AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
However, general manager David Caldwell says that isn't necessarily the case. Though it's highly unlikely he'll take anyone other than a defensive end/pass-rusher with the No. 3 pick he said he won't bypass an available offensive player if he feels it's a good value.
"When you're 3-13 you still have to address every position on the draft board for the most part," said Caldwell, who used six of his nine picks in 2014 on offensive players. "We're young in this tenure here and we're a young team, so we're not in our window to say, 'Hey, we're going to be a perennial playoff team for the next six to eight years.' We're still looking for dynamic players and if somebody falls in the second round and it happens to be a skill position, a receiver or running back, we're not going to be afraid to take one of those guys knowing that we're still a ways away to be where we want to be."
It would be a surprise, though, if the Jaguars' first pick wasn't Leonard Williams, Randy Gregory, Shane Ray, or Dante Fowler Jr. Williams is a big end who can play inside while the other three are edge rushers and finding a young pass-rusher is one of the team's top priorities. The Jaguars have a huge need at right tackle but none of the offensive tackles are a fit that high. The Jaguars are planning on signing a veteran receiver in free agency so taking a receiver at No. 3 wouldn't make sense, either.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said it would be hard to make an argument for the Jaguars to draft any position but pass-rusher in the first round.
"I think if Leonard Williams was there you'd have to obviously look at that," McShay said on a conference call this afternoon. "I know that they have locked up Roy [Miller] and Sen'Derrick Marks at defensive tackle. They need a young pass-rusher and that's kind of what the strength of this group is.
"The tough part for me is that there's just not an offensive tackle there that fits the bill and when you need a pass-rusher as badly as they do I think that you've got an opportunity to get the best one, the best edge rusher in a good class. It would be tough to pass up on unless you got a deal to move [in a trade]."
After the first round, though, the Jaguars are open to anything. Their approach will depend on what they accomplish in free agency, but even if the Jaguars added a right tackle in free agency Caldwell's comments indicate they still could take one in the second or third round if they feel there's too much value to pass.
That's mainly because he believes general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley made the correct decision to draft quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in 2014.
"We owe you better results on game day. I know that," Khan said. "Dave knows that. Gus knows that. I do believe that we’re on the verge of turning the corner with a number of our young players, especially Blake Bortles as quarterback. This is really the first season coming up for me where we enter a new season with stability at quarterback.
"No pressure, Blake, but we’re counting on you."
Bortles looked good early, struggled for a stretch when he led the league in interceptions, and then significantly reduced his mistakes, throwing two interceptions in the final five games. He finished with 2,908 passing yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and was the Jaguars’ second-leading rusher (419 yards).
That came while being sacked a league-high 55 times (the Jaguars gave up a league-high 71 sacks overall) and having to rely on three rookie receivers and a running back who was a converted college quarterback in his first full season in Denard Robinson. Plus, the Jaguars’ best tight end (Marcedes Lewis) missed eight games with a high ankle sprain.
Bortles needs to be better in 2015 if the Jaguars are to indeed produce better results, but it’s not all on the former Central Florida standout. The Jaguars have the most salary-cap room of any team (approximately $65 million) and are planning to use free agency to upgrade the offensive line, add a pass-catching tight end and find a productive veteran receiver.
In addition, new offensive coordinator Greg Olson helped Raiders quarterback Derek Carr have the best season of all the rookie quarterbacks in 2014: 3,270 yards, 21 TDs, 12 interceptions, 24 sacks.
Though Bortles didn't exactly have an Andrew Luck-type rookie season, he still gives the Jaguars stability at the position that the franchise hasn't had since signing David Garrard to a seven-year, $60 million contract in April 2008. That came after a season in which he threw for 2,509 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions and had the NFL's third-highest passer rating. He also led the Jaguars to a playoff victory in Pittsburgh in which he scrambled for 32 yards on fourth-and-2 to set up a game-winning field goal.
Garrard never lived up to his contract and was cut just before the 2011 season began, but he at least gave the Jaguars stability at the position from 2008-10 . The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert in 2011 and cut Garrard just before the season began. Gabbert struggled as a rookie and the team signed Henne before the 2012 season.
Gabbert went 5-22 as a starter and threw 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games before losing the starting job to Henne early in the 2013 season.
