Though the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t lack for position battles going into training camp next week, many of their fans might be surprised and disappointed by one that won’t make the list.
Interest in what has long been one of the NFL’s more nondescript teams received a sudden spike, particularly around the state of Florida, when the Jaguars took UCF quarterback Blake Bortles with the third pick in the draft. But the party line for the past two months has been that Chad Henne — who signed a two-year, $8 million contract extension in the offseason — will maintain the starting job he held from Week 6 on in 2013 while Bortles gets to watch and learn while also having many of his mechanics retooled.
"My job is to come out here every day and work my tail off and compete as hard as I possibly can, and that’s all I’m worried about," Bortles said during rookie minicamp.
So barring an injury to Henne, here is where the competition is expected to be the keenest:
BACKUP RUNNING BACK
From left: Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson.
Jordan Todman vs. Denard Robinson vs. Storm Johnson
Toby Gerhart, who spent the majority of his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings backing up all-pro Adrian Peterson, is going to get first crack at filling the void left by the departure of Maurice Jones-Drew, the second-leading rusher in franchise history.
Gerhart is likely to get second and third crack too. But no team pins all its hopes on one running back. That’s where Todman, Robinson and Johnson come in.
Todman appears to have the inside track. When he made his first start last December against the Buffalo Bills for an injured Jones-Drew, he ran for 109 yards and also caught four passes. Excluding that contest, however, he had only 56 carries and 10 catches in his first season with the Jaguars. So he might be even more of an unknown quantity over the long haul than Gerhart.
Robinson’s rookie season was something of a nightmare. Having to learn a new position after being a quarterback at Michigan was compounded by nerve damage in his hand, the result of an elbow injury during his senior year. The hand is now healthier, and Robinson is now 15 pounds heavier. By the way, don’t be fooled by the Jaguars’ listing of him as a wide receiver — that’s only so Robinson can keep wearing the same number he did at Michigan (16).
Johnson lasted until the seventh round after a junior year at UCF where he complemented Bortles’ throwing by rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. Bryce Brown and Peyton Hillis have carved out careers at that position after going so late, so Johnson’s odds of sticking with the Jaguars might not seem as remote as at first glance.
Jacques McClendon (left) and Brandon Linder (right).
Jacques McClendon vs. Brandon Linder
The retirement of center Brad Meester was hardly the only news of note along the offensive line. Uche Nwaneri, who started all 16 games at right guard, and Will Rackley, the starter at left guard for 11 games, were both released.
McClendon, who was waived by the Atlanta Falcons at the end of the preseason, was the Jaguars’ starting left guard in their final two games. Although he’s versatile enough to play center, that job is looking more like Mike Brewster’s to lose.
Linder, a third-round pick from the University of Miami, might have even more versatility than McClendon. He made two starts at left tackle and three at center during his four years with the Hurricanes but was primarily their right guard. It doesn’t hurt that two of his years were when current Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was part of Al Golden’s coaching staff.
LaRoy Reynolds (left) and Dekoda Watson (right).
Dekoda Watson vs. LaRoy Reynolds
After four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Watson became one of the Jaguars’ top free-agent acquisitions. But a groin injury rendered him inactive for the bulk of organized team activities and all of minicamp, raising questions about whether he’ll be able to step in for the departed Russell Allen once training camp opens.
Reynolds went undrafted last year but survived the final cuts. He had to sit out a four-game suspension in November and early December for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, but he saw extensive action over the final two games.
Both players have proven their value on special teams as well. Watson blocked a total of three punts in his last two years with the Bucs. The Jaguars blocked a punt for their only points in their regular-season opener but had none in the final 15 games.
Josh Evans (left) and Winston Guy (right).
Josh Evans vs. Winston Guy
Evans, a sixth-round pick a year ago out of Florida, took over as the starter in Week 4 following an injury to Dwight Lowery. Guy, who was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks, made two starts after Evans injured his shoulder at Cleveland.
During five of their last eight games, the Jaguars started three rookies in their secondary — Evans, strong safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz. Guy may as well also have been classified as such, considering he played in only two regular-season games and one playoff game with the Seahawks in 2012.
Neither recorded an interception. Of the 11 passes picked off by the Jaguars, only six were made by defensive backs (two by Gratz and cornerback Alan Ball, one by Cyprien and cornerback Will Blackmon).