JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars "experts" Rick Ballou, Frank Frangie, Jeff Lageman, Brent Martineau, John Oehser, Brian Sexton, J.P. Shadrick and Ashlyn Sullivan take an early look at the issues facing the Jaguars as the 2022 offseason begins …
Rick Ballou, Jaguars sideline reporter
Pleasant surprise: Tight end Dan Arnold is much better than I assumed; unfortunately, he got hurt late in the 2021 season. The tight end position has been a revolving door for the Jaguars, and it appears they finally have a guy who can catch 50-60 balls a year if he stays healthy. Jacksonville has many holes on its roster, but tight end shouldn't be one of them.
Areas to address: The offense. Jacksonville has its quarterback, running backs and tight ends; now the Jaguars must address wide receiver and offensive line. They must decide on free agents Cam Robinson (left tackle), Andrew Norwell (left guard), A.J. Cann (right guard), Tyler Shatley (center), DJ Chark Jr. (wide receiver), Laquon Treadwell (wide receiver) and Tavon Austin (wide receiver). These two positions are a must if the Jaguars are to improve. The good news is they will have the second or third most money in free agency and plenty of draft capital, including the top overall pick.
Traits I want in a head coach: Jacksonville needs a coach who will connect with the players. The game continues to change, and Old School NFL is long gone. The Jaguars must find a coach who understands what the players are thinking and what they want – and at the same time, players want to be coached by someone who always demands the players' best. Get a coach who players believe cares about them personally; in return, they'll run through a brick wall for him.
Frank Frangie, Radio Voice of the Jaguars
Pleasant surprise: The growth of quarterback Trevor Lawrence wasn't a surprise, but it was so good to see down the stretch – culminating with his best game in the regular-season finale. The game clearly slowed down for him some in the final games and we really saw the potential. I also was encouraged by some guys on defense – lineman Dawuane Smoot, cornerback Tyson Campbell and safety Andre Cisco – in some flashes late. I thought veteran free-agent linebacker Damien Wilson was much better than expected. Veterans Malcolm Brown and Roy Robertson-Harris will be good defensive-line foundation pieces.
Areas to address: This one is easy; they must find playmakers outside. Watching the playoffs, so many fast, quick, twitchy receivers help their teams get deep. And there were so many star receivers in the postseason – Deebo Samuel of San Francisco, Cooper Cupp of the Los Angeles Rams, Ja'Marr Chase of Cincinnati and Tyreek Hill of Kansas City. The Jaguars must find some receivers. They also need help in other places -- another offensive lineman or two, an edge rusher, a tight end. But receiver jumps off the page.
Traits I want in a head coach: First and foremost, a good leader: create culture, a grownup, someone those players will really look up to, no off-field nonsense. My preference is someone who has been a head coach, but if not: a first-timer who really knows the league, is organized, etc. An offensive-minded guy would be great, but with proper leadership and a good plan, the coach will find the right way to develop Lawrence.
Jeff Lageman, Jaguars analyst and former Jaguars defensive end
Pleasant surprise: The defense was a pleasant surprise in that had some really big moments in the season. The unit's play against Buffalo was impressive, as were both Indianapolis games. The unit came a long way from 2020 when it was among the worst in the league.
Areas to address: Offensively, the Jaguars must find more weapons for Lawrence and improve along the offensive line. Defensively, they must find a more consistent way to affect the passer in a passing league.
Traits I want in a head coach: The Jaguars need a head coach who is a strong leader with a commitment to change the culture of a franchise that has not seen nearly enough winning. There are so many traits needed to be a valuable leader, and the Jaguars must find the coach that has many.
Brent Martineau, Action Sports Jax Sports Director
Pleasant surprise: I think a pleasant surprise was how much production the Jaguars got from a couple of players signed to be special-teams-only contributors. Wide receiver/returner Jamal Agnew and safety Rudy Ford gave the Jags a lot more than planned on offense and defense. Some of the Jaguars' most electric plays of the season came from Agnew in the return game and on offense. Arnold's potential fits in this category too, but – like Agnew – his season was derailed by injury.
Areas to address: The biggest: more playmakers - on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars hit very few home runs this year and those plays change games. On offense, speed is lacking. On defense, ball-hawking players and interior pass rush are lacking. The Jags must address many things, but finding blue-chip players in free agency and the draft is paramount.
Traits I want in a head coach: The trait in a head coach that stands out to me is trust. The Jaguars have been dysfunctional for various reasons the last few years. They need someone that this organization, the locker room and the fan base can trust to do things right, do things well and lead this franchise out of the basement of the NFL.
John Oehser, jaguars.com senior writer
Pleasant surprise: There were a couple of these, with the first being a few games from the defense that gave you hope for the future and the second being the late-season growth from Lawrence. The defense's performances against the Bills and Colts gave glimpses of a unit that could improve next season. Lawrence late in the season showed a rare maturity for a rookie, particularly in the difficult circumstances he faced; that perhaps isn't a surprise, but it's encouraging.