Though Khan did dump some extra pressure on Bortles’ shoulders with his light-hearted comment, Khan put the onus on himself to make sure the franchise starts to move beyond the past three seasons’ cumulative 9-39 record.
"I want to really make it clear it’s my responsibility and yours that we deliver a team and an organization to you that you can be proud of on game days and every other day of the year," he said.
First it was Jaguars mascot Jaxson De Ville followed by linebacker Telvin Smith, a former FSU standout who just finished his rookie season with the Jaguars. They were there to surprise 8-year-old Jack and his 7-year-old sister Kate, who had lost their home to a fire on Feb. 1.
"I was a little nervous," Smith said. "I've never been in that situation, never had my whole house taken away, and you didn't know what to say. You want to be respectful and let them know you're praying for them."
Fortunately the Wilkening family wasn't home when their home caught fire on Super Bowl Sunday. Pam Wilkening, Jack and Kate's mom, said the house was a total loss.
"Luckily we weren't home," Pam Wilkening said. "They [the children] haven't been back to the house but they've seen pictures of it."
Among the items destroyed were two of Jack's favorite things: a Jaxson De Ville autographed football and a Florida State baseball hat. Jaxson signed a football and brought other gifts for the kids and the classroom. Smith delivered an autographed hat.
"He just said, 'Thank you. Thank you for everything,'" Smith said. "It was just a humbling experience."
Demovsky looked at the size of every team's coaching staff and found that seven of the 10 teams with the largest coaching staffs failed to make the playoffs in 2014 -- including the team with the largest coaching staff, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars have 25 assistant coaches, one more than Buffalo and two more than Miami, Oakland, Baltimore, New Orleans and Seattle. Pittsburgh has the fewest assistants (14, with one opening to be filled) followed by New England (16).
Here's how the rest of the AFC South shakes out: Tennessee has 21 assistants while Indianapolis and Houston have 20.
In case you're wondering, here is a list of the Jaguars' assistant coaches:
Greg Olson (offensive coordinator)
Bob Babich (defensive coordinator)
Mike Mallory (special teams coordinator)
Doug Marrone (offensive line/assistant head coach for offense)
Nathaniel Hackett (quarterbacks)
Frank Scelfo (senior offensive assistant)
Tom Myslinski (strength and conditioning coordinator)
Luke Butkus (assistant offensive line)
Alex Hampton (strength and conditioning associate)
Scottie Hazelton (assistant linebackers)
Jess Langvardt (strength and conditioning associate)
Ron Middleton (tight ends)
Chris O'Hara (offensive coaches associate)
Kelly Skipper (running backs)
Mike Rutenberg (assistant defensive backs)
Robert Saleh (linebackers)
Cedric Scott (assistant strength and conditioning)
Dan Samash (defensive quality control)
Matthew Smiley (assistant special teams)
Tony Sorrentino (offensive quality control)
Jerry Sullivan (receivers)
DeWayne Walker (defensive backs)
Todd Wash (defensive line)
Aaron Whitecotton (assistant to the defense)
Tyler Wolf (assistant to head coach Gus Bradley)
Where others saw a barren and environmentally-compromised area along the St. Johns River several hundred yards southwest of EverBank Field, Khan saw immense potential. And on Tuesday he unveiled his vision for a business/residential/entertainment complex on the site that includes a covered practice facility.
"We first expressed interest in the Shipyards in June 2013 but really it piqued my interest from the very first day in 2011 I came here," Khan said during the team’s annual state of the franchise news conference. "Driving to the stadium for the first time here’s a beautiful stretch of Jacksonville riverfront, connecting and linking downtown to the sports complex and it’s sitting empty and neglected.
"The front door to downtown Jacksonville with no porch light, no welcome mat, really didn’t make sense."
The conceptual designs produced by Populous, a Kansas City-based architectural firm, show various glass skyscrapers, water features, pedestrian bridges, docks, business and living space, as well as a marina, a hotel, an amphitheater, and a significant amount of landscaping.
The two-level practice facility featured three fields. Two were on ground level, including one that was covered. The third field, for public use, is on top of the second level.
Iguana Investments, which is a group created by Khan specifically for the development of the Shipyards, will present a proposal to the Downtown Investment Authority next Monday. Khan said he hopes the DIA would be able to quickly review Iguana Investment’s proposal and then move forward with the project.
