JACKSONVILLE – Ronnie Harrison has a few specific goals for 2019.
“Just getting more comfortable with the defense, then making plays on the ball – more turnovers, more interceptions,” he said.
A strong safety with athleticism and ball awareness, Harrison will be a key Jaguars storyline this offseason and next season – a player who must develop and reach his potential in 2019 for the Jaguars to do the same.
While Jaguars observers will spend the offseason largely focused on free agency and the draft, equally important to the team’s future is the development of multiple young players.
Harrison is one such player – and there are others have contributed early in their careers, but who must continue developing to establish themselves as front-line NFL players and to be part of the team’s core moving forward.
Five Jaguars players whose development will be key storylines in 2019:
1.Ronnie Harrison, safety. A third-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft from Alabama, Harrison impressed as a rookie with his physicality and football intelligence. Teammates lauded his confidence and a feeling that the game wasn’t too big for him. He began the season as a nickel safety in a so-called “big-nickel” package, then started three games in place of demoted veteran Barry Church before a season-ending Week 15 knee injury that didn’t require surgery. “I feel like with the opportunity I had, I definitely made plays,” said Harrison, who finished the season with 31 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry, an interception and three passes defensed. “I felt comfortable while I was out there.” Look for Harrison to start full-time next season, and to be a core defensive player for the foreseeable future. “I know my role is going to need to enlarge,” Harrison said. “I’m going to need to be more vocal back there. I’m definitely going to work on that with the guys this offseason.”
2.Taven Bryan, defensive tackle. The No. 29 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft from Florida, Bryan improved significantly as the season continued – and after playing in 30 percent of the defensive snaps just once in the first nine games, he was below that number just once in the last seven. Bryan moved between strong-side defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle much of the season. He was more effective inside than outside, but the skillsets required for each position are similar enough he should be able to continue to play both positions when necessary. He finished the season with one sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries along with 20 tackles. “We see a bright future with him,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash said during Week 17.
3.Cam Robinson, left tackle. A second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft from Alabama, Robinson will be a major storyline entering 2019 for multiple reasons. One, he will be returning from a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in a Week 2 victory over New England. Two, his return will be critical to an offensive line that must improve from an injury-plagued, under-productive season. Three, Robinson also must improve individually after being inconsistent at times in his first 17 NFL regular-season starts. Robinson has big-time size, strength and athleticism and has emerged as a leader on the offensive line, but footwork and fundamentals must improve to reach the level of consistency the Jaguars need.
4.Keelan Cole, wide receiver. Cole, who signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft, was one of the team’s biggest surprises of ’17 – and one of the biggest mysteries of ’18. After struggling to adjust from Division II Kentucky Wesleyan to the NFL early in his rookie season, Cole finished that season with 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns and entered ’18 as a starter. He caught 25 passes for 336 and a touchdown in the first six games, then struggled with drops and fumbles and played as a reserve five of the final nine games – finishing with 38 receptions for 491 yards and a touchdown. Cole flashed enough in ’18 to make the team believe he can be a starting receiver, and he will get a chance in 2019 Training Camp to recover from a sophomore slump. He will need to take advantage of that opportunity and produce to have a key role moving forward.
5.DJ Chark, Jr., wide receiver. A second-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Chark is as intriguing as any player on this list because he is still something of an unknown. The Jaguars had a first-round grade on him out of Louisiana State, and considered him with the selection they used on Bryan late in the first round. They like his athleticism and his deep speed, and Chark quickly developed into one of their top special-teams players – and their best punt-coverage gunner – as a rookie. He also was moving into a larger role as a receiver before sustaining a quadriceps injury that kept him out Weeks 12-16 this past season. That cost Chark valuable repetitions, and he finished the season with 14 receptions for 174 yards and no touchdown. Chark has the potential to be a starter and to upgrade what last season was a stagnant passing offense. Whether he can develop into that in time to have major impact in Year 2 is a key offseason question.