Jacksonville Jaguars (credit: imgarcade.com)
Offensive development was the name of the game for the Jaguars during the 2014 offseason. They leveraged Free Agency to acquire starting LG Zane Beadles and starting RB Toby Gerhart, then turned to the draft where GM Dave Caldwell and HC Gus Bradley used their first four picks to add QB Blake Bortles, WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson and starting RG Brandon Linder. They were not done there, adding starting C Luke Bowanko in the 6th round. The plan was to surround QB Chad Henne with better protection and better weapons and to be competitive on offense while slowly bringing along Bortles on what amounted to a Redshirt.
This plan was called into question after a very productive preseason for Bortles, but the decision makers held to their guns and opened the season with Henne under center. The plan lasted 2 and a half weeks. By halftime of the Colts game, Jacksonville was down 30-0 and Bortles became the Jaguars starting QB. So the rookie QB played behind two rookie starters on a young OL and three of his key targets (Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee) were also rookies. They have a learning curve ahead of them, but the nucleus is coming together.
Unfortunately, the team could not keep its key weapons healthy at the same time and Bortles lacked some combination of TE Marcedes Lewis, Allen Robinson, WR Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, and RB Toby Gerhart for much of the season. The consistent health of that group, combined with the development of RB Denard Robinson, will be an upgrade for Bortles in 2015.
2015 Coaching Changes
After a campaign that ended with the Jaguars 30th in offensive DVOA, 31st in Play Design, and resulted in QB Blake Bortles taking 55 sacks, Bradley fired Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch, who is now the OC at the University of Michigan, and replaced him with former Raiders OC Greg Olson after an exhaustive search. Olson had been with the Jaguars before, serving as Assistant Head Coach and QB Coach on Mike Mularkey’s staff in 2012.
In addition to the change at OC, the Jaguars also made adjustments to other members of their offensive staff. With George Yarno still dealing with cancer, Jacksonville added former Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone as the Assistant Head Coach, Offensive Line. This shifted acting OL coach, Luke Butkus back to Assistant OL coach. They also moved Frank Scelfo from QB Coach to Senior Offensive Assistant when they brought former Buffalo Bills OC Nathaniel Hackett in as the QB Coach. Hackett has clear ties with Marrone, going back to their time at Syracuse. Finally, they parted ways with RB Coach Terry Richardson (Now RB at Maryland), replacing him with former Raiders RB Coach Kelly Skipper, who has a history with Greg Olson.
Going into his 9th season as an Offensive Coordinator, Olson credits former Oakland and Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Gruden for many of his philosophies. One of those philosophies is rooted in designing the scheme around the strengths of the personnel on the team, as Olson’s desire to find a run scheme that RB Darren McFadden felt comfortable with, as opposed to the Zone based scheme that Greg Knapp implemented that drastically decreased McFadden’s productivity. Now, one of the major reasons for Olson to Jacksonville was how he kept his rookie QB Derek Carr upright last year in Oakland. With franchise QB Blake Bortles’ development being critical, the Jaguars wanted to make sure he remains healthy. The biggest question mark with Olson coming on board is the impact he may have on the run scheme and what that may do to personnel.
Olson is a self-proclaimed “Gap scheme guy”, and says “I think I'm multiple in what we're doing schematically. But I'm more of a downhill run-type guy, because I think it sets up the play-action pass.” The Jaguars have been leveraging Zone blocking over the last two years and invested in players like Zane Beadles to execute the system. While Gus Bradley has indicated he would like to stick with a Zone blocking system, Olson and new OL Coach Doug Marrone have less familiarity with the system. It still is unclear if they will run a mixed bag in terms of a run scheme, or if they will focus on one. If they decide to move away from Zone blocking, they may need to re-evaluate personnel along the OL.
2015 Roster Changes (as of 3/6/2015)
Jacksonville has not made many big adjustments to the roster this off-season. They extended DT Roy Miller late last season, only to have him tear his meniscus days later. In their Reserve/Future signings, the Jaguars added a couple of former top 100 draft picks in WR Arrelious Benn and OT Brennan Williams. A big piece to their off-season will be simply to get healthy, as Jacksonville has a few injuries that will have some impact on their off-season decision making. Players like DT Sen’Derrick Marks (ACL tear in week 17) will not start week 1, Roy Miller, and OT Austin Pasztor (Hamstring), Allen Robinson (Stress Fracture – Foot), and LB Paul Posluszny (Pectoral) are all questionable for the full off-season program.
