INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Doug Marrone expressed confidence in the offensive line.
A lot of confidence.
Dave Caldwell did the same – and while that may not have been the most notable news when the duo spoke this week at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, it's significant that the Jaguars' two top decision-makers like a group that at times has been criticized this offseason.
Marrone address the issue Tuesday when discussing fourth-year left tackle Cam Robinson.
"I'm excited about not just Cam, but really everyone on that line," Marrone, in his fourth season as the Jaguars' head coach, said. "I'm looking for that group to really step up. They've put in a lot of work. They've been working hard in the offseason; that's the kind of people they are."
Four of the five Jaguars' starting offensive linemen – left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor – started all 16 games this past season. Robinson missed the first two games while returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him the final 14 games the previous season.
"Cam, I'm really excited about," Marrone said of the second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. "You're talking about a player who did a nice job for us his first year, his rookie year, then got injured. When he got injured, he really didn't do anything until he came back and then we had to get him ready to play.
"That's a difficult situation for anyone – for a coach, for the player. You're trying to get him ready to play and you lose sight of all of these weeks of work where you create the foundation of your discipline, and of your technique. Now, Cam is healthy, so now I'm really excited to see were he's at."
While the offensive line at times has been among the Jaguars' more criticized units in recent seasons, Caldwell noted that offensive line is often criticized by fan bases around the NFL – often undeservedly so.
"I don't think we're alone in (hearing that from) the fan base," Caldwell, in his eighth season as the Jaguars' general manager, said. "If you look across the league, the No. 1 complaint with a lot of teams is probably the offensive line."
Caldwell noted that Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette finished fourth in the AFC in rushing this past season, adding that "We were able to run the ball effectively and pass protect effectively."
Caldwell, like Marrone, mentioned Robinson having a full healthy offseason this year, and spoke highly of the other four offensive line starters.
"Andrew actually played at a high level, and Linder played at an extremely high level as a center," Caldwell said. "A.J. and Will [Richardson] did a nice job as a rotating guard and we have a guy who we feel like has a very high ceiling in Jawaan Taylor, so I think Doug feels like that's one position group that can be even better for us."
Marrone and Caldwell both discussed quarterback extensively this week, with speaking of a competition between Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew II. Caldwell discounted the notion that it would be difficult for Foles to be a backup because of his high salary compared to Minshew's. Foles, who signed as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, is scheduled to make $15.125 million in 2020. Minshew, selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, will have a base salary of $585,000. "The way I look at it is by position group," Caldwell said. "We allocate an allotment per position in what we want to budget for that position. We're well under what we would budget for the position between the two players. It doesn't prevent us from signing players or going out and getting free agents. That position group is actually in very good shape."
As he has done in recent combines, former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell is in Indianapolis this week as mentor to the quarterbacks. Brunell and former New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington accompany the quarterbacks throughout the combine, serving as resources. "Getting the opportunity to be around these guys is really interesting," Brunell said. "Obviously you're seeing the best version of them right now, but in enough time spent with them, you get to know their stories and their personalities. I'm here to answer any questions that they might have about the process, life in the NFL. So, you're always answering questions and telling them your story in the hope that it helps them in some way. You get to know them a little. In years past, some guys are really good guys; some guys aren't. Some guys handle the combine like it's a piece of cake with just a real presence about them and a lot of confidence. You walk away thinking, these guys are going to be good. A few years ago, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz went through here and were impressive – much like Joe Burrow is right now. They just jump out."