The city of Jacksonville owns the Shipyards and is currently conducting an environmental study of the 48-acre property and has set aside $13 million for its cleanup. The Shipyards served as a manufacturing and repair center for small ships, barges, ferry boats, and freightliners before closing in 1992.
Since then numerous public officials and real estate developers have put together proposals to turn the property into an entertainment and/or business area, including an aquarium, but the projects never got off the ground.
None of those projects, however, had the backing of someone like Khan, whose net worth is estimated at $4.5 billion. He has already used $31 million of his own money to pay for a renovated locker room, training room, and weight room and help fund the installation of two pools and the world’s largest video boards at EverBank Field.
"The Shipyards would give downtown Jacksonville the kind of iconic identity that many downtown districts in the United States enjoy and we currently lack," Khan said. "But it doesn’t work or make sense if it doesn’t provide jobs, boost our economy and self-confidence, stabilize the future of the Jaguars franchise, and improve our overall quality of life."
In addition to announcing Khan’s vision for the Shipyards, the Jaguars also unveiled renderings of proposed renovations to the club seat areas at EverBank Field. The Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville are competing for state funding to help pay for those renovations.
The state of Florida’s Joint Legislative Budget Commission is scheduled to meet this week to determine how much Jacksonville and the three other cities hoping for tax dollars -- Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach -- will receive. The amount available is $7 million.
The renovations the city and team hope to make to the club seats area are an open deck area overlooking the field, glazing walls separating the indoor club space from the outdoor decks, canopies to provide shading over the outdoor decks, outdoor bar seating on the decks, and upgrading or replacing the existing concession areas.
Teams have until 4 p.m. ET on March 2 to apply the tags.
Here are some players to monitor over the next 14 days:
WR Dez Bryant (Dallas): The Cowboys should make him the No. 1 priority over running back DeMarco Murray and apply the franchise tag, which would ensure a one-year salary of approximately $13 million.
RT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay): If he hits the open market I'd expect him to be one of the Jaguars' top priorities. GM David Caldwell said he wants to upgrade at right tackle and Bulaga is one of the best at that spot. The Packers franchising him would mean having to pay him approximately $13 million in 2015, which is a lot of money for a right tackle.
LB Justin Houston (Kansas City): The Jaguars need an elite pass-rusher and Houston fits. He has 43 sacks in the last three seasons, including 22 in 2014, which is why the Chiefs likely will franchise him for approximately $13 million.
G Mike Iupati (San Francisco): Tagging Iupati would mean the 49ers would have to pay him approximately $13 million in 2015. That's way too much money so it's likely he'll be a free agent. I don't think he's someone the Jaguars would target unless they would be willing to move Brandon Linder, their best and most consistent lineman in 2014, to left guard and put Zane Beadles on the bench.
S Devin McCourty (New England): Free safety is another major need for the Jaguars but the Patriots are likely to franchise McCourty for a reasonable $10 million and then try to re-sign cornerback Darrelle Revis.
DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit): I don't think he's a player the Jaguars would target because of the huge salary he will demand. That money could be better spent on other high-need spots. The Lions have hinted that they could use the franchise tag on him, but his tag number would be $26.7 million, according to several reports.
WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver): The Broncos will likely have to choose between keeping Thomas or tight end Julius Thomas. Franchising Demaryius Thomas is the correct decision.
They’re trying to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current players so they, along with the four returning coaches and head coach Gus Bradley, can design an offense for 2015 and beyond.
That’s the best and most logical way to go about transitioning from Jedd Fisch’s offense of the past two seasons. There’s a problem, though: There are significant key pieces missing from the offense that must be addressed in free agency and the draft, so the process of shaping the offense won’t even come close to being finished until May.
"It’s a very young and inexperienced team on the offensive side of the ball, but with a lot of good, young talent," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "Our job as an offensive staff is to develop that young talent and to try and identify what their strengths are, what each individual’s strengths are, and help them play to those strengths. Also, at the same time, evaluate where we can make some decisions in free agency and in the draft in terms of what our needs are.
It’s not hard to identify where the Jaguars need help. The quarterback is in place. There also are several young receivers and three spots along the offensive line (left tackle, center and right guard) are locked down. Beyond those spots are where the questions begin. The Jaguars could fill a majority of the holes in free agency because they’ll have the most cap room in the league (approximately $65 million).
