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Marrone: Kessler to start QB, Milanovich to call plays

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler works out prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler works out prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars have a new quarterback.

They have a new play-caller, too.

Blake Bortles has been replaced by Cody Kessler as the Jaguars' starting quarterback, a move announced by Head Coach Doug Marrone on Monday – the same day he dismissed Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett and replaced him as play-caller with Quarterbacks Coach Scott Milanovich.

"It was a tough day today," Marrone said Monday, a day after the Jaguars' seventh consecutive loss – 24-21 to the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y. "It's a tough day, but that's how this business is.

"It's tough when you let go of someone who you have a ton of respect for, and who you've worked with longer than I've worked with than any other coach – and then a quarterback I have a ton of respect for, his toughness …

"I told both of those guys, 'It's not one coach or one person. It's on all of us.'''

Marrone emphasized that the decisions were "not a knee-jerk reaction," and that he made Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and General Manager Dave Caldwell aware of the moves before they were announced.

"They're my boss, so I told them, 'This is what my thought process is; this is not a knee-jerk reaction; this is what I've been thinking about, this is what I'd like to, I want to make you aware of it,''' Marrone said.

He also emphasized that the decisions were his.

"It's purely me," he said. "It doesn't come from anyone else."

The Jaguars, who ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense and first in rushing last season, rank 22nd and 16th in those areas this season. Marrone specified that Monday's moves were an effort to spark a passing offense that ranks 22nd in the NFL this season.

Marrone also said he never considered changing just the quarterback or coordinator.

"I was going to do both," Marrone said. "I'm just trying to get better production in the passing game."

Kessler, 25, a third-round selection from the University of Southern California in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, has played in 13 NFL games. He started eight games as a rookie for Cleveland, going 0-8 with six touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Kessler, acquired in an offseason traded with Cleveland, replaced Bortles in the Jaguars' 20-7 Week 7 loss to the Houston Texans after Bortles' second lost fumble in that game. Kessler completed 21 of 30 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the game.

Marrone was asked if the move meant Kessler was the starter for the rest of the season.

"Hopefully, he can stay healthy and win games for us," Marrone said. "My plan is for him to go in there and play."

Bortles, who has started every Jaguars game since Week 4 of the 2014 season, has completed 223 of 369 passes for 2,572 yards and 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season. He threw for 104 and 127 yards in losses to Pittsburgh and Buffalo the past two weeks, completing 12 of 23 passes for a touchdown with two interceptions against Buffalo.

"We feel like at the end of the day we've got to get better production out of our passing game," Marrone said, adding: "It's not just the one game. It's something I've been thinking about. I'm someone that thinks things through and I try not to make emotional decisions because they're never usually right.

"I wanted to think everything through, look at everything and take everything in. It came to a point where we had to make a move."

Milanovich, 45, the Jaguars' quarterbacks coach since the beginning of the 2017 season, served as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts from 2012-2016. He was the Argonauts' assistant head coach/offensive coordinator from 2009-2011 and the Alouettes' offensive coordinator in 2008.

Milanovich played collegiately at the University of Maryland, then spent 1996-1999 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Things are always going to be different when you make a change at play-caller," Marrone said. "We're working through that, obviously, right now."

Hackett, the Jaguars' quarterbacks coach in 2015 and 2016, took over as offensive coordinator with nine games remaining in the 2016 season. Marrone called Hackett a "good football coach and a tireless worker."

"I'm extremely appreciative of what he's done for the team, but I'm extremely appreciative of what he's done for me personally," Marrone said. "I felt I needed to make a change to give us the opportunity to win some games."

Also on Monday:

*Marrone discussed running back Leonard Fournette, and was asked if he had considered removing Fournette from his role of offensive captain. Fournette was ejected against Buffalo for fighting along with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. "Captaincy is voted by the team," Marrone said. "If the team came to me and said they wanted to strip his captaincy, then that's the team's decision – not necessarily just the head coach." …

*Marrone said he did not consider relieving Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash of his duties. He also said he has not been told by management whether he will return as head coach next season. "And I haven't asked," Marrone said.

*The Jaguars on Monday also placed left guard Andrew Norwell on injured reserve. A starter in the first 11 games of the season, Norwell sustained an ankle injury in the fourth quarter Sunday.

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