Dan’s look at the 2015 Jacksonville Jaguars

The AFC South is not short of teams that need a change of fortune. The Titans are looking for immediate changes from a superstar college QB. The Texans have built up a defence of very big men and the Colts have added some experience to help Andrew Luck. So how goes the Jags attempt to slowly build a team over a few years? Is Gus on the hot seat? Can Bortles take the next step?

Let’s look at London’s team.

Previously in Jacksonville.

2014 was meant to see some progress for the team. Gus Bradley was entering his 2nd year as a coach, with year 2 of his and David Caldwell’s rebuild plans. Blake Bortles was the Jags 1st round pick and looked like the sneaky QB that was going to steal the show from Bridgewater and Manziel. Finally they added a number of defensive pieces, including some big guys from the Seahawks, players that Gus Bradley was familiar with.

Unfortunately despite a decent amount of critical optimism, they took a step back.

With hindsight it becomes very easy to spot the flaws that were hidden in plain sight last year. Firstly a lack of additions to the exterior of the offensive line was never going to end well. In the end the Jags finished the season with the most sacks of under 2.5 seconds, which shows how ineffective they were and added another year of worrying about whether Luke Joeckel can hack it. This obviously has a knock on effect to Bortles, who in-between the interceptions and bad decisions showed flashes of a half decent QB. Finally with an injury side-lining Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson took a good chunk of the carries, a player who is predominately best used as a change of pace player. All of this combined to make the Jags the 31st ranked offence in the league.

On defence it was a case of mixed fortunes. Jacksonville were excellent in rushing QBs, ranked 6th in the league, but then they were ranked 26th in terms of yards allowed and only racked up 6 interceptions, a woeful stat when it was my belief that the secondary might take a step forward, which obviously never happened.

The team finished with a 3-13 record, not what they were looking for. So how did they improve?

What’s Changed

Before we get into the on the field pickups, it’s worth looking at the notable additions in the coaching staff. For starters, the Jags got rid of offensive coordinator Jed Fisch and replaced him with ex- Raiders offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, who returns to the team he was with a couple of years ago. It’s also worth pointing out the addition of ex-Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who struggled to find a job after choosing to leave the Bills, eventually joined the Jags as an offensive line coach, a huge addition, but we’ll look at that later.

On the field they made some bold moves too. Undoubtedly the biggest of the free agency acquisitions was bringing in tight end Julius Thomas, who now becomes a huge redzone weapon for Jacksonville. Whilst the addition of Thomas will take the headlines, they did manage to bring in a decent haul of potential starters for the team. On offence they improved the line, with ex-Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski and ex-Cowboys starter Jermey Parnell. On defence, despite being decent in the middle of the defensive line, they still managed to improve, bringing in Dolphins cap casualty (or more accurately, ‘let’s make money for Suh’ casualty), Jared Odrick, who’s a great pick up. The addition of both Devon House at corner and Sergio Brown (friend of the Gents), makes the starting line-up of a disappointing secondary last year, a decent unit. Finally the addition of Dan Skuta, improves a fairly non-descript line-backer group.

In the draft the Jags suffered some poor luck, when they drafted Dante Fowler, who then went down injured pretty much as soon as he hit the training field. In the 2nd round they picked up T.J Yeldon who is someone they have faith will come into the line-up straight away, proving to be immediate value. A.J Cann in the 3rd could challenge for a starting job on the offensive line too, meaning Brandon Linder really needs to watch his back. a quick shout out to the 6th round pick Mike Bennett, who they picked up late despite a much higher grade. The Jags had a pretty good draft, even with their number 1 pick being out for the season.

Areas to Look Out For

Nearly every position is going under the radar for this team, but there are some areas that could surprise a few people. The wide receivers are definitely one of them. If I had to describe them in 1 word, it would be deep. Despite being strong in terms of depth there really isn’t a stand out number 1 receiver, with Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurn all making decent cases for it. Throw into the mix the drafting of slot receiver Rashad Greene and you’ve got a full line up of receivers. If I had to guess, I would think Robinson takes the number 1 role, with Lee picking up the 2. These 4 could take a massive step forward and help Bortles out immensely.

