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View from the O-Zone: Finding a core


JACKSONVILLE – Pieces are fitting into place.

One by one, some quickly and others at their own paces, core pieces of Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell's building plan appear to be developing.

And a lot of them are developing from one draft class that is taking on a special feel.

No, the Jaguars haven't won as consistently as hoped this season, and all is not perfect. And no, a dramatic, improbable, wild victory over Buffalo at Wembley Stadium in London Sunday didn't change that this team still has a lot to do before it is a consistent winner.

Here's what else didn't change heading into Sunday's Week 8 bye:

That whatever the records and the results this season, there are young players around the roster who are showing the early signs of developing into core players. Some aren't there yet, and the process is still playing out for some.

Left tackle Luke Joeckel, in his third season and second as a starting left tackle, is improving and has played well in recent weeks. Johnathan Cyprien, in his third season as a starter has shown flashes, but also has had troubling mistakes. The verdict remains notably undecided on those two players.

Images from second-year wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

Still developing, too, is the 2015 draft class, but signs are promising. Running back T.J. Yeldon has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of his last three starts, and guard A.J. Cann has played well in four games as a starter. The team also really likes safety James Sample and wide receiver Rashad Greene, though their action has been limited by injuries.

Which brings us to the 2014 rookie class. It's not a flawless class. Second-round wide receiver Marqise Lee has struggled with injuries, seventh-round running back Storm Johnson was released in training camp and sixth-round Leo Chris Smith has been inactive in receiver weeks. Center/tackle Luke Bowanko is a valued reserve tackle/center.

Still, five players drafted and one player signed as a rookie free agent that year are taking on a decided core feel. A look at the six:

1)Allen Robinson, wide receiver.It's not exactly right to say Robinson has surprised this season, but his development/production has exceeded expectations. He has 34 receptions for 586 yards and six touchdowns through seven games, emerging as a go-to receiver for Blake Bortles. His ability to win 50-50 balls and to be a reliable target for back-shoulder throws are elements Bortles has begun to trust.

2)Telvin Smith, linebacker.If there has been a consistent presence on defense thus far, it has been the linebacker corps. Paul Posluszny has been solid in the middle and Dan Skuta has helped the strong side, but Smith has been spectacular at times. He had his first career interception return for a touchdown Sunday, and has continued the knack for big, timely plays he showed as a rookie. His pass defensed ended a Week 2 victory over Miami and he was everywhere on the stat sheet against the Bills Sunday. He may or may not be a Pro Bowl player this season, but he may merit consideration.

3)Brandon Linder, guard.When the Jaguars placed Linder on injured reserve with a shoulder injury in early October, they lost their best, most-consistent offensive lineman. He played at an extremely high level as a rookie and has Pro Bowl potential.

4)Blake Bortles, quarterback.Bortles is fourth on this list because he hasn't been as consistent as the three listed above him yet. Still, there's no more important player on the list and the improvement Bortles has shown this season has been dramatic. He hasn't played perfectly this season, but as was the case Sunday against the Bills, even when he has struggled he has shown flashes. He's not an absolute lock for core-player status because his interceptions have been costly and he's still making young quarterback mistakes, but improvement and development were the objective this season. So far, mission accomplished.

5)Allen Hurns, wide receiver.It's probably not fair to have Hurns so low on the list. All the undrafted rookie has done is catch 31 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns this season, reducing the drops that were an issue last season and emerging as one of the team's most consistent players. His 31-yard touchdown reception Sunday was a career highlight, and he and Robinson are primary reasons the Jaguars' offense has climbed from of the bottom of the league statistics toward the middle this season.

6)Aaron Colvin, cornerback.Colvin doesn't have quite the body of work as the aforementioned five players – primarily because he missed the first 10 games of his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. His progress since then has been steady, and he has started seven games at corner while also playing the nickel in passing situations. He may have been the player of the game Sunday, with his early sack/fumble on a blitz that led to a touchdown by Chris Clemons and his late pass defensed clinching the victory.

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