No one expected much of the Jaguars in 2013. Truth be told, not even the team’s brass thought it had much of a shot, and the moves general manager Dave Caldwell made were really just about plugging gaping holes as best he could.
"Last year, we had to draft just to line up," Caldwell told FOX Sports recently, thus expressing a sentiment no GM ever wants to have when it comes to the draft. "This offseason, we put together a team with some of the best available players."
Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley made it through their first season in Jacksonville as best they could. The Jags won only four games, which was double their win total in their last year under former coach Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith. Now, they’re looking to do more than just survive; they’re looking to build.
Caldwell took what he hopes is a big step in that building process by stunning the rest of the league when he drafted quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall selection. Caldwell said the team was impressed this spring with Bortles’ ability to correct mistakes and hold his own against veteran defensive players who were trying to chirp at him on the field, but Bortles is expected to begin the season on the bench behind Chad Henne. It’s a long-term process for him, just as it is for the team as a whole.
That doesn’t mean the Jags aren’t looking to start making noise in the AFC South. The signings of defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant should bring an immediate impact up front, and running back Toby Gerhart will probably put up bigger numbers than many realize after being stuck in Adrian Peterson’s shadow during the past four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Add in promising rookie wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee and suddenly the rebuilding process doesn’t seem as daunting.
What really hurts Jacksonville, though, is the expected continued absence of wide receiver Justin Blackmon, a supreme talent with a load of off-field issues. "If he does play this year, it’ll be in a Jaguars uniform," Caldwell said. But the team does not expect the league to reinstate Blackmon, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the substance-abuse policy last year.
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