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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser’s notes and observations as the Jaguars begin preparing for the 2018 preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Thursday …

1.Expectations were already high for the 2018 Jaguars defense – and the first three preseason games pushed them even higher. “We’ve made a few plays, but we have a lot of room for growth,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. That’s true, but a defense that ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed, interceptions, points allowed and takeaways last season has been dominant in the three games with the first unit not allowing a touchdown and allowing just four field goals. “That’s the beauty of it: Even when we make mistakes, we still play some good ball out there,” Campbell said. “This ‘D’ can be very, very good. We wanted to intimidate people and send a message across the league. That was the goal going into preseason: the first couple of teams we play, we wanted to make sure they see a team that’s fast and physical and plays with a different kind of intensity. … The ultimate goal would be to have offensive coordinators looking at the defense like, ‘I don’t know where to attack … I don’t know how.’ That’s the ultimate goal.”

2.Anyone wondering the Jaguars’ approach to Thursday’s preseason finale need to look no further than Head Coach Doug Marrone’s media availability Monday. With most NFL teams now resting most or all starters in the preseason finale, Marrone was asked his approach against Tampa Bay. “That’s always the age-old question that you get,” Marrone said. “I know we’re going to be smart about it. I think a lot depends on how we do during the week, what our focus is and what we’re trying to take care of. I’m going to be smart and do what I have done in the past. I think that is the best way to explain it.” Marrone last season rested the majority of the team’s front-line players in the preseason finale. The idea behind the approach is not only to prevent injuries but to ensure players are as fresh as possible entering the regular season. “You really can feel it,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said of the extra time off between Preseason Week 3 and the regular-season opener. “That’s why for example we fight for a bye week in the playoffs. A week off means a lot. So, to get two weeks off to get your body back and let it recover from what we just did is awesome.”

3.One area the Jaguars will miss wide receiver Marqise Lee is as a downfield blocker in the running game. Lee, who Marrone said Monday will miss the 2018 regular season with a knee injury sustained against Atlanta Saturday, was perhaps the Jaguars’ best receiver in this area. “He did a heck of a job that way, we all know that,” Marrone said. “Obviously, the people in that [wide receiver] room are going to have to step up. That’s why as soon as everything is done, we want to get him [Lee] back in that room, because there is a toughness about him that we want to make sure we keep.” The Jaguars led the NFL in rushing last season, and Lee’s ability as a run-blocker was a factor in the team re-signing him to a contract extension this past offseason. “We work on it,” Marrone said. “It’s hard when you work on that stuff. In training camp with full pads, we do defensive back/wide receiver blocking drills. Those guys do get a lot of work on it.”

4.Marrone on Monday discussed multiple players against Atlanta, praising starting right tackle Jermey Parnell’s first appearance of 2018 after missing the first two preseason games with a knee issue. “I thought he looked good,” Marrone said. “I really did. He had good sets, stayed squared, worked well, so I was happy with that.” Marrone also said second-year left tackle Cam Robinson improved against Atlanta after struggling the previous Saturday against end Danielle Hunter and the Minnesota Vikings. “I thought Cam, obviously, played much better than he did than the first two games, but I still there is room for improvement from everybody,” Marrone said. Marrone also addressed the NFL debut of rookie defensive lineman Taven Bryan, who missed the first two preseason games with an abdominal injury. “I thought he got some good movement,” he said of Bryan, the No. 29 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft who was penalized late in the game for roughing the passer. “I wasn’t happy with the penalty. He did some good things. He showed his power, he showed his strength. He was up on his feet and got involved on some plays. It is a pretty good progression of a guy that really hasn’t practiced or played. I think it’s difficult. I think he will just get better as he keeps playing.”

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars released running back Chris Ivory on Friday, a move that will save the team $3.75 million against the salary cap.

The move was not surprising considering how little Ivory was used last season after the team drafted Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Ivory did not play in the Jaguars’ final two regular-season games and played in only one of the team’s three playoff games.

