JACKSONVILLE – Organized team activities are nearly upon us.
How much that will excite your football senses depends on perspective. If you’re a fan of line play and contact, perhaps the Jaguars’ 10-practices-in-three-weeks organized team activities that begin Tuesday and run through early June are not for you. The same is true of the team’s June 12-14 mandatory veteran minicamp.
Those four weeks make up Phase 3 of the Jaguars’ offseason program.
The work at the Dream Finders Hope Practice Complex is unpadded and non-contact in nature, but teams can do seven-on-seven, nine-on-seven and 11-on-11 work, so it’s the closest thing to real football practice NFL teams get until training camp.
For the Jaguars, that real stuff – the training-camp stuff – will begin July 26. That’s also when multiple practices will be open to the public. While OTAs and minicamp practices are open to the media, they are closed to the public.
And for the Jaguars and Head Coach Doug Marrone, the next four weeks are about preparing as much as possible for the real stuff. What must the Jaguars do with the next month to do that?
Here’s a position-by-position look:
Quarterback | Blake Bortles is the starter here and that won’t change. But Bortles must work with a slew of new receivers this offseason to hone timing. The rest of this room is entirely different since last season, with long-time backup Chad Henne now with Kansas City. Is Cody Kessler ready for a full-time backup role after being acquired in an offseason trade with Cleveland? Can sixth-round rookie Tanner Lee earn a roster spot? Those are key offseason questions.
Running back | Leonard Fournette is the unquestioned go-to back. The question here is depth. With ’17 backup Chris Ivory released in the offseason, 2015 second-round draft selection T.J. Yeldon must show he’s ready for a full-time backup role. And Corey Grant, a situational and special teams player in the past, must show he’s ready for an expanded offensive role. Will the Jaguars sign a veteran back as a reserve here? Stay tuned.
Wide receiver | This is a position in transition, with free-agent Donte Moncrief and rookie second-round selection D.J. Chark Jr. expected to play key roles. This feels like a position where at least five players will make an impact. Returning veteran Marqise Lee and Moncrief figure to start, with second-year veterans Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook as well as Chark also playing key roles. The specifics of those roles will be a major area to watch in the coming month.
Tight end | This is another area of transition, with Austin Seferian-Jenkins having signed as an unrestricted free agent and longtime veteran Marcedes Lewis having been released after 12 seasons. The question of whether Seferian-Jenkins can replace Lewis as a big-time blocking presence won’t be answered in non-contact offseason work, but the Jaguars should get an idea in the coming weeks if Seferian-Jenkins can be the expected upgrade as a downfield presence in the passing game.
Offensive line | There’s enough of a limit to what can be accomplished on the offensive line during unpadded, non-contact work that Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone previously has said publicly he doesn’t expect to do much evaluating in this area. The key storyline will be All-Pro unrestricted free agent guard Andrew Norwell’s acclimation into an improving line, but that storyline won’t progress much until pads go on during training camp.
Defensive line | This is a similar story to the offensive line, with little real evaluation possible until padded work in training camp. The Jaguars are deep here and the presence of three Pro Bowl selections last season – ends Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell and tackle Malik Jackson – make this an area to watch. But the primary storyline is the acclimation of rookie first-round selection Taven Bryan. Even with the Jaguars’ depth on the line, he’ll have a role next season. The first, small steps toward earning it begin this week.
Linebacker | This is a case of a star, a star-to-be and an unknown. The star is Pro Bowl linebacker Telvin Smith and the star-to-be – Myles Jack – has the feel of a player on the verge of a breakout season. Jack’s story has some offseason juice because he’s moving to the middle in base situations after playing strongside in those situations last offseason and middle in nickel situations. That move is happening in the wake of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny’s retirement, but confidence is high around the Jaguars the third-year veteran is ready for the move. The unknown entity is second-year veteran Blair Brown, who is moving into the strong-side role vacated by Jack. Brown should only be on the field for 30-to-35 percent of the plays next season, but his ability to handle run responsibilities will be a storyline.
Secondary | Speaking of stars … the Jaguars’ secondary is loaded with them. And the offseason has a certain degree of importance for players such as cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. But that group participated sparingly if at all in the offseason last year and was perhaps the NFL’s best secondary. The key issues for this group in the coming month come after the starting four, with unrestricted free agent cornerback D.J. Hayden needing to acclimate quickly to replace high-end nickel Aaron Colvin, who signed with Houston as a UFA. The depth in this area underwent major change, and there will be competition for positions at the bottom of the roster at cornerback with undrafted rookie free agents such as Quenton Meeks and Dee Delaney having a chance to make the roster next season. That competition can start during the offseason in the secondary, where coverage skills and reaction can be evaluated better than is the case on either line.