With training camp getting underway this week for the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are plenty of storylines to watch over the next few weeks. Here is what I am keeping an eye on:
Coming back from injury
The Jaguars are a young team that was riddled with injuries last year. Julius Thomas, Dante Fowler, Jr., Marqise Lee, T.J. Yeldon, Brandon Linder, Paul Posluszny, Rashad Greene, and Sen’Derrick Marks were all key players that missed multiple games and/or the entire season due to injury. Fortunately, the Jaguars have stayed relatively healthy this offseason. Reports from around the Jaguars camp have indicated that players like Thomas and Lee have had exceptional offseasons and look primed to fully establish themselves in the offense. Fowler is coming back from a torn ACL suffered on the first day of rookie mini-camp last year and has looked like the player who the Jaguars expected to have last year. He appears fast, explosive and is expected to contribute immediately. Every Jaguars fan is ready to see him finally in action. If the Jaguars can stay healthy and have minimal injuries, expect a great season.
Who will win the running back battle?
When the Jaguars signed Chris Ivory away from the Jets this past free agency, it was a head-scratching move. Signing Ivory made it seem like the organization was not entirely comfortable with T.J. Yeldon. Recently, NFL teams have employed multiple backs in their offensive gameplan. In fact, 12 NFL teams had two running backs with at least 100 carries this past season. Six of them made the playoffs, including the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Having a “two-headed monster”, like these playoff teams had, may be the reason why the Jaguars signed Ivory, as he and Yeldon both complement each other. Since March, however, the question has been “Who is going to be the featured back?” Ivory has been a consistent workhorse back in the league, but Yeldon is a young and can contribute in both the passing and running game. It will definitely be an intriguing battle to watch, but it is not the most pivotal battle this training camp.
What will the offensive line look like?
This seems to become a normal thing for the Jaguars to go into training camp with questions about the offensive line. When talking about the offensive line this season, half of it seems set in stone, while the other half is in complete disarray. The right side of the line looks like it will line up Brandon Linder at center, A.J. Cann at right guard, and Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Unfortunately, the left side is not as clear-cut. The Jaguars signed left tackle Kelvin Beachum from the Steelers and guard Mackenzy Bernadeau from the Cowboys. The Jaguars also have 2013 first round pick Luke Joeckel on the roster. This has ignited an obvious battle for left tackle between Beachum and Joeckel. Beachum is coming off an ACL injury suffered last season, but once cleared by doctors, is expected to win the starting left tackle job. The question becomes what the Jaguars do with Joeckel? Do they move him inside to left guard? Do the Jaguars opt to start Bernadeau at left guard, due to his experience at the position? If the Jaguars do indeed name Beachum and Bernadeau as the starters at their respective positions, look for the Jaguars to consider trading away Joeckel for a future draft pick during the preseason in mid-August.
The past two years, quarterback Blake Bortles has shown qualities that made him the franchise quarterback the Jaguars envisioned him to be. But every young quarterback has their issues. In 2014, his first season in the league, Bortles threw for 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. In 2015, Bortles improved immensely from his rookie campaign. He erupted for 35 TD’s (second in the league) and 18 INT’s (league leader). Bortles has a knack for trying to be an aggressive thrower, which sometimes gets him into trouble. With having an aggressive mentality, accuracy will, in turn, be an issue. Bortles has completed 58.7% of his passes his first two years, and that number is not high enough to be a great quarterback. Bortles needs to become more accurate and make smarter decisions with where he is throwing the ball. With improved accuracy and better decision-making, the interceptions will go down. If the interceptions go down, then he will put the Jaguars in a better position to win more games.
Additions to the defensive line coming?
The Jaguars brought in free agent defensive end Greg Hardy for a workout last week. When the news came out, many people were not happy with bringing someone in who has had off-the-field issues the past two years. Hardy was found guilty of assaulting an ex-girlfriend back in 2014. As a result, he was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and was suspended by the NFL for 10 games. In addition to the concerns of the history of domestic violence, the workout and visit of Hardy does raise some concern, in terms of football. It seems as if the Jaguars do not trust the defensive line, as currently constructed. The reason why could be because there are so many questions along that line, specifically at edge rusher. The Jaguars currently have Fowler, Jr., Yannick Ngakoue, and Chris Smith with a combined 13 games played in the NFL (all from Smith). The pass rush is completely unproven, which makes sense to why the organization brought Hardy in. From reports around the league, it seems like the Jaguars were just doing their research and it does not seem like they will be signing Hardy anytime soon. This workout could set the stage for a future signing, pending a possible injury to the defensive line. That could be Hardy, or someone else in free agency.
Finding spots for the rookies
The Jaguars top two draft picks, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, each missed chunks of the offseason. Ramsey had a knee injury and Jack missed time due to an NFL rule not allowing rookies to participate in the offseason while their schools finish the spring semester. Trying to find out what roles they fit in the defense will be the first thing coach Bradley will have to figure out. Ramsey will most likely start at nickel with CB Aaron Colvin being suspended for the first four games this upcoming season. The experience will help Ramsey immensely. As for Jack, expect him to start practicing at middle linebacker. His excellent speed and great coverage ability should make him an immediate difference maker in this defense.