JACKSONVILLE – We're halfway there, sort of.
Still, that's the feeling coming out of the first wave of 2016 free agency – that pretty much half of the offseason is behind us with the 2016 NFL Draft still to come.
Whether or not we're exactly halfway, make no mistake:
With a significant exception or two, the makeup of the Jaguars' roster – as well as the outlook and direction for 2016 – is substantially clearer now than it was a week ago.
One of those exceptions is on offense, where the line remains a big offseason storyline. The Jaguars have plenty of options on the front, but how those options will play out – who will start at center/guard and perhaps who will start at left tackle – remains uncertain as early March turns to mid-March and as the focus of general managers and personnel types increasingly turns to the draft.
With that in mind – and with the first wave of 2016 free agency in the rear view – here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' offense:
Backup: Chad Henne.
Outlook:The outlook here remains bright – and at the same time, significant steps must be made. Those steps must come from Bortles, who must continue the dramatic improvement made during his second season. While 2015 undoubtedly was Bortles' breakout year with a franchise-record 35 touchdown passes and more than 4,500 yards passing, the needed offensive efficiency/improvement depends on him improving at the line of scrimmage and improving his decision-making. Progress in those areas should increase third-down efficiency and reduce his league-high interception total; both areas are critical. The key offseason move at quarterback: re-signing Henne, who has been a valuable backup/mentor in Bortles' first two seasons. Look for the Jaguars to add a third quarterback, possibly in collegiate free agency.
Starter(s):T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory.
Others:Denard Robinson, Jonas Gray, Corey Grant, Joe Banyard.
Departures: Toby Gerhart, Bernard Pierce.
Outlook:The dynamic of this position changed dramatically in the first wave of free agency, with Ivory signing as an unrestricted free agent from the New York Jets. Ivory, a seven-year veteran, rushed for 1,070 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns during a Pro Bowl 2015 season, and it was evident from listening to General Manager David Caldwell late last week that the Jaguars' plan for Yeldon – a second-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft – and Ivory to share carries. The Jaguars like how the pair's running styles complement one another, with Ivory being a slam-bam, hit-the-hole-fast runner and Yeldon depending more on vision and an ability to make defenders miss. The hope is that Ivory can help the team in short yardage, and his presence helps the position's depth significantly. Robinson's speed makes him a possibility as a third back and the team liked what it saw from Gray after signing him from Miami's practice squad late last season.
Starters:Left tackle Luke Joeckel, guard/center Brandon Linder, guard/center A.J. Cann, right tackle Jermey Parnell.
Others:Guard/center Mackenzy Bernadeau, guard Tyler Shatley, center/lineman Luke Bowanko, tackle Josh Wells, lineman Patrick Miller, guard Kadeem Edwards, guard Chris Reed.
*Departures: *Guard Zane Beadles, center Stefen Wisniewski, tackle Sam Young.
Outlook: If there is an uncertain offensive position group, this is it. Beadles and Wisniewski started 16 games at left guard and center, respectively; Beadles was released shortly before free agency and Wisniewski has not been re-signed. Linder or Cann could move to center, and Linder seems the likely option at the position. The team also brought free-agent tackle Kelvin Beachum of the Pittsburgh Steelers in for a visit Monday. He reportedly has agreed to terms with the team, which raises the possibility of competition for Joeckel at the left tackle position. Could he challenge Joeckel at left tackle with Joeckel kicking inside to guard? Whatever the answers, this is an area that must continue the improvement shown last season. While the pass protection improved, and while the team rushed well at times, 51 sacks allowed by the offense was too many and the interior run-blocking remained an issue.
Starters:Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns.
Others:Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene, Bryan Walters, Neal Sterling, Arrelious Benn, Tony Washington, Rasheed Bailey, Damian Copeland, Shaq Evans, Rashad Lawrence.
Outlook:This question has remained unchanged this offseason, and with reason: it was perhaps the team's most improved position in 2015, and the young, developing talent makes continued improvement likely. Hurns and Robinson both surpassed 1,000 yards and reached double-digit touchdowns last season, and the duo is one of the best young receiving tandems in the NFL. A major offseason storyline is Lee, who is the team's highest-drafted player at the position and who has game-changing playmaking ability/speed. His ability to stay healthy and be available – particularly in the offseason – is key, but if he takes the steps coaches and personnel officials believe possible, three-receiver packages featuring Lee, Hurns and Robinson are possible. The team loves Greene as a slot receiver/punt returner, and the competition for roles and playing time between Walters/Benn/Sterling will be an intriguing training camp storyline.
Starters:Julius Thomas, Marcedes Lewis.
Others:Nic Jacobs, Ben Koyack.
Outlook:This position also remained relatively unchanged. The major offseason move was re-signing Lewis, but Thomas' continued development in the offense will a major offseason storyline. Thomas, who signed as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, had a productive stretch early in the second half of the season, but the offense needs more production/reliability from him. That should increase as he and Bortles work together more. Even without huge numbers last season, Thomas' ability to beat single coverage was a major factor in the team's offensive improvement. Lewis' return gives the Jaguars a solid run-blocking presence and capable complement in the passing game.