JACKSONVILLE – It's time now to ask some significant questions.
While taking a look around the Jaguars as 2014 Training Camp approaches, we've already taken a look at a couple of easily quantifiable areas, looking first last week at five Jaguars players who could take a significant step this season, then looking at five rookies to watch.
Relatively straightforward stuff.
We move now to an area that may leave a more-open ended feel, because we move now to five key questions facing the Jaguars as training camp approaches.
They're key questions, and they may define not only training camp but the 2014 regular season, but the answers in some cases likely won't be known until deep in the season. And you know what?
That's OK, because that's what training camp is for – and it's sure what it will be for around the Jaguars this year. This is a team in development, with a lot of players and position groups still needing to play their way into an identity.
That identity will start coming into view in 11 days, when the Jaguars hold their first training camp practice of 2014. Here's a look at five questions that could start being answered then:
1) Is the offensive line really improved?On paper, this absolutely should be the case. Luke Joeckel – the No. 2 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft – is expected to start at left tackle and free-agent Zane Beadles is expected to start at left guard. The Jaguars believe that solidifies the left side of the line. They also liked what center Mike Brewster showed in the offseason and they have liked Austin Pasztor at right tackle since early last season. That's a better-looking line than the one that struggled in pass protection and run-blocking last season. The question likely isn't as much if the line will be better but how long it will take to show it. Continuity is critical on the offensive line, but continuity can take time, particularly with a lot of new faces in new places.
2) Will the pass rush really be better?As is the case with the offensive line, this group absolutely should be better. The Jaguars addressed pass rush in the offseason, signing defensive end Chris Clemons as a free agent. They also signed free-agent Red Bryant to play the five-technique defensive end spot, and free-agent Ziggy Hood to provide depth and disruption at defensive tackle. The Jaguars unquestionably will be deeper on the line and that should help. Will it translate into more sacks for a team that has struggled to pressure passers in recent seasons? That's a question that will be closely watched early in the season.
3) Will Chad Henne really start at quarterback?The answer almost absolutely, positively is a resounding and definite "yes." Team officials from Head Coach Gus Bradley to General Manager David Caldwell to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch have said it repeatedly this offseason, and nothing happened in organized team activities and minicamp to indicate otherwise. Henne, a veteran who re-signed with the Jaguars early last offseason, was clearly the best quarterback in camp, and rookie Blake Bortles appeared to have some developing to do before he changed that. Still, Bortles was the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and observers are going to keep asking if he's going to start until … well, until he starts. Those questions will be heard in training camp even if the answer is clear.
4) Is Toby Gerhart really an upgrade?The theory is Gerhart should improve the Jaguars' running game. Gerhart, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March, is entering his fifth season, was productive when he played as a reserve to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and has little wear and tear from overuse in the NFL. That has led many observers to project him as a rising player and to predict that the Jaguars should be more effective running than they have been the past two seasons. How true those projections become will depend not only on Gerhart but on what should be an improved offensive line.
5) Will the secondary really take a step forward?The Jaguars revamped their secondary last offseason, and the reasons were several-fold. One was that the secondary is key in Bradley's defense and another was that the Jaguars believe the secondary takes a bit longer to develop so they wanted to give the area a jump start on the rest of the building process. Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien improved during the second half of last season and cornerback Dwayne Gratz showed potential in 10 games as a starter. Can Cyprien continue to improve? Can Gratz stay healthy? Will Winston Guy or Josh Evans emerge as the free safety of the future? Those are critical questions, but this group overall looks like a group that can get significantly deeper and better this season. If it does, the defense as a whole can take a significant jump.