Ivory spent two seasons with the Jaguars, but he never made much of an impact. He ran for just 821 yards and four touchdowns and caught 41 passes for 361 yards and one touchdown in 25 games.

The Jaguars signed Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed after he came off a 2015 season in which he led the AFC in rushing with the New York Jets. However, Ivory dealt with an undisclosed medical issue before the 2016 season and missed the first two games.

He never got going after that, rushing for more than 48 yards in a game just once and finishing with 439 yards in 2016. Ivory ran for 382 yards and one touchdown last season.

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With the Jacksonville Jaguars on hiatus, otherwise known as the bye week, finding the usual story to write about becomes a bit of a challenge. Even with the teal and black taking Week 8 off, I can still find a nugget or two to compose for prose.

This Jaguars team has a different feel, a change of the old guard, a belief what is old is new again. This is the Jacksonville mentality – a mix of “ground and pound” with a dominant defense that punches teams in the mouth and continues to wail on them when they are on the ropes. This is a team that reminds me of the old Steelers and Raiders teams – minus an effective passing game.

It’s what Tom Coughlin envisioned when he took over as executive vice-president this offseason.

We spoke yesterday about what this team needs to do to continue the path to the playoffs. Now, we continue with who needs to step up in the second half of the season. Yes, there is still plenty to improve on.

Football fans will watch with interest to see if the Jaguars make another move before the Tuesday trade deadline. Other than wide receiver, I cannot see this team moving another draft pick for a chess piece.

Here are four players who need to make an impact in the second half of the season.

Any Wide Receiver – Allen Hurns became the first 100-yard receiver this year in a Jaguars’ uniform. There is a Catch-22 with the statement someone needs to step forward and become “the guy” in this receiving unit. The Jaguars aren’t throwing the ball a ton and the running game is the best in the NFL.

Allen Robinson is gone. Marqise Lee isn’t the player the team hoped he would become. Hurns has had moments. The play of Marcedes Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. He has four of Blake Bortles’ touchdowns this season.

If Dede Westbrook can give this team a spark with his speed and Lee can take his game to another level, the Jaguars may pass a bit more in the final nine games. I just want someone to emerge as the go-to wide receiver on obvious passing downs.

The Interior Defensive Line – This won’t be as long as the rant on the wide receivers. As John Oehser of Jaguars.com wrote last week, “It’s an area that needs to improve moving forward. The Jaguars’ run defense has looked vulnerable in three losses. If this team is going to win close games – and teams must win close games to get to the postseason – it must be able to stop the run.”

Enter Marcell Dareus.

The Jaguars’ brass saw a weakness and found a way to improve it. Whether Dareus is the answer will have a lot to do with how the Jaguars use their existing players – Malik Jackson, Abry Jones and Sheldon Day, in the rotation. You cannot have a stout defense that gives up chunks of yards on the ground and expect to make a run deep in the playoffs.

This is also an area I can see this team addressing in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Jaguars face a tough running team in Cincinnati, then face the Los Angeles Chargers. Those two teams will test the interior of this defense. If Jacksonville makes the necessary changes on the line, which will force teams to pass more, then the problem is solved. Clogging running lanes will also allow Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue to rush the quarterback continuously.

Blake Bortles – He has decent numbers for the first half of the season. What you see is what you get with Bortles, who has hovered around 58 percent completion percentage for the majority of his career. The sack totals are down. The interceptions and fumbles are less. Bortles has looked more comfortable in this offense.

There are some who hate the term “game manager” when referring to a quarterback, but that’s what Bortles is most of the time. His games against Baltimore and Indianapolis are the exception, not the norm.

The one thing Bortles and the Jaguars coaching staff has to do is work on passing on third down. Relying on the run game works when this team has a third-and-short situation. Playing against the Colts did not miraculously fix this issue.

