JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as the preseason draws to a close and the 2019 regular season approaches
1.The Jaguars’ defense feels ready – and special. This entry isn’t just about Josh Allen, but it definitely involves the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Jaguars’ defense was already loaded with front-line talent such as ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Safety Ronnie Harrison has that feel, too. A defense with “just” those players had every chance to be elite. Allen adds a playmaking element to a unit of playmakers. If this defense remains healthy this season – and if Allen is as good as he has looked – this defense could be better than the 2017 defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL. Those are high expectations, but they’re reasonable.
2.I like the vibe from the offense so far. This may feel premature because we’ve only seen the first unit together for four series in Miami. But the starting tackles – rookie Jawaan Taylor and third-year veteran Cam Robinson – looked fine early, and the offense started to get its bearings on its third and fourth series. This unit could have early growing pains; that’s expected with potentially five new starters – quarterback Nick Foles, Taylor, potentially right guard Will Richardson Jr. and Conley and tight end Geoff Swaim – as well as a first-year coordinator. But Foles should mean added consistency and accuracy quickly with potential for improvement late. Foles and Conley have talked recently about the chemistry developing within the unit. If they’re right, this area will improve – and even a marginal offensive improvement for this team could dramatically increase the victory total.
3.The depth and injuries are manageable. Despite Head Coach Doug Marrone’s public worries over these areas in recent weeks, neither must derail the season. Yes, the reserves have fared poorly in the first three preseason games, but reserves don’t play as a group – and many won’t be on the team. The Jaguars have good depth on the defensive line and interior offensive line, and backup quarterback Gardner Minshew has improved. The Jaguars appear thin at left tackle, but any NFL team is going to be thin somewhere. As for the injuries, most sustained this preseason have been short-term. Players such as linebacker Quincy Williams and tight end Josh Oliver appear likely to return early – perhaps by Week 1. The Jaguars must stay healthy this season, and that’s particularly true of their core playmakers and starters. But that’s true of any NFL team.
1.I thought the AFC South was wide open BEFORE Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement on Saturday. The Colts were 10-6 in 2018 and with a substantially improved roster bound to contend this season. But let’s not forget they were shut out in Jacksonville last December by a team headed nowhere. Now, they have issues at the most important position on the field. The Houston Texans won the division last season, but their offensive line is still unsettled, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has yet to sign his franchise tender or report to camp – and now they’re down a starting running back without much behind him. The Tennessee Titans will start the season without All-Pro left tackle Taylor Lewan, have quarterback issues and are hoping they’ve fixed an anemic pass rush from a season ago. I don’t see a clear-cut favorite in the South, which means it’s there for the Jaguars to take – if their offense is up to the challenge.
2.I recall a photo of Ramsey and Jaguars running Leonard Fournette together from the 2017 playoffs, dressed nicely and standing by the stairs to get on the plane for the AFC Championship Game. I also remember thinking those two guys were the foundation for winning in 2018 and beyond. It didn’t work out that way last season, but watching those two this summer I get the same feeling I had looking at the picture. Ramsey is the NFL’s most dominant defensive back and one of the best four or five defensive players in football. He’s added a layer of leadership I never saw from him before. He stood on the field in Miami as the players returned to the locker room before kickoff and acknowledged every teammate. He also was up off the bench watching and encouraging the second-team offense; he usually would stay on the bench with the defensive backs. Same thing from Fournette; he looks to be in tremendous shape, spent time working in Wyoming in isolation during the offseason and has been a very visible and positive guy a year after a season in which he was justifiably vilified for his behavior on and off the field. He’s comfortable in this offense and seems to trust his preparation – and like Ramsey, is enjoying being around his teammates and the fans. Don’t discount the presence of Foles, who both men have said is a major factor in the Jaguars’ locker room.
3.I’m genuinely excited to watch the Jaguars’ defense this season. It has a chance to be as good as – maybe better than – the 2017 group that was so much fun to watch. It won’t look the same in 2020. Dareus, Campbell and Bouye all have cap figures in excess of $15 million while Ramsey, Ngakoue and Jack will be looking for their bite of the apple. You don’t need to have a good grasp of the salary cap economics to know you can’t pay everyone. This is an immensely talented unit with the right blend of intellect and attitude to understand what’s in front of them. If the offense can give them the lead, they’re the right cats to attack the quarterback and make it even easier on Foles and Co. But a changing of the guard is on the horizon and it’s anybody’s guess what this unit will look like after this season. That’s life in today’s NFL: Here today, gone tomorrow. Enjoy this defense this season. It could be a very, very special year on that side of the ball.