JACKSONVILLE – Doug Marrone hardly could have sounded more confident.
That's good news for the Jaguars, because the subject was the offensive line – and the Jaguars' head coach on Thursday morning reiterated what has emphasized throughout the offseason and 2020 Training Camp.
He likes what he has seen from the group so far this camp. He really, really likes it.
"Somewhere along the line – from whatever happened after the season to now – that group has changed in a positive way," Marrone said. "I'm not ready to anoint this group, per se. But I'm extremely happy with the way they're working, the way they're preparing and in their progression."
Marrone, speaking to the media via videoconference shortly before practice Thursday, said the line as a group is stronger and more powerful. He also said it seems more athletic this season and technically improved.
"Technically, I see us continuing to get better and continuing to stress that – which I think is going to help us," he said.
Marrone said the improvement makes sense considering it's the group's second season under veteran line coach George Warhop.
"He's an excellent football coach; last year was his first year with that group," Marrone said. "This is his second year. This is where you should see the development between the player and the coach. I kind of knew that going in. I think that's what we're seeing. We have to stay healthy and keep getting better."
The Jaguars this season returned all five 2019 starters – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor. The decision drew criticism from fans and observers.
"To think that players don't hear that … I think they do," Marrone said. "I think they did, because it was coming from inside, too: 'Hey, listen, this is what's going on and you guys need to take a big step up.'"
Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell throughout the offseason said they believed the group could improve, and Marrone said Thursday it's not just the starters who have impressed early.
Marrone on Thursday praised the Jaguars' younger offensive linemen and was asked specifically about fourth-round rookie Ben Bartch – who played collegiately at Division III St. John's (Minn.) University and who is working at right guard behind Cann.
"He has the power and has the ability, so I'm really excited about him," Marrone said. "He's done a really nice job. … He's a guy who can play multiple positions. He can play guard. We've got him training at center and obviously we've seen him play tackle before. We feel real comfortable."
Marrone also lauded veteran Tyler Shatley and third-year veteran Will Richardson Jr. Shatley is the swing interior lineman behind Cann, Linder and Norwell. Richardson is competing with Robinson at left tackle.
"There are a lot of guys playing up front better now than I've seen before," he said. "It's an interesting group. … The young guys have come in and competed. There are flashes of really good things. There are things they may not have seen before. They just need the reps. That's what we're getting now."
*Marrone said he has spent little time considering the situation around defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who continues to stay away from camp. The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on Ngakoue this past offseason. Because he has not signed the tag, he is not under contract with the team – but he can sign the tag and report at any time. There were media reports Wednesday that Ngakoue was close to being traded, reports that General Manager David Caldwell on Thursday called "erroneous" during an interview with Sirius/XM NFL Radio. "As we go through this training camp, these things are going to come up," Marrone said. "What's real or not real, I don't know. I really don't. I want what's best for Yannick. He's done everything I've ever asked him to do. I think he's an excellent football player, but now it goes back to the business end." …
*Marrone said he didn't factor COVID-19 when considering the amount of full contact in camp practices. He said more of factor was that COVID-19 prevented teams from having on-field work during the offseason program. "I've got to do a good job making sure we're training this team the right way in an area where it's never been done like this," he said. "I make goal for myself each day of saying, 'If I've got 80 players on the roster, I want 80 players out there practicing.' My goal is how can I get everyone out there practicing. If I get everyone out there practicing, I've got a chance to get everybody better.'' …