A week and a half into Jaguars training camp and it’s clear that Doug Marrone has put his stamp on the way the Jaguars prepare for the season. Here are the top six things we’ve learned in the first week of camp.
This is not Gus Bradley’s camp. Not that we expected it to be. With Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone’s old-school approach it was never going to feel like Gus 2.0. Five straight days of practice in pads, long sessions and plenty of “thud” practices. There has also been a lot more screaming by coaches than in the Gus Bradley era.
Marrone is really serious about not handing starting jobs to anyone. It seems pretty obvious that Cam Robinson is going to be the starting left tackle and that Leonard Fournette is going to be used running the ball with the starters. Both have been held back from working with the first team. Robinson, in particular, has been pushed by Marrone to be better and truly earn the starting spot, even after the sudden retirement of Branden Albert. Robinson and Josh Wells were listed as co-starters on the first depth chart of the year. Fournette is listed as a co-starter along with both Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. It seems likely that both rookies will be starters by the time the season begins, but Marrone wants them to know that the expectation is for them to prove to the coaches and their teammates that they deserve the spot because of their play, not just their draft position.
Blake Bortles has created a big question, despite mostly having good practices. Bortles threw five interceptions on the Saturday night practice that was open to season ticket holders only. That’s not the best way to impress your most invested fans. Despite that awful night, Bortles has been pretty good the rest of the practices. His performances have ranged from “just OK” to “really sharp” depending on the day. But that brings up the question of consistency. If his shoulder is healthy, and it appears that it is, Bortles needs to play with much better consistency, not to mention, reducing the interceptions. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in the preseason games. When he’s facing a first team defense, how will he respond? It’s one of the big questions-maybe the big question-of this season for the Jaguars.
Leonard Fournette is everything you would expect out of a No. 4 pick. Physically Fournette looks the part. He carries himself like a veteran, not like a rookie. Fournette said that he actually thought it was easier once the pads went on. In 23 years of covering the NFL, I have never heard that from a rookie during training camp before. During the draft process, there was much made of Fournette’s hands. Some draft analysts downgraded him for his pass catching skills. So far, there has been no sign of that issue. It’s very early, but it appears that for the second straight year, the Jaguars have a hit with a top-5 pick.
The defense should be very good, and the difference between good and great could be the pass rush. There is no reason the Jaguars defense can’t be a top-5 unit. With the addition of Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Barry Church, it’s a unit that looks poised to lead the way for the team. There is still a concern about pass rush. Yannick Ngokoue continues to work to improve on his rookie season in which he set a Jaguars rookie-sack record. Dante Fowler is the wildcard in this equation. If he can give the Jaguars eight sacks or more, it could make a major difference in the way the Jaguars defense is approached by opponents. Last year, with very little fear of the Jaguars offense turning games into shootouts, teams didn’t have to be too aggressive with the ball. That helped keep the Jaguars “yards per game allowed” stats low. They were a good unit last year, but not dominant. They could be that this year.
There are going to be some difficult cuts, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Some players who have played key roles in the past years, could be on the bubble to make the team. That’s a sign of an improving roster. Albert’s retirement eases some of the pressure on the offensive line but there will be some decision to be made by cut day, Sept. 2. How many running backs will make the team (answer: probably three, maybe four)? Will the Jaguars keep a fullback on the roster (likely)? How many receivers will be on the final 53 (could be five, maybe six)? Will Rashad Greene be able to make the team based on his return ability alone (seems unlikely)?
As the Jaguars prepare to practice with the defending Super Bowl champions in New England this week, we’ll be looking for more evidence of the Jaguars improvement. The Patriots should be an excellent litmus test for the Jaguars.