JACKSONVILLE – Quarterbacks reported Friday.
This isn't a media access day, so there won't be interviews or hype when Blake Bortles and the Jaguars' other quarterbacks report to the 'Bank in advance of 2017 Training Camp, but make no mistake:
The biggest story of camp – and indeed the Jaguars' 2017 season – arrived when Bortles arrived at EverBank Field on Friday. His development – how his mechanics look, how much his offseason work in California will pay dividends, everything … – will be the Jaguars' unquestioned No. 1 story in the coming weeks and months.
The Jaguars' 2017 fortunes likely will largely rise and fall on Bortles.
But while Bortles is The Story of the Jaguars' 2017 season and training camp, he's not the only story. He won't be the only player whose development will prove crucial this season. And he's far from the only player on whom the spotlight will shine bright in the coming weeks.
Here's a look at the Jaguars four players who will be most in that spotlight:
4) Branden Albert, left tackle.Albert, a 10-year NFL veteran, drew the ire of many fans when he opted not to attend the voluntary portion of the Jaguars'2017 offseason program after the team acquired him in a trade from Miami. While attending the team's mandatory mid-June minicamp, Albert said he would attend training camp beginning in late July – and that he would be in shape when he reported. The Jaguars need the latter to happen – and they also need him to win what will be a competition for the left-tackle position with rookie Cam Robinson. Mostly, they need Albert to be what they believed him to be when they traded for him – a two-time Pro Bowl player who can improve the line as both a run- and pass-blocker.
3) Myles Jack, middle linebacker.Jack moved to middle linebacker in the offseason after starting 10 games at strong side as a rookie last season. The move was made to get Jack – an elite-level talent who many projected as a Top 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft – on the field in both passing and running situations. The task for Jack now is to continue to master the defensive play-calling that goes along with the move to the middle. He absolutely has the talent to be a big-time middle linebacker. The play-calling and leadership may take time, but the Jaguars can't afford for it to take too much time. Jack needs to expedite the process as much as possible.
2) Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end.This has nothing to do with Fowler's incident in St. Petersburg this week and everything to do with on-field production. Jaguars fans know Fowler's story well. The No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, he missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in May rookie minicamp. He played 16 games last season and while his high energy, aggressive style made plays in running situations, he generated just four sacks. He also committed far too many avoidable penalties. Fowler was up front throughout the offseason about the need to improve his pass-rush techniques and reduce the plays that hurt the team. The Jaguars need him to develop into a playmaking presence and fulfill his potential. Yannick Ngakoue registered eight sacks as a rookie last season, but the team needs more pass rush off the edge – and they need it from Fowler.
1) Bortles.We mentioned Bortles in the lead-in to this piece, and we'll close with him, too. He's that important. He spent much of the offseason working on mechanics and fundamentals with his personal quarterbacks coaches – Adam Dedeaux and Tom House in California. He has put in impressive work to improve the accuracy issues that hurt at times last season. And while improving accuracy will be important for Bortles, improving decision-making, pocket awareness and reducing interceptions is just as key. We'll get an idea about the accuracy in training camp and preseason, but it may be the regular season before we get a full idea of Bortles' development. Either way, he'll be in the spotlight long before then.