Over the next three weeks the Jaguars will have their On-field Team activities. Three for this week and next, and four the final week leading up to the summer mandatory mini-camp in mid-June. As of now, none are open to the public but the Jaguars have said they’re working up a schedule for the mini-camp and when fans can attend.
With 90 players on the roster, the Jaguars will give a look to a lot of players as the turnover in the league almost guarantees that there will be 20 new players on the opening day 53-man roster. With the team active in free agency, it appears they could have six new starters just from the players they signed. Add TJ Yeldon and perhaps another draft pick in the starting lineup and last year’s 3-win team will look totally different. This year the Jaguars will have no less than 20 rookies on the field for the OTA’s.
In these workouts we’ll see a lot of players in new positions as Gus Bradley and the coaching staff looks to upgrade wherever they can.
One spot they’re set at is quarterback with Blake Bortles entering his second year. He’s learning a new offense but fulltime work in the offseason at “quarterbacking” is something Bortles says he really enjoyed. “I didn’t have to worry about getting into a three-point stance and learn how to run a 40,” he told me recently. “I got to work on quarterback stuff, and that was cool.”
Bortles worked in the offseason in California with noted quarterback coaches and we’ll see some of the fruit of his investment in this OTA. Last year his ball fluttered and he was a little unsteady at this time but 2015 should show a whole new Bortles. He organized some informal passing camps in California while he was working there so he built some reps with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquis Lee.
Those three receivers have to make a big leap this year if the Jaguars passing game is to improve. Robinson has to stay healthy, Lee has to get off to a faster start and Hurns has to catch the ball more consistently. Receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said he thought they gave Lee “too much, too soon” last year, but that should fade away, despite a new offense. They do need another receiver and whether he comes from somebody on the roster or somebody who will eventually available is still up in the air.
While you can’t tell much without any pads on, I’m curious to see how AJ Cann looks among other professional linemen. Cann is big, fast, athletic and smart. But he might be a bit a project for the Jaguars. Nonetheless, his story could be intriguing.
We’ll look for how they get Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis on the field at the same time and who’s getting most of the reps in the backfield. Yeldon is penciled in as the starter and general manager Dave Caldwell said keeping five running backs is not out of the question since they won’t have a fullback on the roster this year. Toby Gerhart is hoping last year was an anomaly when it comes to injury and Denard Robinson will get some time as a kick returner. Both Bernard Pierce and Storm Johnson will have to impress in a lot of ways to make this roster.
And perhaps one intangible is going to be hard to figure out in these practices. Losing Dante Fowler for the year before he even got started certainly had a sobering effect on the rookie mini-camp and we’ll see if it’s a hangover in the next three weeks. While the Jaguars haven’t signed an edge rusher to replace Fowler’s spot, they could be looking at their roster or at the waiver wire in the next couple of months. That could be answered in the next three weeks.
And in the defensive backfield have they found the answers? Between free agency and the draft as well as players returning from injury, the Jaguars know who they expect to start back there. But that was the same situation last year and it played out differently.
What they’re hoping is this OTA period produces some answers, not more questions.