JACKSONVILLE – As time went on, production improved. And it did so in a significant way.
While that was true of many positions for the Jaguars' offense in 2013, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said it was particularly the case at tight end.
Fisch, in his first year as coordinator, said the season for the offense as a whole was about learning and growing, with players adapting to a new scheme and coaches adapting to new players. Fisch said the tight end position – particularly veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis – grew and adapted throughout the season in the same way.
A productive season for the position that has Fisch feeling even more optimistic about the potential for the future.
"As the year progressed, Marcedes grew," Fisch said recently in an interview with jaguars.com for this series on the Jaguars' position groups, a series that continues with this story focusing on tight ends.
"When Marcedes grew, the offense grew. The offense grew with Marcedes, Marcedes grew with the offense….
"However you want to look at it, we started really feeling we could use him."
Lewis, an eight-year veteran, missed five of the first six games with a calf injury, but when he returned to health in the second half of the season, he emerged as a key player in the offense and was key to the unit's improvement in the final eight games.
He remained one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends, with Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley saying late in the season that Lewis's blocking at the point of attack on the perimeter was a huge factor in an increased production in the running game in Games 11-14. The Jaguars rushed for more than 100 yards in each of those games after not reaching the mark before that.
Lewis also grew increasingly more consistent as a receiver, catching 25 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns, with the touchdown receptions coming in four consecutive games. Considering he essentially missed six games, they were good numbers, with 23 receptions for 322 yards and four touchdowns after a Week 9 bye, but Fisch said they could have and should have been better.
"A guy like Marcedes, he should have 60 or 70 catches," Fischsaid. "If he had all 16 games with us and made all the catches he should make and we made all the reads we should have made, instead of walking out of here with 25 catches he would have walked out with five or six catches every game."
Lewis has two years remaining on a five-year contract he signed before the 2011 season, and while there has been public speculation he could be released for salary cap reasons, Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said following the season he expected Lewis to return next season.
Fisch said while personnel decisions are handled by Bradley and Caldwell, Lewis could be integral to the offense going forward.
"He certainly can impact our offense," Fisch said. "Ideally, if he comes back here he will be able to help us in a lot ways."
While Lewis remained the focal point of the position, the Jaguars got production from other players at the position at various times throughout the season.
Allen Reisner, a second-year veteran, began the season as a starter with Lewis out with a calf injury. He caught five passes for 40 yards before spending eight weeks on injured reserve. He was activated in Week 15, but did not play in the final three games. Danny Noble, activated from the practice squad on November 4, caught two passes for 63 yards – including a 62-yard touchdown against Arizona on November 17 – but the most productive outside of Lewis was Clay Harbor.
Harbor, acquired off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles the week before the regular season, played 16 games and started seven, catching 24 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Harbor sustained an ankle injury in the regular-season finale that could keep him out early in the offseason.
"He's a good athlete," Fisch said. "As was the case with several of our players, we had no OTAs (organized team activities) and no training camp with him. The first week of the season was his first week with us. He was a nice impact player for us. He gave us some good speed and good catching ability. He has a pretty good knack to catch the ball."
Lewis led the Jaguars' tight ends with 596 snaps while Harbor played 363 and Reisner played 222. And while the Jaguars' offense under Fisch features various formations and personnel packages, he said ideally the offense would feature two-tight end formations extensively.
"The tight end position gives you good matchups," Fisch said. "If you can keep two tight ends on the field, most of the time you can (force your opponent to) keep four defensive backs on the field. If you can keep four defensive backs on the field, now you're asking them to defend the tight end most of the time with either a safety or linebacker.
"What we tried to do was put players in position be as productive as possible. Getting the tight end position involved does that."