“We’ll continue week-to-week to try and find concepts and schemes within our system that allow guys to get open and create separation and pick up first downs. I think we’ve been, whatever the numbers are, 1-3 (yards), we’re really good. 4 to 6, we suck. 7 to 9, we’re pretty good,” Bortles said prior to the Colts game. “It’s like, 4 to 6, somebody just jump off sides and we’ll be alright. It’s kind of crazy because 1 to 3 and 7 to 9, I think with both of them, we’re above 60 percent, I think, or somewhere right around. Whatever the reason that 4 to 6 has just been the area that we’ve really struggled in.”

If the passing game stays the same, Jacksonville can win at least six of their remaining nine games. If it regresses, that number changes significantly. It means the progress Bortles has made took two steps backward.

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Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is no denying that the Jacksonville Jaguars have a talented roster. This is especially true with some of the younger players on the roster, particularly a few from the 2016 draft class.

So when ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell was tasked with creating the “perfect” NFL roster of active players, which is no easy feat, a couple of young Jaguars players made the list.

Of the 1,696 members in the active player pool, only 53 men made the cut. Jacksonville’s star cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, and (perhaps) soon-to-be a household name, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, were both included on Barnwell’s dream roster.

Now, there were some caveats to building this roster. In an effort to keep this as close to realistic as possible, Barnwell had to stay under the $167 million salary cap. He also limited himself to no more than three players from a single team, while taking at least one player from each NFL franchise.

Additionally, there was also a limit on rookie deals from the past few draft classes — five from 2014, six from 2015 and nine from 2016 — and a maximum of seven rookies from the 2017 class allowed. He also included four undrafted free agents and then filled the rest of the roster with primary special teams players. You can read more about the details in his piece.

Obviously, Ramsey and Ngakoue are both still on their rookie deals, so they took two of those nine available spots.

Though it is not necessarily in any order, Barnwell has Ramsey third on the CB list behind Chris Harris Jr. of the Denver Broncos and Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots. But, he mentions that the top three cornerbacks were all “starters” in his fantasy scheme and that all three are versatile enough to play either in the slot or on the outside.

Here is what Barnwell said about the group.

“Our three starting cornerbacks — Chris Harris Jr., Malcolm Butler and Jalen Ramsey — can all play on the outside or in the slot, and while they cost more than $19 million combined, that’s a relative bargain for a trio of star cornerbacks in 2017. Harris and Butler hardly need any introduction, and Ramsey was as good during his rookie season as any debuting corner in recent memory.”
Ramsey will make about $5.31 million in 2017, while Butler makes less than that at $3.91 million and Harris makes $9.87 million. All together, with the three backup cornerbacks added in, the cornerback group makes about $22.8 million. The number was nearly 26 percent of the total defensive breakdown, which was the highest for that unit. In fact, only the offensive line had a higher combined salary on Barnwell’s roster.

Ngakoue was a third-round pick in 2016, and exploded onto the scene as a rookie. But since he is still on his rookie deal, he is a great bargain right now — making $819,000 in 2017.

Ngakoue appears to be the fourth player on Barnwell’s “depth chart,” (if there is one) behind some very good players in J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, Joey Bosa of the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers and Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings.

Here is what Barnwell mentioned about Jacksonville’s 2016 sack-leader, whom he seems to be high on:

“Yannick Ngakoue outplayed former third overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. last season in Jacksonville and deserves to keep his starting job across from Calais Campbell.”
The defensive ends total $21.6 million, which was just under the cornerback group at 24.5 percent of total spend on defense. It was also third-highest on the overall roster.

Ramsey and Ngakoue both had outstanding rookie seasons, but both still can significantly improve (Ngakoue in the run game, especially). I expect Ramsey to become a breakout star league-wide in 2017, while Ngakoue becomes a player who opposing offenses must take notice of and the common NFL fan learns about.

Other notable players on Barnwell’s roster include Tom Brady, David Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., Rob Gronkowski, Taylor Lewan, Aaron Donald, Lavonte David, Earl Thomas and Landon Collins. It’s safe to the say the two Jaguars are in good company on this squad.

Keeping in mind only one other Jaguar could have made this list (cap of three players per team), is there any other Jag who should be on this fantasy roster? Perhaps Telvin Smith? Let us know in the comments section.