The Jaguars want to upgrade at right tackle, where four players have started multiple games in the past two seasons. Austin Pasztor was scheduled to be the full-time starter last season, but he played in only eight games because of hand and hamstring injuries.
The Jaguars signed left guard Zane Beadles last March, but he struggled throughout the first half of the season. He was more consistent in the last six weeks. The Jaguars aren’t going to sign or draft a replacement for him, but he certainly must play better in 2015. The team is likely to add some veteran depth along the interior of the line, though.
Young receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee are promising -- they each caught at least 37 passes and Hurns led the team in receiving yards (677) and receiving touchdowns (six) -- but they’ll be in just their second seasons in 2015. Robinson, who along with Lee was a second-round pick, didn’t even play a full season, missing the final six games with a stress fracture in his foot.
It’s a gamble to rely entirely on young receivers, so the Jaguars are likely to add a veteran in free agency. Even if the top two (Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas) are given franchise tags by their current teams, it’s a good year to be looking for a receiver because it’s a deep group. Potential targets include Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree. All four will be 27 years old or younger when the 2015 season begins.
The tight ends were a disappointment in the passing game in 2014, with four players combining to catch just 47 passes. Eighteen tight ends caught more passes than that by themselves. Marcedes Lewis was the biggest disappointment. He missed eight games with a high ankle sprain and caught just 18 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. Lewis is a good blocker but isn’t a dynamic pass-catcher even when he is healthy. He has had just two seasons when he caught more than 41 passes (58 in 2010 and 52 in 2012).
Lewis might not even be back in 2015 -- his cap number will be $8.3 million -- so adding a pass-catching tight end is a priority. Julius Thomas would be the top player available, provided he doesn’t re-sign with Denver or is franchised. There are other options, such as Jordan Cameron and Charles Clay.
Whatever holes the team doesn’t address in free agency will obviously have to be filled in the draft, but the Jaguars are expected to concentrate more on defense after using six of their nine picks in 2014 on offensive players.
Evaluating the current personnel is critical, but the Jaguars’ offense won't really begin to take shape until after free agency and the draft.
The team’s original plan was to keep Blake Bortles on the bench his entire rookie season while Chad Henne ran the offense. It would give Bortles time to fix some fundamental issues as well as learn what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. That plan fell apart in Week 3, when the offense was so putrid that coach Gus Bradley sent Bortles onto the field to begin the second half of what would turn out to be a 44-17 loss to Indianapolis.
Bortles never went back to the bench, and the experience turned out to be even more critical than anticipated after Bradley fired offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Had Bortles not played in 14 games, then he would have been faced with going through the adjustment from a college quarterback to a pro quarterback while trying to learn a new offense for the second year in a row.
Bortles has already adjusted to the speed of the game, learned what he can and can’t get away with on the field, gone through the process of helping compile and edit a game plan and found out how much more physical the game is at this level. That puts him significantly ahead of where he would have been had the Jaguars kept him on the bench.
"Getting acclimated to the game, the speed of it and everything that goes into it on and off the field, it’s something that wasn’t so much of a surprise but was just a change," said Bortles, who threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. "It was different than in college, and that was something to get used to."
At the time Bradley made the decision to bench Henne, he was just trying to spark an offense that posted 18 drives of three or fewer plays (not counting the end of halves) in the first 10 quarters of the season. He had no idea he’d be firing Fisch and hiring a new offensive coordinator (Greg Olson) and quarterbacks coach (Nathaniel Hackett) roughly four months later.
"I thought it worked out really well for him," GM David Caldwell said. "… The experience that he’s going to draw from playing these 14 games is going to be great for him next year. He’s not going to be seeing things for the first time. Everything he sees is probably going to be for the second time, which is great."
That certainly doesn’t mean Bortles has everything figured out, but it does give him a slight advantage. Learning the new offense won’t be easy, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about going through all those other situations for the first time.
@ESPNdirocco: Shad Khan told The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran during Super Bowl week that he wasn't giving Gus Bradley a victory total he must reach in 2015. While the bottom line is winning games, I think Khan mainly wants to see significant improvement in 2015. If he feels the franchise is on the right track I believe he'll give Bradley more time. But if it's another four- or five-win season (or worse), it may be hard to keep him. David Caldwell is safe. He's done a nice job in free agency and the draft and GMs usually get longer leashes than coaches.
