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Looking ahead: Offense

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JACKSONVILLE – Now, we look ahead.

The good news when looking ahead at the Jaguars' offense? It wasn't at all offensive during the 2015 season. In fact, it was good.

And that makes the future look very bright.

That's not to say the work is done, and that's not to say improvement doesn't need to be made. The running game must improve, and while the offensive line was better in 2015 than in 2014, the unit still has strides to make.

Quarterback Blake Bortles, whose dramatic improvement set the tone for the Jaguars to improve from 31st in the NFL in total offense in 2014 to 18th in 2015, must continue to mature. For the team to reach a postseason level, Bortles must improve in game situations. His accuracy must improve. So must his decision-making.

But you know what? That's true of most second-year quarterbacks.

The big picture offensively for 2015 – and the big picture looking ahead – is the foundation for the future appears to have been laid. The quarterback is in place. So is the core of the receiving corps. The skill positions are in good shape, and the beginnings of a solid line appear to be in place, too.

What's next for the offense? Where does it go from here?

Those are questions coaches and front office will consider in the coming weeks and months. With those in mind, here's a position-by-position look at the offense heading into the 2016 offseason …

 

Quarterback

Starter:Blake Bortles.

Backup: Chad Henne.

Free agents:Henne.

Outlook:The outlook here is brighter than it has been in a long, long time. Bortles made dramatic strides in his second season, throwing 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions after throwing 11 and 17, respectively, as a rookie. The next step is to improve his efficiency and reduce the interceptions that at times have cost the Jaguars. A major offseason question is the future of Henne, who has been a valuable backup in the 29 games since Bortles became a starter. He and Bortles are close, and Bortles has talked often about Henne's importance in his development. Still, Henne has started 53 games in eight NFL seasons and it's not beyond reason he could sign somewhere to compete for a starting job.

 

Running back

Starter:T.J. Yeldon.

Backup:Denard Robinson.

Others:Jonas Gray, Toby Gerhart, Corey Grant, Bernard Pierce, Joe Banyard.

Free agents: Pierce.

Outlook:Yeldon without question is the starter, and he played more than well enough in 12 starts as a rookie to show he should be a productive player going forward. He rushed for 740 yards and two touchdowns on 141 carries and emerged as a three-down back more quickly than the team originally anticipated. Still, as a group the Jaguars need more production here. Jaguars backs as a whole rushed for just 1,163 yards and three touchdowns, with Robinson rushing for 70 yards on 25 carries in a three-game stint as a starter at season's end and struggling with ball security during that stretch. Gray signed from the Dolphins' practice squad in December and could be part of equation next season – and don't rule out a return for Gerhart despite being hampered by injuries throughout two seasons with the team.

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Line

Starters:Left tackle Luke Joeckel, left guard Zane Beadles, center Stefen Wisniewski, right guard Brandon Linder/A.J. Cann, right tackle Jermey Parnell.

Reserves:Tackle Sam Young, guard Tyler Shatley, center/lineman Luke Bowanko.

Others: Tackle Josh Wells, lineman Patrick Miller, guard Kadeem Edwards, guard Chris Reed.

Free agents:Wisniewski.

Outlook:  This area improved this season, though more improvement is needed. The addition of Parnell helped solidify the right side of the line, and Cann played exceptionally well as a rookie. Joeckel struggled mightily in the regular-season finale, and while he generally progressed throughout the season, he still must gain power and strength. The primary offseason issue: what happens on the interior? Linder, who missed 14 games with a shoulder injury in 2015, almost certainly will start somewhere on the interior, as will Cann. They could start at either guard position, and General Manager David Caldwell has mentioned the idea of Cann playing center. Beadles has been mentioned as a possible offseason salary-cap casualty, but that's no guarantee and the team could bring him to camp to compete with Cann at one guard spot. Another offseason issue is center: Wisniewski started 16 games, but it's no guarantee he returns and the team could look to upgrade the position in free agency. Bowanko, who started as a rookie in 2014 before playing a backup role this season, also remains a possibility.

 

Wide receivers

Starters:Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns.

Reserves: Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene, Bryan Walters, Neal Sterling.

Others:Arrelious Benn, Rasheed Bailey, Damian Copeland, Shaq Evans, Rashad Lawrence, Tony Washington.

Free agents:None.

Outlook:No position on the Jaguars developed more in 2015 than receiver. More development is needed, and there's no reason to think that won't happen. Robinson emerged as a No. 1, go-to-receiver and will play in the Pro Bowl for the first time, with Hurns also finishing with more than 1,000 yards receiving. The production dropped off at the position after that, but Lee – after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury – remained healthy in the second half of the season and showed signs of being the playmaker that prompted the Jaguars to select him before Robinson in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Jaguars also liked the flashes Greene showed as a slot receiver as a rookie. It will be key for Lee/Greene to be more productive next season, but all indications are that can happen.

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Tight ends

Starters:Julius Thomas, Marcedes Lewis.

Reserves: Clay Harbor, Nic Jacobs.

Others:Ben Koyack.

Free agents:Lewis, Harbor, Jacobs (exclusive-rights free agent).

Outlook:This positon took a step forward in 2015 – and figures to take another next season. Thomas missed the first four games with a hand injury after signing as an unrestricted free agent, and after several weeks trying to develop chemistry with Bortles, he finished the season strong with touchdown receptions in four consecutive games at one point. As he and Bortles work more together, look for Thomas' profile within the offense to increase. Lewis, the Jaguars' most-tenured player, is an unrestricted free agent and both sides are open to trying to find a deal that works. The Jaguars like Lewis very much as a run-blocker, and he had several big plays in the passing game in 2015.

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