Aug 20, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
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Expectations are high for the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into the regular season. But will they be able to meet them?
The Jacksonville Jaguars had arguably the best offseason in franchise history. The team brought in Malik Jackson from the defending Super Bowl Champions. They also added Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson, and got help at cornerback with Prince Amukamara.
On the offensive side, the team brought in left tackle Kelvin Beachum to protect the franchise Blake Bortles blind side, something 2013 first-round pick, Luke Joeckel, has failed to do. The Jags also signed Chris Ivory, formerly of the Jets. Ivory was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Jets in 2015 and will form a nice duo with second year player T.J. Yeldon.
In the draft, general manager David Caldwell hit the jackpot by landing Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, two of the highest-upside players in the draft and potential immediate contributors. Caldwell also drafted defensive end Yannick Ngakoue from the University of Maryland, who will hopefully provide consistent pressure from the edge.
These acquisitions, along with veteran and emerging players such as Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Telvin Smith give the Jaguars, and their fans, hope heading into the regular season.
Expectations are high. In fact, they are the highest it’s been since perhaps the beginning of the 2008 season. However, after a shaky preseason, there are some concerns heading into the regular season.
Aug 20, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler (56) comes out during intros prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
1. Where Is the Pass Rush?
The pass rush has been the team’s major weakness since the days of Tony Brackens—and he last played in 2003. Heading into the offseason, Dave Caldwell said that he would bring an influx of pass rushers. The team brought in Malik Jackson, who registered five sacks last season with the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. Other than Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue, who did they bring in?
Sure, the team gets back 2015 first-round pick, Dante Fowler, but are they really going to rely on him to generate consistent pressure and record double digit sacks? After all, he is coming off an ACL tear and hasn’t played a meaningful down yet in the league.
While Fowler had a solid offseason, he hasn’t shown much promise during the team’s preseason games. In fact, he hasn’t gotten close to the quarterback in the three games he’s played. Hopefully he will turn it up come Week 1.
The team has to find ways to get to the passer. Otherwise, Aaron Rodgers will carve them up.
Feb 25, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Front Office
The Jacksonville Jaguars had four players claimed off waivers by other teams. That was tied for the most in the NFL. Does that show that the team has quality depth? Or, is the team making the wrong decisions when they trim their roster?
Tyrone Holmes was a sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft. From what we saw during preseason, Holmes got to or near the quarterback a few times. He was definitely a rising player. However, the team cut Holmes, and opted to keep Chris Smith. Chris Smith was a fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft. To date, Smith has a mere 3.5 sacks. We know who Chris Smith is. The team should have kept Holmes who has shown a lot more promise during the preseason.
The team also kept five running backs. Five! That’s a little too much for a team that is loaded at the position with Yeldon and Ivory. However, the team did release Joe Banyard shortly after, so now the team is down to four.
Still, you have to wonder some of the decisions that are being made.
Oct 18, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Luke Joeckel (76) lines up during the second half of a football game against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
3. Left Guard
Luke Joeckel was the first-ever draft pick of the Caldwell and Bradley era. At the time, he was considered the consensus top pick and really a no brainer for the Jaguars. Though Joeckel went number two overall behind fellow tackle Erik Fisher, Joeckel still was the most pro ready.
However, three seasons in and Luke Joeckel hasn’t lived up to expectations. The Jaguars are not confident in his ability to protect Bortles blind side that they brought in Kelvin Beachum from Pittsburgh to play left tackle. Beachum was a former seventh-round pick and is coming off an ACL tear as well.
The Jaguars have kicked Joeckel inside to play left guard where he will start Week 1. However, Joeckel is not a physical player and was abused by Geno Atkins in the team’s third preseason game.
That’s probably a little unfair as Atkins abuses a lot of offensive lineman. Joeckel was put on his rear a few times too.
While Bortles is a mobile quarterback, he has been sacked the most times ever for a quarterback in his first two seasons. You still have to worry about Joeckel and if he can keep his quarterbacks jersey clean.
Jan 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley reacts during an NFL football game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 30-6 to win the AFC South Division. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
4. Gus Bradley
Since Gus Bradley took the helm at the beginning of the 2013 season, the team has won a mere 12 games.Granted he inherited a roster that former GM Gene Smith destroyed. Caldwell was forced to gut the team and start from scratch.
The story of Bradley’s tenure in Jacksonville has been poor coaching. The team underachieved last season despite having a week schedule. Bradley was frequently out coached and the team seemed unprepared in most games. The Jaguars have had a terrible defense, but isn’t that Bradley’s specialty?
Bradley has a “hoorah” personality and his press conferences are always positive. The fans are growing tired of losing. They want results—a coach who will tell it like it is. A coach that won’t take losing.
Owner Shahid Khan has been patient with Bradley in his three seasons. It’s a make or break year for the fourth year head coach. While the team is young, they have talent. They also play in one of the weaker divisions in football. It’s time for a winning season Gus! The city of Jacksonville deserves it.
Nov 29, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) and head coach Gus Bradley look on during the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers at EverBank Field. The San Diego Chargers won 31-25. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
5. Is This Team Ready?
The Jacksonville Jaguars had the opportunity to showcase their talents in Week 3 of the preseason against a very good Cincinnati Bengals team on Sunday Night Football on NBC. The Jaguars beat the Bengals, but did they really?
The starters were bullied by the Bengals starters on both sides of the ball. The offensive and defensive line were getting mauled and the team was lucky to be down by only 11 points at the half.
Jacksonville had the ball from the one-yard line. Hayes Pullard, a linebacker, scored a touchdown off a pass from Bortles. However, Pullard forgot to report as eligible, resulting in a penalty. The team couldn’t get into the end zone and were forced to take a field goal.
The media were raving about the Jaguars and were the sexy pick to make it to the playoffs and win the AFC South. However, after facing a stiff test on national television, you have to wonder if this team is ready for the spotlight.