@ESPNdirocco: The nature of free agency means that players will be overpaid so it's logical to assume the Jaguars will do that. I may be wrong but I don't think they'll overpay for Ndamukong Suh because he's going to command a ridiculous price on the open market if the Detroit Lions don't re-sign or franchise tag him. Most likely it'll be at tight end if the Jaguars do pursue Julius Thomas because there aren't many options available to land a pass-catching tight end. But let's wait and see who is available before we get too far into speculating who the Jaguars will pursue.
@ESPNdirocco: They're pretty similar. We know that Blackmon has spent time in a treatment program after his latest incident but at this point we don't know if Gordon plans on doing the same after his latest suspension. There is one major difference: Gordon has already established himself as one of the league's top receivers when he's on the field. Blackmon has not.
@ESPNdirocco: Bryan Bulaga is the better player so I'd choose him. Guard depth is not hard to find so that shouldn't be a concern.
@ESPNdirocco: Feeling a little down, are we? I get it. You've been battered by just nine victories over the past three seasons. It'll get better, though. Remember, the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without a World Series title. The Jaguars will have a winning season again.
@ESPNdirocco: It's impossible to answer this question because we don't yet know which players will be available. The deadline for teams to apply transition and franchise tags is 4 p.m. ET March 2. After that we'll have a better idea of potential targets.
@ESPNdirocco: This group is certainly more experienced. Greg Olson has been an offensive coordinator for eight years. Doug Marrone was an offensive coordinator for two seasons and a head coach for two seasons. Nathaniel Hackett was an offensive coordinator for two seasons. Jedd Fisch had never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL until he was hired by the Jaguars in 2013. That much experience helps a young offense and provides Gus Bradley with some valuable resources of information.
@ESPNdirocco: My answer to the first question applies here, but with one clarification. A 4-12 season is different than a 7-9 season. Though both are under .500, going 7-9 is certainly an upgrade from the past two seasons and would be, to most people, a sign of progress. That's what the fans and owner want to see.
Olson and the Jaguars’ three other new assistants -- offensive line coach Doug Marrone, quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett and running backs coach Kelly Skipper -- are still trying to identify each player’s strengths and how to create a system in which to use those strengths.
But Olson made one thing clear on Thursday: Every decision he makes on offense will be made with quarterback Blake Bortles in mind.
"First and foremost it’ll start around Blake and again, at this level, that’s normally how it is. You’re going to build it around the quarterback first because it’s a quarterback-driven league."
Olson did a solid job with rookie Derek Carr as Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2014. Though the Raiders were last in total offense and rushing and 26th in passing, Carr threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also was only sacked 24 times.
Carr recently told the Florida Times-Union that Olson was tremendous in teaching him protections and how to avoid hits. The Jaguars gave up a franchise-record and league-worst 71 sacks and Bortles, who threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, was sacked 55 times.
"There’s a lot of things that go into that -- it’s not just on the quarterback," Olson said. "But I think any time, in my experiences in coaching that position, the first thing you start with is them understanding protections and understanding that part of the football game. Especially at this level, you have to understand where the free hitters are coming from, how to change protections so that you’re not having free hitters on the quarterback.
"Making those calls is in that whole developmental phase [that] has to be No. 1, in my opinion. Otherwise, I just don’t think they last. If those things continue, it’s very difficult to develop as a quarterback."
Fixing Bortles’ issues with his footwork, cleaning up his throwing motion, giving him a fuller understanding of protections and speeding up his decision-making process will naturally make the offense better. It certainly can’t get much worse. The Jaguars haven’t averaged more than 16 points per game since 2010 and have scored just 15.5 points per game during the past four seasons. They finished 31st in total offense, 21st in rushing and 31st in passing in 2014.