With the Jags struggling moving the ball down the middle of the field over the last few years, the addition of an elite, pass catching tight end is huge in the improvement of this team. Julius Thomas thrived with Manning at the Broncos, becoming his top red zone target. This is what the Jags will be hoping they can get from him too. Generally the Jags have simply not bothered with tight ends, but with Thomas being a weapon as a pass catcher, but struggling as a blocker it might lead to seeing a change from zero tight end sets, to multiple tight end sets, which could help both their redzone production, their run game and obviously be instrumental in keeping Bortles upright. Which leads us to…

The offensive line, which is by no means perfect, but it’s definitely improved. Luke Joeckel’s injuries have meant the Jags are still waiting to find out if he’s going to be the answer at left tackle. In his defence, when not battling injuries he has been pretty good, hopefully this season we can get an answer one way or another. Jermey Parnell was a decent player on an exceptional Cowboys offensive line. This in itself raised his value, but there is no denying that it does improve the right tackle position. Bowanko and Linder were both decent pickups from last year’s draft, however, they both have potential replacements sitting behind them in Wisniewski and rookie AJ Cann. The biggest addition for this line however, is that of Doug Marrone as coach. Marrone having the chance to concentrate wholly on a position he excels at is an excellent situation for the Jags. Look at what Mike Munchak did for the Steelers, as an example of what bringing an experienced line coach in can do.

The running backs with TJ Yeldon look like they could make a step forward. Yeldon has received rave reviews from camp and is a player that the Jags have put a lot of faith in. Add to the unit a healthy Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson and you’re looking at another deep group that could run well behind a revamped Jacksonville line.

My faith in the secondary last year turned out to be a little premature. This year they’ve added a couple of pieces that I think really raise their game. Cyprien and Gratz have been the standout players in the secondary since they both came into the league, with a revolving door of promising players filling the spots around them. So with both Sergio Brown and Davon House joining the team, they might have finally got their ultimate line-up. Davon House will be a huge loss for the Packers in the slot and one of the most underrated players on the team. On the Jaguars, House has the chance to play on the outside, but will battle it out with Demetrius McCray, with the other guy almost certainly lining up in the slot. Sergio Brown came into the league undrafted and has worked his way up to the starting safety position the hard way, cutting his teeth as an exceptional special teamer. Now he’s got his well-deserved starting position on a defence that looks set to finally make some waves. There’s a chance we’ll be talking about Brown and Cyprien in the same way we talk about Whitner and Gipson. I have that much faith in the secondary.

Potential Concerns.

It might be a little unfair to include Bortles in the potential concerns, simply because I do have faith in him to eventually turn the corner. But the fact is he made a lot of mistakes last year. The reports are that he’s having a very good training camp, but he had a great camp last year, he just couldn’t transfer the skills to the actual game. I do believe that an improved offensive line will see him improve, but after a long run of short changed Jags QBs it’s nearly impossible not to be slightly concerned.

Whilst the middle of the defensive line is looking pretty good the pass rush could be lacking this year without Dante Fowler. The tackle pairing of Odrick and Sen’Derrick Marks will be huge for this team, providing some real pressure down the centre. The concern is on the outside, with Chris Clemons being far and away the best defensive end. If this line is to mimic the Seahawks, they’ll need to add some serious depth. That being said I like the versatility of a player like Mike Bennett to make a difference this year and be something of a late round surprise for the team, I just think this unit doesn’t get seriously good until we see Fowler return.

The line backing unit suffered last year when Posluzny went down injured, showing a serious lack of depth. The actual starting trio is pretty good, with the addition of Dan Skuta from the Niners. Rounding off the trio is Telvin Smith, who looks like he could be a solid player for the future, but it might involve a little patience. My concern with this unit however is that if they suffer any injuries, they will likely struggle, one of a few areas where this team lacks some serious depth and it might come back to bite them.

Final Thoughts

This on paper at least is a good team, which it needs to be. The Jags have shown a great deal of patience with coach Bradley and GM David Caldwell, but if they don’t win more than 5 games, we could see them blow up the coaching staff and start again. 2 potential issues for Bradley are a lack of depth and the possibility that Bortles won’t take the next step and be just another Jags QB. The Fowler injury is a major blow but the additions they’ve made on defence should make them considerably better. Whilst I think this team does improve, I don’t see them making it to the post season and like the Titans you have to think that finishing 2nd in the division is the most they can hope for. They’ll just have to hope that it’s enough to keep Bradley in a job.