With the youthfulness of the roster and a significant amount of Cap room, Jacksonville has very few decisions to make on potential cap cuts. They released DB Will Blackmon who started 12 games over the last 2 seasons, saving $0.9M. The few that have been rumored are RB Toby Gerhart and QB Chad Henne, but neither make a great deal of sense at this stage. Backup QB is a critical position, especially with a developmental QB and Gerhart should not be replaced unless they acquire someone (most likely via the draft) that is a marked improvement. The team has extended a tender offer to ERFA DE Ryan Davis, which will keep him in Jacksonville for at least one more year.
With a projected $68.2M available in 2015 Cap Space, the Jaguars will need to decide on what to do with their own free agents which include:
UFAs: DE Tyson Alualu, DC Alan Ball, LB AJ Edds, LB Geno Hayes, DS Sherrod Martin, WR Cecil Shorts, LB JT Thomas
RFAs: OG Jacques McClendon, TE Fendi Onobun, FB Will Ta’ufo’ou, RB Jordan Todman, DC Teddy Williams
ERFAs: DE Ryan Davis, OT Austin Pasztor
Let’s take a position by position look at the Jacksonville roster. Positions are ordered by overall need.
Players you can win with: Unknown
Players you will look to upgrade: All
What it means: The Jaguars have 8 Corners on the roster, with a 9th in Alan Ball getting ready to hit the market. It is clear that they have a profile for the position as all but one are 5110+ and 195+. Jacksonville will be hoping for continued development from Aaron Colvin, Dwayne Gratz, and Demetrius McCray, but with the QB-centric NFL and the enhancements of subpackages, you can never have enough depth at DB. I am sure they hope to continue the Seahawks path of locating 3rd day picks that can play in their proactive coverages, but that market inefficiency is closing and the team may need to look at Day 2. The Free Agency market actually provides a larger group of players with effective skills for Jacksonville, including Byron Maxwell, Patrick Robinson, and Chris Cook.
Expected Avenue to improve:Day 2/3 or Free Agency (P.Robinson, C.Cook, W.Thurmond, J.Wilson, Z.Bowman)
Players you can win with: Geno Hayes, Telvin Smith
Players you will look to upgrade: Depth
What it means: UFA Geno Hayes had a functional year in base packages for the Jaguars, essentially working at the OTTO LB after the job proved too big for Dekoda Watson. At the other OLB position, 5th round pick Telvin Smith worked himself into the lineup as a full time starter by Week 12, showing range and promise for the team moving forward. While Hayes is not idea for the OTTO position, he would provide good depth and versatility for the team if re-signed. Regardless, I expect the team to continue their search for the elusive OTTO. Depending on how much rush they want, players like Akeem Ayers or O’Brien Schofield could fit the bill. If they want more range, then Bruce Carter or Malcolm Smith may be appealing.
Expected Avenue to improve: Day 2, 3 or Free Agency (B.Reed, B.Carter, A.Ayers, M.Smith, O.Schofield)
Top Coverage Players: Jeremiah George, Toby Gerhart, Teddy WIlliams. Teams like SF and PHI have made significant investments in their core ST units by adding players who specialize in these areas. The Jaguars have other spots to fill before targeting these areas, but hybrid players who can excel on ST would really help this group.
Place Kicker: Josh Scobee. Scobee went 20 of 26 on the year, with 50% of his misses coming from 50+. Otherwise, Scobee provides a stable KO leg that can keep return units deep and a reliable kicker, especially under 50 yards.
Long Snapper: Carson Tinker. Tinker is a function LS who has a timely and accurate short and long snap and understands coverage lanes on the Punt unit. He struggles with blocking the midline as his head stays down too long, but nothing major that would require a change at the position.
Punter: Bryan Anger. After the significant investment (and opportunity cost – Russell Wilson) it look to land Anger, one would hope he would be good. Fortunately, he has been good (albeit, still not good enough for his draft position). No real reason to change things here.