The New England Patriots signed Darrelle Revis to a one-year, $12 million contract and Brandon Browner to a three-year, $15.15 million contract this past March, but it was undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler -- who earned $420,000 in 2014 -- who made the game-winning play. That shows that sometimes the bottom-of-the-roster, anonymous signings turn out to be just as, or even more, important than the marquee signings, which is something to keep in mind next month when the Jaguars have approximately $60 million in cap space to spend. The Jaguars are most certainly going to go after some of the marquee free agents that are available -- possibly Devin McCourty and Julius Thomas -- but they'll sign some lower-tier free agents whose impact could be just as meaningful as the Patriots' addition of Butler. Jaguars GM David Caldwell already has had success with some of his under-the-radar free-agent signings, such as Alan Ball, Sen'Derrick Marks, and Roy Miller. Ball has been the Jaguars' best cornerback the past two seasons and Marks has had the two best seasons of his career since joining the team. Miller played through a shoulder injury in 2013 and just earned a contract extension.
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett didn't record a sack but he was in Brady's face all game long. The Seahawks rushed him from different spots, both inside and outside, and used him on a variety of stunts. Bennett isn't the elite player that J.J. Watt is, but he's clearly one of the better pass-rushers in the league. That's the benefit of having a player that offenses have to account for on every snap, and that's something the Jaguars don't have. It's also an argument for taking USC defensive end Leonard Williams with the No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft. Williams has the ability to line up inside and outside and, while he's not as explosive or freakishly athletic as Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, his versatility makes him an intriguing option.
Seattle's offense looked a lot like the Jaguars' offense in one aspect: They didn't work the middle of the field. Tight end Luke Willson, who had caught 11 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the previous four games, wasn't even targeted. Russell Wilson was forced to work outside the numbers, and while he had some success the Seahawks' offense clearly would have been helped by having a tight end to work the middle of the field. The Jaguars didn't get much from the tight end position in 2014 -- only a combined 47 catches, which was fewer than 18 individual players -- and have made that position a priority in free agency.
I've been harping on this point for more than a year, but the Jaguars have to get faster at linebacker. Watching Seattle's Bobby Wagner run around and make plays underscores that point. The Jaguars' secondary is in solid shape at corner and strong safety. Adding a rangy free safety will make a huge improvement. The defensive line, especially inside, is pretty good, too. The other piece needed to complete Bradley's defense is speed at linebacker. Telvin Smith is a good start but the upgrades need to continue.
The Jaguars and Cowboys tied for 10th in ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.'s rankings of the top 10 rookie classes in terms of winning contributions. Green Bay's rookie class, which included receiver Davante Adams and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, topped the rankings. There were a total of four AFC teams in the rankings (Baltimore, Oakland Cleveland, and Jacksonville).
Kiper was impressed with the production of the Jaguars' nine-member draft class, but because the Jaguars won just three games, it's hard to know how much those players would have produced had they been on another team. He wrote: "In that sense, you could argue the rookies were part of the problem, not part of the solution. (That's not a shot at the Jags; it's just reality that playing rookies is often necessity, not the plan.)"
Still, the Jaguars' 2014 draft class is in rare company. All nine played in at least five games and eight started at least one game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team that selected nine players in the draft and had all of them play in at least five games as rookies was Indianapolis in 2008: G Mike Pollak, LB Philip Wheeler, TE Jacob Tamme, DE Marcus Howard, TE Tom Santi, C Steve Justice, RB Mike Hart, WR Pierre Garcon and C Jamey Richard.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Because of all the Jacksonville Jaguars news on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wasn’t able to write much about what was happening on the field at the Senior Bowl.
So here, on my final day in Alabama, are 10 observations from practices. Most involve South team players because that’s the team the Jaguars’ staff is coaching.
TE catches Middleton's eye
Jaguars tight end coach Ron Middleton created a bit of a stir in the Ladd-Peebles Stadium stands during Wednesday’s practice because of his loud, booming voice. Middleton could be heard yelling "You’re my hero!" and "Yeah! Yeah!" as he was raved about tight end Clive Walford.
The former Miami player made a couple nice inside moves on defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt (Samford) and Anthony Jefferson (UCLA) to get open on seam and corner routes. He also made a diving catch and was able to consistently get open.
"Slick made some plays today," Middleton told me after practice. "First of all, I like his attitude. He’s asking questions. He’s into it mentally. He busts his butt every time he’s been out there and the main thing is he made some plays today so that always makes you like them a lot."
Walford caught 121 passes for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns in four years at Miami, including 44 for 676 yards and 7 TDs in 2014. Middleton said Walford has good size (6-feet-4, 254 pounds), very good hands, and "runs good enough" and projects as an inline tight end in the NFL. He’d need to be faster to be used as a move tight end.
