ATLANTA, Ga. – Mojo weighed in on the Jaguars Thursday. His assessment?
“The team is there to win a championship.”
That was what former Jaguars running back and current NFL Network analysts Maurice Jones-Drew told jaguars.com during an extensive conversation from Radio Row at Super Bowl LIII Thursday.
Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Jaguars in 2009-2011, is now also an analyst for the Los Angeles Rams radio broadcasts. He is in Atlanta in both his NFL Network and Rams roles, but the Jaguars were among the topics he covered with jaguars.com Thursday.
Among the Jaguars-related topics:
The importance of the coming offseason – and the importance of the team figuring its direction and philosophy.
“It’s important this year to figure out which identity you want, then go out and make sure you double down on it,” Jones-Drew said.
Jones-Drew said it didn’t seem the Jaguars did that last offseason, which he said hurt during a season in which the Jaguars slipped to a 5-11 finish after an AFC South Championship in 2017.
The Jaguars, after leading the NFL in rushing in 2017, finished 19thin that category in 2018. Jones-Drew said one reason was fewer front-line running backs. After playing 2017 with Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant, the Jaguars released Ivory last offseason.
Fournette played just eight games because of injuries and suspensions, and Grant missed the last 11 games of the season with a foot injury.
“It’s not that [2017 starter] Blake [Bortles] is not a good quarterback,” Jones-Drew said. “But he needs a running game. That’s when he excelled [in 2017], when he had a real running game where he could run the ball with Leonard Fournette. You had Ivory. You had Corey (Grant). You had Yeldon. You had three or four guys who could go. This year you only had three [running backs] who were up. You had some healthy scratches. To me, it just didn’t make sense.
“The offense kind of stalled out. The defense was on the field all the time. No matter how good you are, if you’re in the field 70-80 plays, you’re going to give up points. It happens. It’s one of those years.…
“This year, I felt like the offense really hurt the defense in a way where you’re going three-and-out too much. Trust me, I respect the run first, run second, run fourth, run third – I respect that. I want that. But if that was where you wanted to take this offense, you should have addressed some different needs than you did in the draft and free agency.”
Jones-Drew said other factors contributed to the ’18 slide.
“I’m always a big person with this: You need to have a real veteran presence,’’ Jones-Drew said, noting the departure in the 2018 offseason veteran middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis. “[Veteran defensive end] Calais [Campbell] can’t do it on his own. You’re losing these guys and you’re not replacing them with a veteran presence….
“That’s what you need. You look at this team now, and there’s not many veterans, and when I’m talking about veterans I’m talking about guys who are seven or eight years in. You want older guys who have been around and seen a little bit, so they can relay your message throughout the room constantly.”
Jones-Drew, the second-leading rushing in franchise history behind Fred Taylor, emphasized on Thursday that the Jaguars should remain committed to Fournette. The second-year veteran rushed for 439 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 after rushing for 1,040 and nine touchdowns as a rookie.
“I do know he’s a tremendous talent,” Jones-Drew said. “He has some injury history. As an organization, you picked him at the No. 4 pick because of what he’s able to do and what you want him to do in in your system. There’s no reason to give up on him now. You have to work with him and he needs to work with you.
“It goes back and forth, but you need to have someone in that building that he can relate to and talk to and respect. And as an organization you have to put him in the best situation to be successful.
“You just have to make sure you’re on the same page.”