JACKSONVILLE – The time is here, and hopes are high.
With 2019 Training Camp opening Thursday, there is optimism the Jaguars can improve dramatically from their 2018 5-11 last-place finish in the AFC South.
The Jaguars have a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach. They are relatively healthy entering camp. They have what is expected to be a dominant defense, and what should be an improved offense.
But there is uncertainty, too. The contract situation of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The expected absence of linebacker Telvin Smith. Unproven youth at many key spots offensively.
What are the key areas to watch in the coming weeks? How will camp shape what is to come in the regular season? With those questions in mind, here are senior writer John Oehser's top five storylines for Jaguars 2019 Training Camp:
1)Quarterback Nick Foles and the new Jaguars offense. When a team has a new quarterback, all other storylines pale in comparison – and that's the case with the '19 Jaguars. The Jaguars signed Foles, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player following the 2017 season, as an unrestricted free agent in March. They released longtime starter Blake Bortles shortly thereafter. The Jaguars in January hired John DeFilippo – Foles' quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia in 2017 – as offensive coordinator. Foles should provide stability, accuracy and leadership in a DeFilippo offense that is expected to be more pass-friendly than recent Jaguars offenses. The transition to that offense and how Foles performs will trump all other storylines in the coming weeks.
2)Ngakoue contract. Ngakoue, entering his fourth season, missed mandatory minicamp in June because he has yet to agree to a long-term contract extension – and according to reports, he doesn't plan to report on time to '19 training camp. Unless he signs an extension, his contract issue will be a focus whether he's in camp or not. If Ngakoue doesn't report to camp on time, remember this: he must under NFL rules report 30 days before the start of the regular season if his 2019 season is to count toward free agency. That's important because if he doesn't report before that 30-day deadline, he wouldn't become an unrestricted free agent following the season if he remains unsigned. That seemingly makes an extended holdout unlikely, but how this plays out remains anyone's guess.
3)Leonard Fournette readiness. If Foles is the Jaguars' No. 1 preseason offensive story, Fournette is the pretty clear choice for No. 2. Fournette, after a 1,040-yard, nine-touchdown season as a rookie in 2017, missed eight games in his second season – and his lack of production and availability altered the Jaguars' offensive identity. The running back's approach and maturity was questioned by many last season; he took steps toward answering those questions by working out in Wyoming early in the offseason offseason, then raised more questions by missing some voluntary organized team activities sessions. The bottom line on Fournette is only his performance and approach over the long term will adequately silence his critics. How far he goes toward that goal will help define his future – and the Jaguars' offense.
4)New faces, new places on defense. Gone are 2018 Week 1 starting safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church, replaced in the lineup by Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson. If that change was expected, the opposite was true of the change at weak-side linebacker. That's where rookie fifth-round selection Quincy Williams appears likely to replace 2017 Pro Bowl selection and longtime starter Telvin Smith. There is elite talent in a lot of places on this defense, particularly defensive line and cornerback. But those changes at safety and weakside linebacker will be major areas to watch. If a couple of the new players excel, this likely will remain a Top 10 defense. If a few new players struggle …
5)The search for reliable pass catchers. The Jaguars' passing game as a whole struggled last season, with wide receivers Dede Westbrook (717 yards, five touchdowns) the only returning player with more than 500 yards receiving. The next most productive pass-catcher was second-year veteran Keelan Cole, with 491 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars added veteran receiver Chris Conley as a free agent from Kansas City. Wide receiver Marqise Lee will return after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. is expected to make a second-year jump. The Jaguars also drafted tight end Josh Oliver in Round 3 and signed Geoff Swaim from Dallas as an unrestricted free agent. That's a lot of additions and a lot of potential, but the Jaguars need to be right on a lot of players to help Foles' transition and the implementation of a new offensive scheme.