Looking at the Jaguars through two preseason games and three weeks of training camp some things about the team are starting to take shape.
1) A year under his belt in the offensive system has helped Blake Bortles take command and get comfortable. They time spent in the offseason throwing to Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson has paid off with them understanding what the other is thinking as a play develops. Head Coach Gus Bradley has noticed that Bortles is carrying his practice play into the preseason games.
“I’m really pleased with his consistency and decision-making,” Bradley said after Saturday’s game with Tampa Bay. “Those are two facets that we pointed to in the offseason and into training camp. He’s put two games together where he’s made good decisions for us.”
It was funny to hear Bortles explain his process last year getting into the huddle and up to the line of scrimmage. Blake said in one pregame meeting that he was hoping nobody would talk to him after he got the play in his helmet so he could repeat it several times in his head before stepping in the huddle to make the call. Now he doesn’t even think about it.
2) While the team is waiting on Kelvin Beachum to get into a game and ramp up the competition at left tackle, Luke Joeckel is taking advantage of his opportunity, playing like the first round draft pick the Jaguars expected.
“He did a really nice job,” Bradley said about Joeckel’s play against the Bucs. “I think it was Luke’s most physical game that he’s played as a Jag, where he showed up and really attempted to be physical. I think sometimes, people will play more physical when they really understand the assignments and their jobs. He’s on it now. That part of the game, I think, has really picked up for him. He did a good job in protection and in the run game.”
Bradley has also been impressed with how Joeckel has been willing to learn the left guard spot and excel inside instead of pouting and thinking he’s only a tackle. No matter what happens with Beachum, the Jaguars are comfortable at this point with Joeckel starting at tackle.
3) Good effort is evident when you watch Dante Fowler in practice and although he was stymied in two practices with the Bucs last week, Fowler continued to give the same effort in the game.
‘His effort continues to show,” Bradley explained. “He got a hit on the quarterback on a throw on a twist game that we have set up, so his effort still jumps up out at you. But I do know we complimented him on his effort and on all the plays that he was in.”
4) Both publicly and privately in the locker room, veteran players have been impressed with rookie Jalen Ramsey. Mark Brunell told me that it might take several years for some players to understand and take to the professional game, for Ramsey “It might take a few weeks.” Bradley admitted Ramsey is one of those players who raises everybody else’s game as well.
“Well, I hope everybody raises each other and every individual takes on that responsibility, but he is,” Gus said. “He does some really good things. Just like he’ll pick up some things from other players, I’m sure they’ll pick up some things from him.”
One of the unique things about Ramsey is that he can play both inside and out, pretty special for a player just out of college.
“I thought he did a good job,” Bradley explained. “Now we saw him both on the outside and in the slot and I don’t know exactly how many times, but I do remember a couple of them in particular. The big thing with Jalen is he’s got really, really good poise. He’s obviously a very talented athlete and he’s got good technique, but his poise at the line of scrimmage and you really trust his speed, so it allows him to play at a comfort level that he has great confidence.”
5) There will be players who are cut by the Jaguars before the regular season who will make, and play for other NFL teams. Despite their lack of production against Tampa Bay, the second and third teamers who remain on the final 53 for the Jaguars have the kind of depth they’ll need to compete over a 16 game season. That hasn’t been the case for the last four years.
A player like Sen’Derrick Marks isn’t listed as a starter but he’ll play like one. Sen’Derrick told me that the addition of Malik Jackson and the rotation he’ll be in during the regular season could put him in the game for 30 or 40 plays. He expects to be fresh and productive and not double-teamed.
“I think knowing Sen’Derrick, there are times in his career that he has been here that when we did limit some of his reps, that it helped him be even more effective,” Bradley confirmed. “He is going to argue this. He is going to argue all of this. I don’t really look at him as a backup. We talk in terms of, ‘We are going to need you all.’. He is in a strong competition now. I was very pleased how he handled it, though. He went in there with the second group and competed his tail off and really showed up on film. I think message sent, message received for him.”
If they get the offensive line set, they’ll make quick progress scoring points and controlling the clock. Brandon Linder has adapted to the center position quickly, not surprising because he’s a smart player, but he brings a physical presence in the middle of the line that the team is hoping improves the run game. Chris Ivory not only likes to be physical he has speed you don’t expect. Brad Nortman is a nice addition as the punter but Ryan Quigley can really boot it as well. Brandon Allen looks better than expected behind center and could be backing up Bortles sooner rather than later. They’ll keep a bunch of running backs, like last year, but special teams will determine where Denard Robinson and Joe Banyard fit into the regular season plans. Corey Grant, healthy again, appears to be the kick returner. They’ll keep five wide receivers if Marqis Lee stays healthy, so that means Bryan Walters is competing for that fifth spot with guys like Aurileus Benn and Tony Washington although the coaches like Rashad Lawrence as well. And Myles Jack can really play.