JACKSONVILLE – This may be premature. In fact, it almost certainly is.
You know what? So what? It's Preseason Week 2, which means we're two-and-a-half weeks into Jaguars 2015 Training Camp. That means we've seen enough to have at least something close to a good feel for a few things about the '15 Jaguars.
And the feeling you get after Preseason Week 1 is there are some legitimate reasons to believe the Jaguars will improve in 2015. Perhaps significantly.
They feel like solid, dependable reasons – and that's the theme for this View from the O-Zone.
Sure, there are concerns. Luke Joeckel has details to hone. A starting center must be selected. Marqise Lee needs to get on the field and stay there. And the first-team defense – minus all four starters on the defensive front – not unexpectedly wasn't dominant against Pittsburgh in the preseason opener.
There is also the matter of a few injuries, but most of those – T.J. Yeldon, Julius Thomas, Johnathan Cyprien in particular – aren't expected to linger into the regular season. That means this is a comparatively healthy roster.
No, the reasons to feel good about the Jaguars outweigh the concerns for the first time in a long time. That doesn't mean the reasons listed below add up to a Super Bowl run. This is still a developing team and some of these reasons for belief involve areas still developing.
But the reasons are real, and they feel like foundation pieces. They're things for the most part that we've seen in the preseason opener or in the scrimmage the week before. They feel like things that can be built upon, and they're why the future is starting to look brighter than the past.
Here are five reasons to believe the Jaguars will improve in 2015:
1)The quarterback.It's an obvious entry, but you must have this first, right? Blake Bortles' offseason storyline was about improvement. About work on fundamentals. About needing to improve some basics. Within that storyline there was a "Yeah, but" as in, "Yeah, but what if we don't see it when it matters?" While we're not yet to the regular season it's clear through two-and-a-half weeks of camp this is an improved quarterback. That was clear in the preseason opener, too. If he doesn't look elite yet, Bortles certainly appears likely to be more consistent and efficient. The importance of that can't be overestimated.
2)The right side.It's easy to overlook this because it's easy to overlook the offensive line, but the right side of the line is starting to have the feel of a strength. Right guard Brandon Linder was the team's best offensive lineman as a rookie last season and he appears to be that again. Right tackle Jermey Parnell thus far has had far more good days than not. It has been a while since you could feel really, really good about any area of the Jaguars' offensive line, but this right side feels more and more like something you can trust.
3)The strong side.There's some speculation involved in this entry, because defensive end Jared Odrick missed the preseason opener. Still, based on practices and the scrimmage there seems little question Odrick falls into the category of a very good unrestricted free agent signing. The combination of Odrick and Otto linebacker Dan Skuta – not to mention middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and nose tackle Roy Miller – gives the Jaguars their stoutest run defense in several seasons. The effectiveness of this group is something to watch in preseason, but signs point to this being a dependable area.
4)The running game.It would be easy to throw wide receiver Allen Robinson or tight end Julius Thomas on this list, and there seems little doubt those players are part of the core. But the Jaguars want to be a running team this season, and it was hard to imagine this team running effectively based solely on the past two seasons. After the preseason opener, imagining that is a lot less difficult. Yeldon didn't play Friday because of a finger injury, but Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson and Bernard Pierce all ran well. That's an indication that not only is the backfield deep, but that the line is improving as a run-blocking unit, too.
5)The nickel guy/the weak-side backer.You've read and heard a lot about cornerback Aaron Colvin throughout the preseason. You've read and heard a lot about outside linebacker Telvin Smith, too. There's a reason you're hearing those things: they are starting to look good and starting to look that way consistently. Smith consistently made big plays in an extended role as a starter last season, and has looked improved in camp. Colvin played the final six games last season after returning from reconstructive knee surgery, and he has looked comfortable while playing both nickel and outside corner in camp. If each stays healthy, the defense could have two young playmakers. Those aren't easy to find at their positions.