JACKSONVILLE – All in all, there was improvement.
And considering what the Jaguars' offensive line went through this season – not only a significant change in scheme, but significant lineup changes and injuries – George Yarno said the group accomplished a lot during the 2013 season.
Ideally, Luke Joeckel would have played the whole season.
And ideally, there would have been more consistency.
But the NFL isn't ideal, and Yarno – in his first season as the Jaguars' offensive line coach – said considering the circumstances, 2013 was a solid season.
"I was pleased with the entire group with the way they kept going forward, kept trying to get better," Yarno said recently in an interview with jaguars.com for this series on the Jaguars' 2013 season, a series that continues today with an overview of the offensive line.
"They kept trying to learn the way we do things, because it's different. I was proud of the way they embraced it and worked at it – and I thought we had some fun along the way, too. It was a good year. Obviously, it could have been better, but it's something we can build on."
The Jaguars under Yarno this season moved to a combination zone-gap blocking scheme, an approach Head Coach Gus Bradley said gives the offense more options and makes defending the offense more difficult.
Yarno said he, too, likes the versatility the approach gives an offense.
"You have to be able to adjust during a game to the things the defense is trying to do to you," Yarno said. "Being able to run gap and zone schemes within the same game plan gives you a lot of ability to adjust to what happens in a game. You have to have answers for the questions the defense asks you. It helps to have a few different answers you can go to."
At the same time, Yarno said the scheme was definitely an adjustment.
"There always is when there's change," Yarno said. "This adjustment was probably little more severe than others. If you look at the difference between (former offensive line coach) Andy (Heck) and myself and the way we coach, there's a difference in that – and the scheme is different.
"Football is football, but there was definitely an adjustment period – as there usually is when there's a change in coaching staffs. I thought they did a great job in growing through all that."
The adjustments were about more than scheme. Four games into the season, the group had to adjust to a major change at each end of the line.
The season started with Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel at left and right tackle, respectively, but Monroe was traded to Baltimore after four games. Joeckel moved from right to left tackle and sustained a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of a Week 5 loss to the Rams.
Joeckel, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, played just 12 snaps at his natural position of left tackle, but Yarno said Joeckel has the tools and desire needed to be an elite player.
"Obviously, he would have benefitted from playing this year," Yarno said, adding, "He has abilities that the average player doesn't have. He truly has the opportunity to develop into a really good left tackle – maybe one of the better in the league. And he has a passion for the game of football, which is the No. 1 element. I just think he'll keep getting better. He's a great kid and he really wants it."
Joeckel's injury moved Cameron Bradfield into the left tackle position for the final 11 games, with first-year veteran Austin Pasztor starting the final 12 games at right tackle.
"He just worked it every day," Yarno said of Pasztor. "He really poured himself into being a better football player. I really feel he'll continue to do that. He has a great work ethic and a passion for the game. And he does have some physical abilities.
"Am I shocked he had a good year? No, his work ethic and preparation helped him more than anything."
Yarno said Bradfield improved fundamentally, too, squaring his stance and bending better in the lower body than in his previous two seasons.
"He worked taking the direct line away from the defender, and was more physical in the run game," Yarno said. "He spent a tremendous amount of time working on those things. Both of those guys were sort of self-made success stories."
The Jaguars faced change in the interior, too, and while center Brad Meester and guard Uche Nwaneri each started 16 games, Will Rackley missed six games at left guard with Mike Brewster starting three games in his place and Jacques McClendon starting the final two games of the season.
"It's nice to have continuity on your line, and we never really had that," Yarno said. "Hopefully, as we develop as a group we'll be able to put the same five guys on the field on a consistent basis. I was proud of how hard we played regardless of the situation."
Meester retired after 14 seasons, and Yarno said the growth on the offensive line wouldn't have happened without him.
"Brad Meester had a very good year," Yarno said. "He was kind of the glue that held the pot together. Obviously physically he wasn't what he had been in the past, but I don't think it was a liability. He was an asset. … He was invaluable. He really did a great job of teaching the younger players how to be professional."
Yarno cited the season's final practice as an example. In one drill, Yarno requires offensive linemen to run five yards downfield after a pass, the idea being to encourage chasing the ball downfield.
"If you put that film on, you see Brad Meester sprinting down the field at least five yards every time – in his last practice, setting an example," Yarno said. "He set an example every day. You can't fake that."
Overall, Yarno said without question there was growth on the line. The Jaguars began the season with 10 consecutive games under 100 yards rushing, but eclipsed that mark four consecutive games.
"I feel like we were getting better and the pieces fit together well," Yarno said. "You could see the improvement on film. It started showing on the field a little more on game day, which is good because you build confidence that way."
The improvement in the running game reflected overall progress that Yarno said provided a foundation for the future.
"I was very pleased with their work ethic, their competitiveness and their willingness to become part of the group they became – and the improvement you saw," Yarno said. "When the players are getting better, you're going in the right direction. They never wavered. They just competed to the best of their abilities every day, and that's really all you can ask of a group or a person.
"We have a saying, 'As one goes, we all go.' There's a lot we can grow from."