Areas to address: With a team that has won four games in two seasons, there are obviously many. The top three: defensive-line interior, wide receiver and offensive line. The Jaguars improved against the run in 2021 but must get stouter and more disruptive on the line. The lack of speed and separation at wide receiver hurt the offense all season. The offensive line, though good at times and too harshly criticized, must get more consistent and isn't dominant; the Jaguars must find a way to make a group that has been passable in recent seasons better.
Traits I want in a head coach: Leadership, ability to communicate and ability to set an organizational tone. It's wonderful if an NFL head coach is an Xs-and-Os whiz. It's also secondary in terms of importance at the position. If players believe in the head coach – and if that head coach can communicate his vision and lead the organization – the head coach has a chance to succeed. If not …
Brian Sexton, jaguars.com senior correspondent
Pleasant Surprise: Arnold. I remember watching the Arizona Cardinals late last season battling the Rams for a playoff spot. The Cardinals' long, lanky tight end (Arnold) made plays all over the field and in the end zone. I was very surprised when the Jaguars acquired Arnold in a September 2021 trade for cornerback CJ Henderson, but not at all surprised he made such a quick impact for the Jaguars. I think the Jaguars probably would have beaten the Houston Texans and New York Jets in December –and maybe the Atlanta Falcons – had Arnold not been out with an injury. I don't know that Arnold is the complete answer at a position that long has bedeviled the Jaguars, but he's a big part of it.
Area to Address: The offensive line will need an overhaul. Robinson and Norwell are both scheduled to become free agents in March, as are Cann and Shatley. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft offers a chance at an elite offensive tackle, which would let the Jaguars pair him with either Jawaan Taylor or Walker Little. Taylor could move inside to guard to play with guard Ben Bartch and center Brandon Linder. There are a lot of moving parts and possibilities, but this group is going to look very different in 2022 and it will need to be better to help protect Lawrence and establish the kind of dominant running game the Jaguars want to use to set up play action.
Traits I want in a head coach: I want a leader of men whose actions reveal a person of impeccable integrity and high character. Players follow a head coach such as Tony Dungy, Andy Reid or Mike Tomlin because they want to live up to a standard of excellence; it's human nature, and when you have that in your locker room, you're on the right track toward winning. The Jaguars need a coach who cares about the Jaguars and Jacksonville, not just how many zeroes are behind the paycheck and his own legacy. The right coach will turn this around much faster than you expect.
J.P. Shadrick, jaguars.com reporter/editor
Pleasant surprise: Final week of the 2021 season. The Jaguars proved in a victory over the Colts that week they could get off the deck and play their best game against a team vying for a playoff berth. Is it a springboard to the offseason and beyond? Doubtful, because each season is its own entity, especially when there are coaching changes involved. I suspect we won't hear much about that game once training camp starts in July. But, winning is better than losing, and the locker-room leadership didn't let this one get away from them.
Area to address: Speed on offense. Watch a playoff game, any playoff game. Most of the big plays are with fast guys outrunning defenders for long touchdowns. There are not enough of those guys on the Jaguars' roster at the moment. If the other team is going to score, then you better keep up. Players who can catch are great, but players who can catch and then outrun everyone 60 yards for a touchdown are better.
Trait I want in a head coach: Someone who can rally the organization, plus a strong football mind with an ability to talk to anyone in the room with authenticity. Sean Payton, in his goodbye to the New Orleans Saints the other day, said something to the effect that the building and the people in it were the reason for their success over the years. He said that the growth of his coworkers' kids was how he measured time over 15 seasons. He talked often about coaches, personnel people, front-office folks and their families. You can be an intense football person with a drive to win games and still be approachable and warm and still have success.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Digital reporter and host
Pleasant surprise. The development of the 2021 draft class has to be the biggest positive. I don't want to say it is a surprise because it is expected for your draft class to develop, but the group made major strides the last month of the season. Lawrence is undoubtedly the future, playing his best game against the Colts the final week. Tyson Campbell is a starting-caliber corner whose confidence grew weekly. Little made the most of his playing time and we saw why they called Cisco a "ballhawk" in college. It was a good draft class, and they played like it at the end of the year.
Area to address. Offense is by far the biggest area that must improve. We all watched the Buffalo Bills-Chiefs playoff game Sunday; those high-scoring teams are the present and the future of the NFL. The Jaguars looked like they played in a different league compared to what we watched Sunday. The Jaguars must spend in free agency and draft explosive weapons on offense. Lawrence needs A LOT more help; it must be the biggest focus this offseason.
Trait I want in a head coach. – I keep going back to what the NFL Network's Judy Battista said on Jaguars Drive Time recently – that a head coach must be a Chief Executive Officer. Yes, you need a great football coach, but a head coach is now so much more than that. You set the tone for the entire building, and you must get the business side and football side working as one. The Jaguars need a football coach who knows how to get the best out of every person he encounters, whether that is the offensive coordinator or the ticket sales intern. I feel confident the final candidates reported have that trait.