Rebuild complete, Jaguars expect to vie for AFC South title
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The overhaul is complete. The pieces are in place. And for the first time in years, there are expectations for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It might not be playoffs or bust in Jacksonville, but losing double-digit games is no longer acceptable.
The Jaguars spent the last four years rebuilding the roster, growing it mostly through the draft, and then supplemented the makeover by spending more than $350 million (nearly $150 million guaranteed) in free agency the last two years to sign 10 starters. Now, general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley believe they have a team capable of winning every week and competing for the AFC South title.
It's a welcome feeling for a franchise that is an NFL-worst 19-61 since 2010.
''It's kind of cool because there's a lot of hype and stuff in the community,'' quarterback Blake Bortles said. ''But when you walk in the building, it kind of just stops. The noise stops because everybody in the building knows what our goal is and how we're going to go about doing it.''
Jacksonville hasn't won more than five games in any of the last five years, the kind of consistent losing that leaves fans screaming for change and management often responding.
But Jaguars owner Shad Khan has been patient during the restoration process. He even gave Bradley and his assistants one-year extensions in January, keeping them under contract through 2017.
Although Khan has declined to put a number on how many games Bradley must win to stick around beyond 2016, he said a winning record is ''everybody's reasonable expectation at this point.''
The Jaguars seemingly – finally – have the talent to make it a reality.
''The expectations in this building are what we had hoped for,'' Bradley said. ''To keep building the roster through the draft, add some free agents to our current roster and we'd feel like our roster would keep getting better and better with each year that we've been doing it. And we're to this point right now.
''To me, it's great. This is what we'd hoped for, that you'd say, `Hey, this is a good roster.' And the expectations, well, that's what we had planned. When we put this thing together, we felt like at this time, this is the type of roster that we'd have, so it's a good thing.''
Here are some other things to know about the Jaguars heading into training camp:
DEFENSIVE TURNAROUND: After ranking near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category last season, Bradley fired coordinator Bob Babich and promoted longtime assistant Todd Wash to run the unit. Wash will have several new faces to work with. The Jags signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara in free agency. Throw in the return of defensive end Dante Fowler, who missed his rookie season because of a knee injury, and the addition of highly touted rookies Jalen Ramsey and Miles Jack, and Jacksonville could have six or more new starters on that side of the ball.
OFFENSIVE BREAKOUT: Bortles had a breakout season in 2015, throwing 35 touchdown passes and running for two more scores. But his 18 interceptions and 51 sacks led the league, leaving plenty of room for improvement. Bortles has one of the best receiver tandems (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns) in the league, and his supporting cast should be better this season. The team's best offensive lineman, Brandon Linder, returns from injury, and the Jags signed veteran offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum to beef up Bortles' blind side. Tight end Julius Thomas is fully recovered from a broken hand, and free agent running back Chris Ivory should provide an upgrade in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
WOE LINE: The Jaguars are counting on Linder and Beachum to drastically improve one of the league's worst offensive lines. Bortles has been sacked 106 times in two years, the most in NFL history over any two-year period. Linder is moving from guard to center, and Beachum, who is recovering from a knee injury, will compete with Luke Joeckel at left tackle. The loser likely will slide to left guard.
TOUGH START: The NFL schedule makers seemingly did the Jaguars no favors with the early slate. Jacksonville opens at home against Green Bay, travels cross-country to play San Diego and then hosts Baltimore before traveling to London to face perennial division heavyweight Indianapolis. The Jaguars are 1-10 in September under Bradley and just 3-20 in the first two months of the season since 2012.
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