JACKSONVILLE – A week in, it's time to ask the experts.
With Jaguars 2017 Training Camp a week old, and with the much-anticipated five-padded-practices-in-five-days stretch nearing an end, we'll take this opportunity to examine three of the team's most important position groups:
Those areas have been under scrutiny throughout camp and likely will remain that way. That's particularly true of quarterback, where Blake Bortles is under the constant watch of media, fans, coaches – whoever – but it's also true of offensive and defensive line. On those three areas, the Jaguars' 2017 season could turn.
To get a feel for those groups, I asked three local experts/former Jaguars players who have attended nearly all of the first seven days of camp – quarterback Mark Brunell, offensive tackle Tony Boselli and defensive end Jeff Lageman – their thoughts on their areas of "expertise."
Here's what they had to say:
*I asked Brunell during Wednesday's practice his thoughts on Bortles, particularly Bortles' response this week after his five-interception practice Saturday. Bortles as of Wednesday hadn't thrown an interception since Saturday, though he threw two Thursday. "He's making better decisions with the ball," said Brunell, the Jaguars' starting quarterback from 1995-2003, who now serves as an analyst on the team's preseason television broadcasts. "I haven't seen him make a poor decision [since Saturday]. He's had a couple of poor throws, but that happens to everybody. His decision-making has been better. He's thrown some touchdowns. It has been a lot of red-zone work in the last few days, which makes it tougher. It's quicker. You have to anticipate better. Accuracy is critical in the red zone and he has been pretty sharp." Brunell also said he has seen a difference in Bortles mechanically from last season throughout camp. That's an area on which Bortles focused in the offseason. "He's not bringing the ball down as much," Brunell said. "As far as the fundamentals of throwing, he looks much better." …
*I asked Boselli Wednesday his thoughts on the offensive line, particularly rookie Cam Robinson. Boselli was perhaps the premier left tackle of his era, a Pro Bowl selection from 1996-2000. Robinson, a rookie second-round selection from Alabama, is expected to start at left tackle following the retirement Monday of veteran two-time Pro Bowl selection Branden Albert. "He's a big man who can move well," Boselli, now a member of the Jaguars' radio broadcast team, said of Robinson. "He still has some technique things to clean up, but he has what you can't coach: size and athletic ability. He's going to be a good player with the opportunity to be a great player one day if he continues to work on his craft. I wasn't sure coming out of college because Alabama didn't do a lot of drop-back stuff, but watching him out here – watching him move – absolutely he's a left tackle." Boselli said center Brandon Linder looks even better than last season, and he also spoke highly of right tackle Jermey Parnell's play in the second half of last season. He said right guard A.J. Cann needs to play better than last season, and that Cann has looked better in camp. I asked Boselli if this can be a quality run-blocking line, and he said adding running back Leonard Fournette and having running back Chris Ivory healthy will be critical. "The mentality of what they want to do is, 'We want to run the ball,''' Boselli said. "Mentality can matter and personnel can matter." …
*I asked Lageman on Thursday about the defensive line, and he said he felt good about the "open-side end position" that features Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue. "With the addition [rookie defensive end Dawuane] Smoot, it's going to be a deep group, and they're going to be battling for playing time," said Lageman, a Jaguars defensive end from 1995-1998 now a member of the Jaguars' radio broadcast team. Lageman said he likes the interior with nose tackle Abry Jones, tackle Malik Jackson and end Calais Campbell, the latter of whom Lageman said will be key inside in sub – or pass-rushing – packages. "I like the addition of [defensive tackle Stefan Charles]," Lageman said. "He's a big man [6-feet-6, 302 pounds]. If he can stay healthy, he's going to be able to contribute. He's got so much size to him. I think it's going to be a good group." Key to success in this area will be pressuring quarterbacks in key situations. I asked Lageman if this line can accomplish that. "You would like to have a dominant guy, and I don't know that they have a dominant guy," he said. "But there have been a lot of good pass rushing teams who haven't had a dominant guy but they have some really good ones across the board. I think they have some good ones. They have some young ones who potential. They have to show it."
And with that, the experts have spoken.