Jaguars are adjusting to Fournette’s immense talents, but also recognizing his power and burst can work well. Fournette’s physical running style carries well into his strong pass protection skills. He’ll help keep Blake Bortles upright, so that won’t keep him off the field.

The biggest question mark for how much Fournette will see the field as a rookie is his pass-catching. He was an afterthought in that role in college, but it’s a three-down necessity in the NFL.

MORE: The AFC South is rising

Fournette saw accelerated work as a receiver through OTAs and minicamp, and he has impressed Marrone and the coaching staff with his natural feel to that aspect. After Ivory and Yeldon consistently produced a cloud of dust last season, the Jaguars are eager to maximize Fournette’s big-play ability by getting the ball in his hands in every way possible.

The Jaguars did not bring Denard Robinson back into the mix, and with at least one fullback needing to make the team, once Fournette has pushed aside Ivory and Yeldon, it’s matter of who becomes more expendable.

Yeldon hasn’t show much upside, but he’s younger and cheaper and can do a little bit of everything to be an all-around backup to Fournette. Ivory’s skills are bit redundant with what Fournette can do much better on early downs between the tackles, and his age and contract weigh Ivory down further.