JACKSONVILLE – It's far, far too early for conclusions.
Doug Marrone, in his first offseason coaching the Jaguars' offensive line, is quick to say this. But as 2015 organized team activities neared a close Thursday, he was quick to say something else, too:
Even if he can't absolutely conclude anything about the line, he likes a lot about what he has seen so far this offseason. And he said that's a pretty good start.
"I'm getting used to them and I've really seen a great step forward the last couple of days," Marrone said Thursday on Day Nine of 2015 OTAs at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley agreed, adding that while there's a limit to how much the line can be evaluated in the run game because of the unpadded, non-contact nature of OTAs, the group has shown well in other areas.
"I think how they're protecting, (how) they're communicating up front, their base – all of that area there has been really good improvement," Bradley said.
Marrone, speaking to the media as a group for the first time since the Jaguars began their offseason on-field work, said while it's difficult to evaluate "force" and hitting in OTAs, coaches can evaluate footwork and positioning.
"I think we've done a good job of that," Marrone said. "The challenge when you coach the offensive line at this time of year is you're really not in pads. What you're trying to develop is how well do they take coaching, how well they are they doing the drills and are you seeing those drills carry onto the field, so that's what you're evaluating."
Bradley said Thursday the Jaguars are moving toward being a bit more of a gap-blocking line after having a zone-blocking emphasis the past two seasons, a move that has meant some linemen altering techniques and some adding weight and muscle mass.
"Our offensive line as a group has gotten stronger through the offseason," Bradley said. "That was one of the things we asked of them. … It will help in pass protection, it will help in field goal and extra points because we've got more size."
The Jaguars last season allowed a franchise-record 71 sacks, and while many factors played into the protection issues, the offensive line has been a significant offseason focus. Marrone said one issue last season was the youth of a unit that started then-rookie guard Brandon Linder, then-rookie center Luke Bowanko and then-second-year veteran Luke Joeckel, who entered last season with five career starts.
"There's a little bit of a price when you play a bunch of young players," Marrone said. "What you're hoping is to cash in. My mentality was, 'OK, they're young football players. They have some experience. They know what it's like to play on Sunday, how do we capture that and cash in on it now?' I think that they have a better understanding of it. One thing about young players that have never gone out there on a Sunday that have played, sometimes they really don't know what that's like because there is a difference even though we as coaches try to simulate practice like a game. …
"The way I went into that I said, 'There's a lot of young guys, you saw the mistakes that young people make and let's make sure we build on that and not make the same mistakes.'"
Marrone said as OTAs draw to a close – and with next week's three-day mandatory minicamp marking the end of the on-field portion of the 2015 offseason – he has seen significant progress in the last month.
"It's been a challenge," Marrone said. "It's always a learning experience. A new coach comes in and the players are trying to get a feel. The teaching is probably different. Last year, it was obviously unfortunate what happened with (offensive line coach) George (Yarno missing the season while battling cancer) and then (assistant offensive line coach) Luke (Butkus) had to get thrown in there … they're getting used to my style and what we teach technically.
"That's how it always is this time of year. You go in, and all of a sudden you're working together and you know where you're going. Everyone's working like heck to get a vision of what you want to be, and all of a sudden it's at the end of a phase or at the end of minicamp and you have to start all over again when training camp comes."
Also on Thursday:
*Bradley said the Jaguars won't practice Friday, which was scheduled to be the last of 10 OTA practices. The Jaguars will hold their mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. …
*Marrone said he may spend part of next week's three-day mandatory minicamp moving some players around on the line to get an idea which players can play both inside and outside. …
*Marrone on second-year guard Brandon Linder: "I've been surprised where he is at this stage. I think he's ahead of the game for when you think of a first-year player playing. I think he's very sound technically. He's very tough, very strong, very agile. He has a lot of traits you look for in that position." …
*The Jaguars held tight end Julius Thomas out of practice for a second consecutive day because of tightness in his leg. Running back Storm Johnson (back tightness) also was held out of practice, as was cornerback Davon House (abdomen tightness). …
*Bradley said there's a good chance wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has not participated in OTAs because of a knee injury, will not participate in minicamp next week. "I would say it would be a higher possibility that we hold him out," Bradley said.