Middleton said Walford still has some technique issues that have to fixed, including as a blocker.
"But you can see the willingness and if you’ve got one that’ll bite, then he’s got a chance," Middleton said. " … if he’ll stick his face in the fan he’s got a chance to be a good blocker. We can work on the technique and things; it’s just the attitude of it."
Teams looking for a quarterback probably didn’t get much out of this week because none of them look very good. In fact, after watching Blake Sims throw for several days I’m starting to wonder how Alabama won the SEC and made the College Football Playoff.
Sims had a particularly bad day on Wednesday and underthrew several passes in drills against no rush. He did have a nice deep ball to Josh Harper (Fresno State) but that was the only pass that stood out in a positive way.
Bryce Petty, playing for the North team, hasn’t exactly torn it up, either, as he adjusts from the up-tempo spread to taking snaps under center. He threw two interceptions on Wednesday including one in which he threw a screen pass right at outside linebacker Nate Orchard (Utah).
The top two quarterbacks in the draft aren’t here because they’re underclassmen and the player most consider No. 3 (UCLA’s Brett Hundley) declined the invitation to play.
Now, some shorter observations ...
It’s hard not to be intrigued by mammoth offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 360), but if he’s going to play at the next level it’s not going to be on the outside. The former TCU standout doesn’t move very well at all. He was continually beaten in pass rush drills early in the week before suffering a hip flexor injury that will keep him out of the game.
Three other South offensive linemen that had solid weeks were guard Arie Kouandjio (Alabama), guard Tre’ Jackson (Florida State), and tackle Daryl Williams (Oklahoma). The Jaguars are expected to add a right tackle and another veteran lineman or two in free agency, but taking a lineman later in the draft is a possibility, too. These are three guys to watch.
North running back Ameer Abdullah looked good carrying the ball, which he did a lot at Nebraska (4,438 yards and 36 touchdowns in four seasons) but he struggled in pass protection drills. He’s not too small (5-9, 195) but he was physically overmatched against some of the linebackers. He may never be a great pass-blocker but he can certainly improve. If he doesn’t, he’s not going to play much in his first few seasons except as maybe a third-down back.
South defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington) may be the best player participating in the game. He’s been hard to handle all week. He’s built like a run-plugger (6-2, 332) but he’s got quick feet and looks like he could be productive as an interior pass-rusher.
South running back David Johnson reminds me a bit of Lorenzo Taliaferro, who played in last year’s game. He’s a big back (6-2, 229) from a smaller school (Northern Iowa) that is holding his own against higher-quality competition than he normally faces. Taliaferro (6-0, 226) played at Coastal Carolina and was drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore.
The most exciting player on the field for either team may be South receiver Tyler Lockett (Kansas State). He’s more of a slot receiver because of his size (5-10, 181) but he’s got good quickness and hands. The Jaguars coaching staff had him run several end-arounds to take advantage of his speed and open-field ability. He more than held his own in one-on-one battles with bigger corners. He out-fought 6-1, 205-pound Nick Marshall (Auburn) to catch a fade pass in the end zone.
Did Miami really finish 6-5? That’s hard to believe after the week the four Hurricanes players have had. Linebacker Denzel Perryman, receiver Phillip Dorsett, corner Ladarius Gunter, and Walford have all been impressive. Dorsett isn’t big either (5-9, 183) but he has consistently gotten open in team drills and has really good hands. Perryman has had some issues in pass coverage but has been very good against the run in drills.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Clemson) is undersized at 6-1, 288 pounds, but he makes up for it in athleticism and quickness. He was very productive with the Tigers, recording 156 tackles (21 for loss), 3.5 sacks, 26 quarterback pressures, two caused fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in his final two seasons. He showed off his strength, too, by tossing aside 6-5, 308-pound offensive tackle La’el Collins in one pass blocking drill.
MOBILE, Ala. -- When it came to finding an offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley didn’t look at stats.
They didn’t care about yards or points or touchdowns. They paid no attention to rankings, either.
All they cared about was whether players developed and improved over the course of a season and beyond. They found that to be the case when researching Greg Olson, and that’s why he was hired on Wednesday morning.
