JACKONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.A good job keeps getting better. Remember last week? The slew of stories about the Jaguars' vacant general manager position being an enticing position? The reasons were many, including a healthy salary cap and 11 selections in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft – including a likely Top 3-to-5 selection. One factor not discussed too much at the time was the quality of a young roster that has more talent and potential than many observers believe. Nearly every position other than quarterback, tight end and perhaps safety has a player with front-line starter potential – and the offense as a whole has potential to improve quickly. The emergence in recent weeks of wide receiver Collin Johnson gives the Jaguars another young receiver with big-time potential along with DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr. He's not the only young player developing this season, but he stands out – as does the receiver positions. There are unquestionably many of needs on this roster, but the young talent in multiple key positions shouldn't be overlooked as a reason prospective general managers will covet the position.
2.Winning remains a very real possibility. Jaguars fans focused on the 2021 NFL Draft won't like this Quick Thought, but reality remains that the Jaguars have a very real chance to win at least one of their remaining games – and potentially multiple games. If that seems silly considering the franchise-record 11-game losing streak, consider: the Jaguars in the last five games have lost by two points (27-25 to Houston), four (24-20 to Green Bay), 24 (27-3 to Pittsburgh), two (27-25 to Cleveland) and three in overtime (27-24 to Minnesota). The Packers, Steelers, Browns and Vikings are potential playoff teams, so the Jaguars have had a very real chance to win four games through what by any definition has been a difficult part of the schedule. That doesn't guarantee a victory in the final four games, but if the Jaguars play as hard with as much belief in the coming weeks against Tennessee, Chicago, Baltimore and Indianapolis there's no reason they wouldn't have the same opportunities in the next four games as they had in the last five. A victory or two absolutely remains possible.
3.The secondary of the future could benefit from the present. This is true at multiple positions in the second half of the season, because injuries are giving many young Jaguars players extended experience. But there may be no position where it's truer than the secondary, particularly cornerback. Starting corners CJ Henderson and Sidney Jones IV were starting to look like a future strength playing opposite one another in October early November. But with Henderson and Jones out for the last three weeks – and with Chris Claybrooks and nickel corner DJ Hayden also out – rookie Luq Barcoo has started opposite Tre Herndon with Josiah Scott also getting extended repetitions they otherwise wouldn't have gotten. Barcoo in particular played well against Minnesota Sunday despite allowing a touchdown and a key long gain to rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Barcoo's not likely to start next season, and time will tell what Claybrooks' role will be moving forward. Whatever the makeup of the secondary next season, the experience gained by Claybrooks, Barcoo and Scott figures to serve the unit well.
1.The Titans have become a model of consistency. Tennessee posted a 9-7 record every season from 2016 through 2019; at 8-4, it's a good bet they'll be no worse than 9-7 in 2020. What stands out is that they have done it without a franchise quarterback – and until 2018, they did it without running back Derrick Henry playing at his current high level. So, how did the Titans achieve what the Jaguars have not? They know who they are, their personality and have drafted players that fit their style of play. Since Floyd Reese was their general manager working with Jeff Fisher as head coach, they have been a draft-and-develop team and have only dabbled in free agency. The Adams family, even after Bud Adams' death in 2013, has kept the franchise remarkably close to what it always has been. And while they have had their share of high-profile misses, especially at quarterback, they just kept finding players that fit their style. It certainly helps that they generally have been a run-the-ball team since Earl Campbell – and since they were always building a team to chase the Pittsburgh Steelers, they long have been a team that wants to show their opponent the meaning of physical on defense. They may be able to throw the ball all over the field with wide receivers Corey Davis and AJ Brown, but do you have any doubt about what they'll try to do on Sunday? That's their personality and they never get too far from it.
2.The Jaguars need to identify their personality. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan is no longer new to professional football and he has seen enough to be able to determine what he wants his team to look like and how he wants it to play. That, a very healthy salary cap and impressive draft capital make his next move at general manager the most important decision he has made since taking over before the 2012 season. I don't know what he thinks, and he isn't likely to share those thoughts with anyone outside of his son, Tony. The Jaguars are at an important crossroads in their history. They have a shot at a legitimate at a franchise quarterback for the first time since 2005, when they passed on Aaron Rodgers. And with all those picks, they also have the ability to bolster a pretty good young roster and set themselves up for the future. They need to win to galvanize their fan base and build the case for a significant public investment in Khan's vision for downtown. The next two months will be momentous around this franchise.
3.Give me more guys who play like Dawuane Smoot. He isn't a superstar and never will be. In fact, I'm not even certain what position he plays. At one point, I thought he was too big to play end and might be a defensive tackle. He might do both Sunday. He's quick enough to create pressure off the edge and from the middle of the line; he's sturdy enough to hold up against the run. He's also a self-made player who was lost for those few seasons with big-name pass rushers and defensive linemen such as Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus. He has chiseled a place for himself in Jacksonville in that all-important role of "what-can-you-do-for-me-now player that coaches always need and are always seeking. He's always available and always plays hard, always has a great attitude and is an excellent example of the kind of personality you want in players who are moderately priced but invaluable over the course of a season.