JACKSONVILLE – Training camp draws closer and closer.
As it does, we continue to examine storylines that will shape the Jaguars' 2017 season – and in this story, we'll examine three position groups that will start being shaped when 2017 Training Camp opens at the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field a week from today.
Every Jaguars position group has storylines entering camp. How quickly will Leonard Fournette move into the starting lineup at running back? That's one question, as is the extent and nature of the role to be played by rookie fourth-round selection Dede Westbrook.
The Jaguars also need to find depth at the cornerback position in the secondary, where training camp also is expected to bring the first on-field look at the starting safety tandem of Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. Both players missed the on-field portion of the offseason program.
But which position groups enter training camp with the most unanswered questions? Which position groups must get the most from the coming weeks?
Here are three:
*Linebacker.The issue here isn't the starting lineup. Barring injury, Telvin Smith will start at weak-side with Myles Jack starting in the middle and Paul Posluszny starting at strong-side. That's certain, but how that trio will perform is not certain – and training camp figures to go a long way toward determining that. The Jaguars early in the offseason moved Jack from the strong-side position where he started 10 games as a rookie last season to the middle. That moved Posluszny, the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker since 2011, to the strong side. The idea is to get Jack, considered a likely Top 5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft before concerns over a knee injury dropped him to the second round, on the field in all-down situations. His athleticism is big time and few doubt he can make a quick transition physically. How will he adjust to calling the defense? That's the primary issue around Jack. Another risk is moving Posluszny, a reliable and productive team leader, out of position. Jack in training camp must continue to get more comfortable calling the defense before the snap and Posluszny must continue to adapt to a position he never has played at the NFL level.
*Defensive line.As is the case at linebacker, there appears little issue here in terms of the starting lineup. That figures to be Calais Campbell at strong-side end with Malik Jackson at three-technique tackle, Abry Jones at nose tackle and either Yannick Ngakoue or Dante Fowler Jr. at rush end. Whether Ngakoue or Fowler start is one training camp issue, but both figure to play extensively in passing situations. The area to watch in training camp on the line will involve finding the line rotation. The aforementioned five all figure to be part of it, but there are a lot of capable players competing to be involved with the rest of the rotation. That's a group that includes second-year end Jonathan Woodard, rookie third-round end Dawuane Smoot, veteran free-agent signees Stefan Charles (tackle), Malliciah Goodman (end) and Lerentee McCray (end) and young veteran tackles Sheldon Day and Michael Bennett. Players such as rookie free agent Hunter Dimick also figure into the mix. The Jaguars appear deep here, but that depth will mean not all of that second group makes the roster.
*Offensive line.This may be the Jaguars' most intriguing position entering 2017 Training Camp, and it's definitely the one with the most uncertain starting lineup. Veteran Branden Albert will compete with rookie Cam Robinson at left tackle. Brandon Linder, who started at guard in 2014 and 2015 and center last season, appears likely to start at center, but he's part of a slew of players including A.J. Cann, Patrick Omameh, Tyler Shatley, Earl Watford and Chris Reed who appear likely to get work at various positions on the interior. Jermey Parnell, who struggled with injuries last season before playing well late in the season, appears likely to start at right tackle. The guess here is that Albert starts at left tackle. If that happens, Robinson has the skills to play guard. With Linder likely to start at center, Cann would seem the most likely candidate to start at the other guard. But none of that is remotely certain and Head Coach Doug Marrone made clear late in the offseason that the early part of training camp – the first time these linemen will work together in contact practices – will determine a lot. This one will get interesting fast.