Jaguars begin offseason conditioning amid changes
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) No Maurice Jones-Drew. No Brad Meester. Not even Blaine Gabbert.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are getting their first look at the latest stage of their rebuilding project, an offensive overhaul that includes the loss of several starters.
Players went through the second day of offseason conditioning drills Wednesday and were still getting accustomed to not seeing Jones-Drew, Meester and others in the locker room.
”Growing up in Cleveland and not knowing a lot about the Jaguars, all you knew was Maurice Jones-Drew from my age bracket,” receiver Cecil Shorts III said. ”It’s going to be different. We’re going to miss his presence, his leadership on and off the field, just him being around. He’s a good friend, a good teammate.”
The Jaguars let Jones-Drew walk in free agency, opting not to re-sign the 29-year-old running back who carried 1,804 times for 8,071 yards and 68 touchdowns in eight seasons. Meester, who started the last 90 games at center, retired in January after 14 seasons in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars also traded quarterback Gabbert to San Francisco and parted ways with veteran guard Uche Nwaneri. Throw in the uncertain future of suspended receiver Justin Blackmon, and the Jaguars could have a significantly different offensive look in 2014. And they’re hoping for significantly different results.
Jacksonville ranked 31st in the league in total offense last season.
But the Jaguars believe things will be better in 2014. They kept their entire offensive coaching staff intact and added former Denver guard Zane Beadles (five years, $30 million) and former Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart (three years, $10.5 million) in free agency.
They also made Chad Henne the starter, an indication they don’t anticipate selecting a franchise quarterback with the third pick in next month’s NFL draft.
Henne welcomed his solidified role.
”My antics are going to be different,” Henne said. ”I’m not going to just be laid back. I’m going to expect more. I’m going to expect more out of myself and demand a lot more from the guys rather than taking a back seat.”
Henne started 13 games in place of Gabbert last season, completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns. The quarterback, who has played in three offensive systems the last three years, expects better numbers in the second year under coordinator Jedd Fisch.
”Bouncing around systems each and every year, you’re not going to play to the best of your abilities if you’re mixing offenses,” Henne said. ”I just think there’s tremendous upside here. I’m not saying we’re going to go out and make the playoffs, but we have strong goals and a strong foundation here. If we play to the best of our ability, we’re going to be successful.”
The Jaguars tried to land another huge offensive building block two weeks ago by signing Cleveland center Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million offer sheet. The Browns matched it almost immediately, preventing the two-time Pro Bowler from joining Jacksonville.
”We felt like we had a great opportunity in front of us,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. ”I think it goes along with our philosophy: We always compete. We might not be able to get him, but that’s OK, let’s take a swing, go for it and see what happens.
”It just didn’t work out, but we’re not embarrassed about going for it because I think we’re always competing.”
Jacksonville plans to add several offensive players in next month’s draft, with some speculation that Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins could be the team’s first-round pick.
With Jones-Drew gone, the Jaguars certainly could use an offensive centerpiece and new leader.
”We’re asking everybody to step up,” Bradley said. ”That’s the challenge for us all. I think that each one of them needs to challenge each other to be their best. That’s the type of leadership model we want to follow: to help each other get better. I feel like if we can get 90 guys in our locker room that are challenging each other, then we’re making great strides.”
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