When studying film of Olson’s past offenses, whether as a coordinator with four teams (Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Oakland) or as a quarterbacks coach, the Jaguars did see players improving. Especially young players, and that is important because the Jaguars had five rookies start at least seven games in 2014, including quarterback Blake Bortles.
"You watch their film and you see not only did he [Olson] make individual guys better but you saw them get a lot better throughout the season," Caldwell said. "… Just his experience, eight years in the league as an offensive coordinator, his ability to develop quarterbacks -- obviously that’s something that’s going to be key for our franchise moving forward, the development of Blake and a young offense."
It’s a good thing the numbers don’t matter because Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons his offenses averaged less than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.
However, in looking at Olson’s quarterbacks in those eight seasons there is evidence of the improvement that Caldwell and Bradley wanted to see.
In the one season in which Olson was Detroit’s offensive coordinator (2005), Joey Harrington threw for 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions -- only the second time in his six-year NFL career that he didn’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Olson was St. Louis’ offensive coordinator in 2006-07. Marc Bulger threw a career-high 24 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions to go along with a career-high 4,301 yards in 2006. Bulger’s production dipped to 2,392 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2007 but he battled various injuries, including two fractured ribs, throughout the season.
Olson worked with Josh Freeman during his three-year stint as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. Freeman struggled as a rookie in 2009 (10 TDs, 18 INTs) but improved to throw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions, and the Bucs went 10-6 in 2010.
Freeman threw for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns with 22 interceptions in 2011, Olson’s final season in Tampa Bay.
Olson had Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Matt Flynn as his quarterbacks in his first season as Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2013. In 2014 he had rookie Derek Carr, who threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The yards and touchdowns were the most by any rookie in 2014.
The quarterback improvements override the fact that, aside from the 2007 season, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th-32nd in total offense, 12th-32nd in rushing, 16th-26th in passing, and 20th-31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).
"The important part for us is it’s not where we rank offensively," Caldwell said. "It’s not where we rank defensively. It’s where you come out at the end. What do you need to do to have your best performance in a game and come out and win a game? If it’s 100 passing and 150 yards rushing and you win 9-3, well that’s what you needed to do because it’s a team game and you have to have it where offense and defense and special teams all play as one."
Now comes the hard part. Greg Olson has to fix an offense that hasn’t averaged more than 16 points per game since 2010 and has scored just 15.5 points per game over the past four seasons. The Jaguars finished 31st in total offense, 21st in rushing and 31st in passing in 2014.
Those were much better numbers than what Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles posted: 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns, 17 interceptions. Fixing the offense starts with helping Bortles take the next step in his development, and that will be Olson’s No. 1 priority in 2015.
Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons, his offenses averaged fewer than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.
That season the Rams became just the fourth team in NFL history to produce a 4,000-yard passer (Marc Bulger), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce) in the same season. The Rams’ offense ranked sixth in the NFL (fourth in passing) that season.
Aside from the 2007 season, however, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th to 32nd in total offense, from 12th to 32nd in rushing, from 16th to 26th in passing and from 20th to 31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).
But the mitigating factor in those seasons is the fact he hasn’t exactly worked with very good quarterbacks. Bulger is clearly the best, but after him it’s a pretty rough list: Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Gus Frerotte, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Carr have all started multiple games under Olson.
The counterargument is that if Olson were a good coach he would have turned some of those guys into good quarterbacks. That’s a chicken-egg thing, though. Do the players make the coaches or the coaches make the players?
Harrington was a disappointment in five seasons in Detroit and was out of the league after the 2007 season. Frerotte was in his 14th season in the NFL in 2007 and played just one more year after that. Freeman, Johnson, Pryor and McGloin are journeyman players. Pryor wasn’t on a roster in 2014 and was recently signed to a reserves/future contract by the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s too early to know if Bortles will develop into an elite quarterback, an above-average starter or bounce around the league as a backup, though the Jaguars certainly believed in his ability to become an elite quarterback or they wouldn’t have taken him with the third overall pick in last year’s draft. He did some good things in 2014, but he also threw too many interceptions, including four that were returned for touchdowns. He has a lot of work to do in regard to his footwork.
This is Olson’s fifth stint as an offensive coordinator and it’s likely make or break for him. Fix Bortles’ fundamental flaws and speed up his decision-making, improve a running game that has floundered for three years and score more points or this may end up being his last chance to call plays.