JACKSONVILLE – Six down, seven to go.
That’s pretty much the count for the Jaguars’ offseason as of now. They’ve had six organized team activities practices, with four more scheduled Tuesday through Friday of this week. They then finish the veteran portion of the offseason with three mandatory minicamp practices next week at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields just outside EverBank Field.
So, we’re at the midway point – more or less, give or take.
If you’ve followed this or any NFL offseason you know there is a limit to what can be gleaned from the first six practices, and what can be gleaned from the seven workouts the next two weeks as well.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley believes in competition to a degree that it is core to his coaching philosophy, but even he will tell you there’s a limit to how much players are going to separate themselves before training camp.
Those practices, which begin in late July, are when we add grease to the cooking. That’s when the pads go on, when most jobs are won or lost.
These last two weeks of unpadded practice – well, they ain’t for nothing. They’re mostly about continuing to make sure rookies and veterans alike are as versed in the offense and defense as possible before training camp, but they’re also about continuing to get a feel for how the roster will shake out. Jobs may not be won, but some can be lost, and the team can continue getting an idea about strengths and weaknesses and areas of concern.
And we who are watching can continue to speculate, to guess and to try to figure out just what training camp will bring.
So, bearing in mind we’re still watching the preliminaries, here are 10 storylines/questions to watch as the Jaguars enter the last two weeks of the offseason.
1) Who will start opposite Cecil Shorts III? This is a short-term question, because Justin Blackmon almost certainly will start opposite Shorts at wide receiver following his four-game suspension. And the odds-on favorite in Weeks 1-4 for the role is veteran free-agent acquisition Mohamed Massaquoi. As interesting will be how Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch compensates for Blackmon’s absence, and how he will use Jordan Shipley, Massaquoi, Ace Sanders and perhaps even Denard Robinson – and who knows who else? – to complement Shorts.
2) Is Justin Forsett ready for a lead role? This question is premature, and at the same time it’s not. This has very little to do with Maurice Jones-Drew’s off-field issues and a lot to do with his foot. Jones-Drew is rehabbing the foot injury that cost him most of last season, and believes he will be ready for the regular-season opener. There is no reason to believe Jones-Drew won’t be ready come September, but the Jaguars do need to be sure Forsett can carry a lead load if he’s not.
3) Will outside linebacker stay “as is?” Paul Posluszny is set in the middle and is exactly the player/leader you want on a young team in transition. On the outside, while veterans Geno Hayes and Russell Allen would seem likely starters, Julian Stanford was impressive at times last season and has impressed coaches with his athleticism. This could be an area to watch come training camp if you’re looking for position battles or waiver-wire acquisitions with a chance to make an impact.
4) How will the defensive line shake out? At this point, who starts at tackle still isn’t certain. Roy Miller seems solid at one tackle and returned to practice two weeks ago after missing the first part of OTAs with tendinitis in his knee. Jason Babin is likely to start one end in the Leo role, and Tyson Alualu seems likely to start at the other end. Sen’Derrick Marks and Kyle Love seem likely to fill out the rotation in the middle, but there’s a lot of moving around and this seems to be the area where Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell are most utilizing Bradley’s revolving-door, keep-finding-guys-until-you-find-the-right-guys approach. Remember, Love wasn’t on the roster until mid-May, and until around that time, Alualu was starting inside. With plenty more time left in the offseason, more moves here wouldn’t be a shock.
5) Will Luke Joeckel be ready on the right? Joeckel’s still only one minicamp and two weeks of OTAs into his transition from left tackle in college to right tackle in the NFL. All reports are that it won’t be a difficult transition, but the Jaguars are counting on Joeckel to be very good very soon, so it remains a focus.
6) Will the kids be ready? The secondary isn’t set in stone. That’s because nothing on this roster really is for sure, but it appears almost certain that in addition to Dwight Lowery at one safety, rookie Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz will start. The players have earned praise from veterans – Cyprien’s range and instincts are striking – but two rookies makes for a strikingly young secondary. The final two weeks of OTAs will be important, because with rookies who are expected to contribute immediately, once you get to mid-June every rep is a lesson learned.
7) Will cornerback be addressed? Alan Ball appears likely to enter camp as the starter at corner opposite Gratz. As is the case at outside linebacker, this wouldn’t be a stunning area to see a surprise starter and/or a quick-contributing waiver-wire acquisition.
8) Will the offensive line be improved? That’s the question that remains – yes, even with the acquisition of Joeckel. The interior of the line struggled at times last season. Will Rackley didn’t play last season and now Uche Nwaneri is returning from offseason knee surgery. We realistically won’t know much about this area until preseason or early regular season. What we know now is the interior line players like the zone-blocking approach and believe the switch will benefit the entire line. We also know that this will be an area watched closely the next few months.
9) How wrinkly will the new wrinkles be? The additions of rookie draft selections Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders have drawn a lot of attention, and with reason: their quickness and playmaking ability figure to add intriguing elements to the offense. Just how does Fisch plan to use them? Don’t expect that to be breaking news in the coming weeks. That’s not information the Jaguars want to share with other teams. But will that be an area of focus internally? No doubt.
10) Are all 22 starters on the roster? The guess here is no, but where will the new starts come from? Maybe cornerback, maybe outside linebacker – but maybe not. With this season of transition, those kinds of questions – and others like them – likely will remain mysteries. At least for a few more weeks.