Jaguars seek stability on offensive line

Jacksonville Jaguars seek stability on offensive line

Jacksonville's offensive line allowed 50 sacks, second-most in the NFL.

Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

The best word to describe the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line play in 2013 might be one that's seldom used to describe the unit -- unpredictable.

How unpredictable?

By the middle of the season, the Jaguars traded Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens and placed first-round draft pick Luke Joeckel on injured reserve. By its end, Will Rackley joined Joeckel on that list, while 14-year veteran Brad Meester caught the first pass of his career in his final home game.

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they held steady in one category: They gave up 50 sacks for the second year in a row. Only the Miami Dolphins, whose line garnered unwanted national attention for the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin controversy, allowed more.

Blaine Gabbert was sacked six times in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Chad Henne was sacked the same number of times six weeks later by the San Diego Chargers. Both of those teams wound up making the playoffs, largely on the strength of their defenses. Early-season instability at each skill position didn't make the line's job any easier.

With Meester's retirement, Jacksonville is assured at least one new starter in 2014. An overhaul isn't needed as much as an infusion of people capable of making explosive plays for a mostly stagnant offense.

STARTERS

Luke Joeckel, LT -- The adjustment of learning how to play right tackle didn't go off without a hitch or two. After Monroe was traded on Oct. 2, Joeckel moved to his more natural position where he won the Outland Trophy in 2012 as college football's top lineman. A season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of the very next game, however, forced Joeckel to set his sights on 2014 sooner than anticipated.

Cameron Bradfield, LT -- A target of frequent criticism during his 12 starts at right tackle in 2012, fans braced for the worst when Bradfield took over for Joeckel. But his improved run blocking was a revelation to many observers over the final 10 weeks.

Will Rackley, LG -- After missing two games in November with a concussion, Rackley returned to make three more starts before going on injured reserve. Getting him to play a full season has been a challenge ever since the Jaguars drafted him in the third round in 2011.

Brad Meester, C -- When general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley were hired, it wasn't certain whether they would bring back Meester for another year. Instead, he extended his franchise record for games played (209) while not missing a snap. A compelling argument could be made for him being the Jaguars' MVP. He will be missed.

Uche Nwaneri, RG -- A fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2007, Nwaneri joined Meester as the only constants on a line in a state of flux. His dependability went a long way on a line that started nine different players, including three at left guard.

Austin Pasztor, RT -- Easily the most-improved player on the line. "He just worked it every day," line coach George Yarno told Jaguars.com. "He really poured himself into being a better football player. I really feel he'll continue to do that. He has a great work ethic and a passion for the game. And he does have some physical abilities."

BACKUPS

Jacques McClendon, LG -- Though claimed off waivers Sept. 1 from the Atlanta Falcons, he didn't become part of the active roster for good until Oct. 8. In McClendon's first start against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars had 204 yards by halftime but only 85 over the final two quarters.

Mike Brewster, C-G -- He went down with a fractured left ankle against the Buffalo Bills, costing him an opportunity to take over at left guard when Rackley went on injured reserve. Brewster might be the leading candidate to inherit Meester's spot.

Drew Nowak, G -- Undrafted out of college in 2012, Nowak made the transition from defensive line and played in two games last season.

Sam Young, T -- The Jaguars claimed the 6-foot-8, 316-pound Young off waivers from the Bills following Joeckel's injury. He served as a backup to both Bradfield and Pasztor.

POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS

The Jaguars traded Monroe because he was in the last year of his contract. At least one NFL-related website has him listed as the top tackle available. Chances are remote that he'll return to Jacksonville, but the retirement of Meester could cause the Jaguars to make a run at Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, the fourth-highest graded player at the position according to Pro Football Focus.

It's more in the style of Caldwell to look for possible diamonds in the rough. That describes Pasztor, who went undrafted in 2012 and was waived by the Minnesota Vikings before the start of that season.

BEST DRAFT OPTIONS

With quarterback an area of pressing concern, don't look for the Jaguars to use the No. 3 pick on tackles Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Greg Robinson of Auburn or Taylor Lewan of Michigan. If they're searching for a guard in the later rounds, Florida's Jon Halapio and Miami's Brandon Linder could fit their needs.

FINAL THOUGHT

Jacksonville can't afford a third consecutive 50-sack year and must open holes with greater consistency for a group of running backs that might not include Maurice Jones-Drew.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.