AFC South Training Camp Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars
By Evan Reller
For the majority of its existence, the AFC South has been dominated by the Indianapolis Colts. But the three other teams have spent the offseason making drastic moves to unseat the Colts. Could this be the year one of these teams challenges the reigning division champs? We look at the AFC South as the teams get ready for training camp.
Additions: RB Bernard Pierce, WR Bryan Walters, TE Julius Thomas, OT Jermey Parnell, OT Austin Pasztor, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick, OLB Dan Skuta, CB Davon House, S Sergio Brown, OLB Dante Fowler*, RB TJ Yeldon* (*rookie)
Losses: WR Cecil Shorts RB Jordan Todman, C Jacques McClendon, DT Red Bryant, OLB Geno Hayes, ILB J.T. Thomas, CB Alan Ball, S Sherrod Martin.
2014 Record: 3-13
2015 Projected Record: 6-10
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been struggling for the better part of a decade to climb out of the bottom third of the NFL. 2010 was the last time they didn’t have a losing record, going 8-8, and they haven’t been above .500 since 2007, when they made the playoffs and were 11-5.
For the past seven seasons, the Jags have had a top 10 pick in the draft and yet the team hasn’t shown marked improvement. Analysts have talked for years about how this team is on the right path, but nothing changes.
31st in Yardage
32nd in Points
31st in Efficiency
Dec 28, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbackBlake Bortles
(5) during the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The Jags offense is going to hinge on the development of Bortles. Jacksonville originally wanted Bortles to sit out his rookie year and learn, but was pressed into starting due to Chad Henne being atrocious at football. Bortles looked decent at times, but late in the season his numbers nose dived.
It was reported that Bortles had a “dead arm” late in the year, which doesn’t bode well for the future of his career. There haven’t reports of other top three QBs having dead arms late in their rookie years. While Bortles isn’t Andrew Luck, he threw 152 fewer attempts and was still having problems. The addition of Greg Olsen as offensive coordinator will certainly help Bortles’ development.
The offensive line didn’t do this team any favors either, ranking 30th in run blocking and dead last in pass protection (71 sacks given up, Bortles took 55 of them). And while the team made a couple moves to improve the line, Pro Football Focus still isn’t too high on this unit. Aside from guard Brandon Linder, who is very good, the rest of the line is average or worse. The good news is that the moves they made along the line should take them from horrible to merely average, which is still a significant improvement.
That said, only Linder and tight end Julius Thomas the entire offense is average or much worse (and Thomas’ grade is partly due to catching passes from Peyton Manning). Thomas should a good downfield option for Bortles, especially since he doesn’t offer much in terms of blocking. The development of a trio of young wide receivers and a running game (perhaps with a player who wasn’t a QB in college) will be key for the Jags offense next season.
26th in Yardage Allowed
26th in Points Allowed
20th in Efficiency
Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida) poses for a photo after being selected as the number third overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The Jags defense was marginally better than their offense, but that isn’t saying too much. The offense was 27th in three-and-outs and 31st in time of possession, which led to the defense being on the field for the majority of games.
The Jags defense was looking better following the draft, but Fowler tore his ACL during rookie minicamp and is done for the season. Fowler would have been a great addition to the defense, letting the Jags rotate pass rushers to keep up a consistent pressure.
The addition of Odrick next to Sen’Derrick Marks makes one side of the line fairly solid. Ryan Davis played well in rotation last season too, but he could still be behind Chris Clemons (who isn’t as good without the Seahawks secondary behind him) on the depth chart. Marks is still recovering from an ACL injury and it’s doubtful he’ll be ready to go by Week 1, meaning the defensive line may take some time to develop fully.
The secondary still isn’t very good, especially considering the addition of Brown (who did most of his damage on special teams) is a huge improvement. The cornerback position will be slightly better, but much of secondary’s success will depend on how the pass rush develops.
The linebacking corps will be improved just by getting Paul Posluszny back from injury. Signing Skuta will help with the run defense, but he’s a liability in coverage. The Jags are also hoping that Telvin Smith‘s solid rookie campaign will carry over into this season as he continues to improve.
Challenging the Colts
More from Horseshoe Heroes
- Colts explored hiring former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky
- When is the NFL Combine 2023? NFL Combine schedule, events, how to stream
- Latest NFL mock draft has Colts trading up to No. 1 for star QB
- Eagles offensive free agents that could follow Shane Steichen to Colts
- Here’s why Colts linebacker Shaq Leonard is going to love Shane Steichen
Much like the Titans, this team doesn’t have a lot of answers. The Jags were dominated twice by the Colts last season, losing 44-17 in Indy (in Bortles debut game no less) and 23-3 at home. The Colts had to overcome mistakes of their own making in that second meeting as the offense adjusted to life without Ahmad Bradshaw.
While the Jags might be more competitive in 2015, they still won’t be a match for the Colts. Expect tighter scores, but for Indianapolis to still come out on top.
The Jags should be better next season, but are still a few steps behind the Colts and Texans. They’ll finish up third in the division and won’t be at the absolute bottom of the league on offense.
The Jags could once again be an 8-8 team, but I see them finishing with a 5-11 record next season.