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Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: On to OTAs

Baltimore Ravens running back Javorius Allen (37) is tackled by the Jacksonville Jaguars defense during the first half of an NFL football game at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Baltimore Ravens running back Javorius Allen (37) is tackled by the Jacksonville Jaguars defense during the first half of an NFL football game at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts as the Jaguars prepare for 2018 organized team activities to begin next week at EverBank Field …

Oehser …

1.Strengths. This is a happy Jaguars topic entering 2018 OTAs, because roster strengths outnumber weaknesses. The defensive line may be as strong and deep as any unit in the NFL, and the Jaguars this offseason added safety depth to an already elite starting four. The thought here throughout last season was the offensive line wasn't quite as good in fact as the statistics made it appear; the addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell could/should be a major step toward making the area a true team strength. The Jaguars overall appear to have few weaknesses in the starting 22, having effectively addressed needs during unrestricted free agency. They are particularly strong entering 2018 at impact, play-making positions defensively, with cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey; linebackers Myles Jack and Telvin Smith; defensive linemen Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler; safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church all capable of game-turning, momentum-changing plays. The Jaguars may have more defensive playmakers than any team in NFL.

2.Concerns. The Jaguars moved decisively in free agency, filling many holes on paper. But much about the Jaguars' 2018 season still depends on many unknowns. Will D.J. Hayden adequately replace departed nickel corner Aaron Colvin? Can Donte Moncrief be a reliable presence at receiver to replace departed Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson? Can the addition of Norwell be enough to truly give them the dominant offensive line needed to play the style they want to play? Another issue: depth. This got tested somewhat on offense last year but hardly at all on defense – and it's hard to imagine the Jaguars again being as healthy defensively as they were in 2017. The depth appears particularly unproven at linebacker, with Smith and Jack strong but projected strong-side starter Blair Brown playing sparingly as a reserve last season and no other linebacker playing significant snaps last season. Another area of concern for this team entering OTAs: special teams. The Jaguars entered the offseason focused on improving the area, signing special-teams specialists such as Don Carey, Niles Paul and Cody Davis and re-signing Lerentee McCray. They then drafted punt Logan Cooke in Round 7 and released veteran Brad Nortman two days later. This area wasn't where the Jaguars wanted it in 2017; the resources have been used to change that in 2018.

3.What's got to get done. How difficult is it to draw conclusions from OTAs? Difficult enough that Head Coach Doug Marrone will tell you he doesn't really evaluate much from offseason practices in areas such as offensive line. Marrone's focus for the offseason is to prepare players mentally and physically to get as much as possible out of what he purposely makes a mentally and physically demanding training camp; he believes that's the foundation for an NFL regular season. Still the 10 OTA practices and three minicamp practices appear important for the Jaguars offensively. New players abound at key positions. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, rookie wide receiver DJ Chark, veteran receiver Donte Moncrief … All are new to the roster and must use the next four weeks to work on timing with quarterback Blake Bortles.

Sexton …

1.Strengths. Plenty of observers see the Jaguars as one of the NFL's strongest rosters and perhaps its best team as OTAs begin – even if they still see quarterback as a question mark. I can't argue. The overriding reason for such a lofty evaluation is the big guys up front on both sides of the ball. The talent on the defensive line is ridiculous and deep. When Dante Fowler Jr. and Taven Bryan are situational players, you have an advantage with which few offensive lines can compete. The strength of the offensive line is more overlooked, though guard Andrew Norwell brings expectations with his heavy contract. Left tackle Cam Robinson has been a regular around EverBank Field this offseason and should be much improved after a good rookie season; the left side of the line could be dominant. Brandon Linder is one of the game's best centers, the coaching staff was very high on the season turned in by right tackle Jermey Parnell and A.J. Cann was better than many believe. Mix in Tyler Shatley, who was solid to very good filling in for Linder last season, and rookie Will Richardson, and you have more talent and potential for Pat Flaherty to work with in his second season as the offensive line guru. 

2.Concerns. I have concerns about tight end depth. People I trust have solid expectations for Austin Seferian-Jenkins but the group of Niles Paul, Ben Koyack and James O'Shaugnessey makes me wonder if there is another dimension to the tight end room. The style of play offensive coordinator Nate Hackett wants to employ became obvious in Pittsburgh last January; on that day, he used both Koyak and O'Shaughnessey as key cogs. Can they be guys who move the chains, and can they add the kind of explosive plays we see from the Vikings' Kyle Rudolph or the Titans' Delanie Walker? That sort of player forces linebackers and safeties to turn their attention away from the line of scrimmage where running back Leonard Fournette is hammering away. We'll have to wait until training camp to see if one or more of those players can take a big step forward this fall in this critical position.

3.What's got to get done. The Jaguars are going to run. It's their calling card, their DNA, the way they're built. And not only are they going to run, they're going to pound defenses with Fournette and bring the attention of the linebackers and safeties to the big back who can go the distance. I don't foresee No. 27 playing 16 games, though; that leaves a major hole in the backfield. I admire the skills of T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant but neither plays the same game as big Leonard, so they either must be able to play another way or find another option. I'd keep an eye on the running back depth as we go through OTAs and into preseason. I think the powers that be will watch to see if they can find another hammer to slam into the defense so that Yeldon and Grant can make a tired unit chase them around the field instead of asking those guys to try to play like Fournette.

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