With organized team activities underway around the National Football League, there are several teams that will be under the microscope. One of those teams will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. 2007 was the last time that the Jaguars finished with a winning record, and it was also the last time that they made the postseason. Since then it has been a steady decline for the Jaguars with them posting a record of 14-50 over the last four years. The struggles of Jacksonville has seen them pick very early on in the NFL Draft. But what has hurt the Jags more than anything have been their misses with those selections such as wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Blaine Gabbert as neither player is still with the team. In spite of going 12-36 in three years as the head coach of the Jaguars, Gus Bradley has been given a fourth year by team owner Shahid Khan to get things turned around. And as the AFC South could be the worst division in football for the second consecutive year, the time is now for the Jaguars to take that next step and contend for a postseason spot.
One reason why Bradley was able to get another year to turn things around is that he is building a team in the mode of his former employer. Prior to becoming the Jaguars head coach, Bradley was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. And in recent years the Seahawks have developed the blueprint as far as having depth on a roster which Bradley is now attempting to do in Jacksonville.
After being the third overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, quarterback Blake Bortles has begun to provide some stability for a team that needs it. Prior to drafting Bortles, the Jags had seven different starting quarterbacks in the previous six years. In two years in Jacksonville, Bortles has made 29 starts, while he set a single-season franchise record for passing yards last season with 4,428 yards. Bradley and the Jags took some heat for taking Bortles that early in the draft, but he is continuing to develop and they are hopeful that he is their franchise guy. And as the the Jaguars want Bortles to be “the guy”, they are putting the play makers around him.
In 2013, Bradley made offensive tackle Luke Joeckel the first player that he selected as Jaguars head coach. And after only appearing in five games as a rookie, Joeckel has made 30 starts for the Jags over the last two years as the team sees him as the anchor of their offensive line for some time.
Aside from the offensive line, the Jags are also giving Bortles quality wide receivers to get the football to. Last year saw wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson become the first Jaguars duo to each gain 1,000 yards receiving in the same season since 2001 as the duo combined for 2,431 yards. This off-season saw the Jaguars give Hurns an extension that will be worth $40 million over the next four years and he is developing into a go-to-guy for Bortles.
The last two years has seen the Jags spend early picks in the National Football League Draft on potential impact players on defense; however they have yet to get any bang for their buck. Last year the Jaguars used the third overall pick of the draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But in Fowler’s first practice with the Jags, he suffered a torn ACL which forced him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season. Fowler has been rehabbing and he is back on the field as Jacksonville is hopeful that he can be an impact player for them in their front seven. This past April, the Jaguars used the fifth overall pick on cornerback Jalen Ramsey. And unfortunately for the Jags, Ramsey has been sidelined so far after undergoing knee surgery. The Jaguars second-round selection was used on linebacker Myles Jack who himself missed the majority of his final collegiate season at UCLA after undergoing knee surgery. But like Fowler and Ramsey, the Jaguars are optimistic that Jack will be healthy and ready to go when the season starts.
However the biggest issue that Bradley faces is getting his young Jaguars to take the field each Sunday expecting to win. 2013 saw Jacksonville lose their first eight games, while they began 2014 with a record of 1-10. Through 13 games last year the Jaguars had a record of 5-8 as they were still alive in the AFC South. But unfortunately for Jacksonville, they would lose their final three games of the season.
So now the biggest hurdle that the Jaguars face is winning in the National Football League as they have proven that they can compete, but they need to that next step which includes extending drives on offense, getting turnovers on defense to give the football to the offense which needs to take advantage by putting points on the board, and learning how to play with a lead. Too often over the past few years we’ve seen the Jaguars fall behind early by multiple scores which can completely change the game plan of a head coach and an offensive coordinator. But there is no time like the present and it is time for the young Jags to take off the training wheels which starts with Bortles who must continue to improve his pocket presence as he has been sacked 106 times in two seasons.
Since becoming the Jaguars owner in 2011, Shahid Khan has dedicated himself to the Jags and the City of Jacksonville. And a part of that dedication has been patience with his football team. Khan knew that fixing the Jaguars wouldn’t be an easy process which is why he has stayed with Bradley as the team’s head coach. Typically when a National Football League franchise is constantly making changes at the head coach position, their win-loss column isn’t that impressive. The Jaguars are young, and just like a collegiate head football coach that needs time to develop his recruits, the same can be said in the NFL.
Although that the start of the 2016 National Football is still nearly three months away, there isn’t a clear cut favorite to win the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts need to make sure that their starting quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy, while the Houston Texans still have questions at quarterback even after signing Brock Osweiler this off-season. And as the Jaguars have recently been one of the worst teams in the National Football League, they’ve had competion from within their division in the form of the Tennessee Titans who are also bottom feeders that are looking to turn things around.
The groundwork is in place for the Jaguars; now it is just a matter of them seizing the opportunity that is in front of them.