For a team that’s 7-25 in the last two years under a new head coach and general manager, the Jaguars are full of optimism as they begin camp for the 2015 season.
Is there reason for that?
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the player in the offseason,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said right before the start of training camp. “We increased it during OTA’s and mini-camp and they responded well. We’re pleased.”
Bradley might be pleased with how the players have responded to his “empowerment” philosophy, but realizes that seven wins over two years can’t continue.
“I know, how can you say, ‘we’re pleased’ with just seven wins?” he admitted. “But it’s part of the process of building a sustainable winner and we’re building that.”
Bradley hopes the off-season additions, upgrading the roster as well as a culture shift in the locker room is the difference.
“I’ve seen the players take ownership of all of it. We’ve talked about creating a brotherhood, a culture of empowerment and we’re doing that.”
After all, Bradley’s whole coaching philosophy of giving the power to the players to answer to themselves and one another is still an experiment. Bradley has ceded the power to the players but not the responsibility. He can’t slough that off. Wins and losses remain with, and the responsibility of the coach no matter what he does. And seven wins in two years won’t cut it.
So is Gus on the hot seat?
“I never think about that,” he deflected as an answer. “I’m going to just do the best job I can and not worry about that.”
If he’s not on the hot seat, at least it’s a bit warm. If Shad Khan believes in GM Dave Caldwell and how he’s building the team, then it’ll be another year before he starts to question if the Jaguars have the right head coach. Bradley was Caldwell’s choice, so right now they’re a tandem. Upgrading the roster to be competitive in the division has taken time, but three drafts and three shots at free agency should be long enough to make the Jaguars competitive.
That means no more double-digit losses, no more 30-0 halftime scores leaning the wrong way. Khan knew it would take time and he has had patience. But I’m sure that is running thin as a competitive person. The team has to show signs of improvement, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of wins, but they have to be a team that looks like they can compete with anybody when they take the field.
There will be battles for just about every position in training camp, except quarterback. And still, Blake Bortles is the lynchpin for any success the Jaguars hope to have. If he makes the expected improvement from year one to year two, they’ll be OK. If not, trouble is brewing. On day one of training camp, he picked right up where he finished at the mini-camp.
Luke Joeckel has to show he was worthy of a first round pick in 2013. Last year was basically his rookie year and he played like it. “I’ll have a whole offseason to work on my strength, my weight and my technique,” he said in the losing locker-room following the Jaguars final game in 2014. He’ll have to fulfill all of that to merit keeping his job. He’s working with the first team.
Zane Beadles will have a battle with rookie AJ Cann for the left guard spot. Beadles didn’t produce as expected as the Jaguars free-agent prize last year but that could have been because of the lack of experience around him. If he doesn’t hold the job, the Jaguars will move on and let him find work elsewhere.
At center, Luke Bowanko showed flashes last year but the Jaguars brought in veteran Stephan Wisniewski to shore up that position. Either Bowanko shows consistency, because they like his size and athleticism, or he’ll be on the bench. The right side of the line has Brandon Linder, a second year player at guard who will continue to be solid, and brought in Eddie Parnell to start at right tackle. Parnell is a veteran player in terms of years in the league but doesn’t have many miles behind him as a starter.
The biggest acquisition in 2015 was Julius Thomas. Listed as a Tight End, Thomas can do a lot of different things on the field. Off it, he’s equally impressive. He’ll make the Jaguars better instantly. If not, it won’t be his fault.
TJ Yeldon will start at running back. He’s smooth, finds holes and can gain yards. But he’s not a home run threat with his speed so Denard Robinson needs to emerge as just that: a running back who can take it to the house. Yeldon did fumble in his first day in camp, and that’ll be a question asked early in his career, much like it was asked when he had the same problem at Alabama.
At wide receiver there are a lot of questions. Can Marqise Lee stay healthy and in the game? Will Alan Robinson become that physical threat teams fear? Who else might emerge? Tandon Doss? Alan Hurns again? Anybody?
On defense there are injury concerns and with Sen’Derrick Marks and James Sample on the PUP, we’ might not know until half the season is gone how good the team might be defensively. But they have competition at cornerback and with Paul Poszlusny back at middle linebacker and Telvin Smith gaining a lot of experience last year as a rookie, they just need a “Leo” to emerge like veteran Chris Clemons, who reported to camp on Friday, Andre Branch or even Ryan Davis. At safety, Jonathan Cyprien needs to play like a third year player, or he’ll be watching from the sidelines soon.
The sleeper on defense is Jared Odrick. He’s impressive physically and like Thomas, brings a lot of locker room presence the Jaguars can use. He should make them better right away in the middle of the defensive line.
Without the idea that of all of the new additions or players will meet their highest expectations, the Jaguars roster should be out of the bottom third of the league.
They’re hoping that translates into an equal improvement in the win/loss column.