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Week in focus: A lot to like


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines last week's first week of the offseason program – and Friday's 2016 pre-draft luncheon – before a week that will help shape the Jaguars' future …

A lot to like

David Caldwell spent the 2016 pre-draft media luncheon being vague. That was as expected.

But if there was a clear takeaway from last week around the Jaguars – from Friday's luncheon to the non-pursuit of Josh Norman – maybe it was this:

With the lo-o-o-ong wait for the 2016 NFL Draft mercifully almost over, Caldwell – in his fourth offseason as the Jaguars' general manager – appears to like a lot about the roster. He certainly appears to like it more than he did his first three offseasons.

That stands to reason. The roster, after all, shouldbe better than before, but it's obvious Caldwell really believes it is. That's why he could do a couple of things that raised eyebrows – and ire – among some fans last week.

The first was he didn't overpay Norman, whose two-day free agency ended when he signed with the Redskins Friday. The Jaguars' lack of an offer – or much of an effort – mystified many Jaguars fans. How could Caldwell not pursue the All-Pro cornerback?

Caldwell's response was he didn't believe Norman to be worth what he was asking – and that Norman wouldn't make the Jaguars better enough to merit the signing. Within that was the implicit belief that Norman wouldn't be a major upgrade – and because of that, there was no reason to overpay.

The second came during the media luncheon when he said he thought the pass rush was in good shape whatever happens in the draft later this week.

While this was also received with disbelief, it echoes what Caldwell has said much of the offseason – that the addition of Malik Jackson and the return to health of Sen'Derrick Marks and Dante Fowler Jr. should mean a significantly better pass rush than the end of last season.

Right? Wrong? Time will tell, but Caldwell's offseason actions – his prudent free-agent approaches to not only Norman, but to then-Miami Dolphins edge rusher Olivier Vernon – are hardly the actions of someone panicked over the roster.

Could Caldwell have won the Vernon bidding war? Could he have guaranteed Norman enough to get him to Jacksonville? Perhaps, and some general managers would have done so.

But Caldwell likes this roster – yes, even the defensive roster – and as he said Friday he firmly believes there are fewer glaring overall needs than before. That's part of what will make this week fascinating because there's really no predicting what Caldwell will do come Thursday night. Safety? Cornerback? Edge rusher? Linebacker?

All are needs, but they're not crying, glaring needs. The Jaguars have a legitimate starter at all spots, and you can write out a solid, improved defensive lineup whatever direction Caldwell goes.

Yes, this is a big week for Caldwell. The player at No. 5 overall needs to be a core player and along with Fowler needs to form the foundation of the defense for years to come.

But whatever the direction it's clear Caldwell already likes the new guy's teammates an awful lot, and that's a big change from a few years back.


Either way

While the Jaguars aren't desperate for a starter at any particular position in draft, they do have a chance to strengthen position groupings. That could happen at middle linebacker.

Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Friday the team believed starter and defensive leader Paul Posluszny played well last season and that the veteran could continue as a three-down linebacker. But Bradley also said a drafted player with speed conceivably could strengthen the defense in passing situations.

"If Poz is the guy, I don't think we'd have an issue with that," Bradley said. "If there's a guy who comes in here whose skillset is really good on third down, then that's an option. We're always going to do what's best for the team. We wouldn't have an issue with that – Poz as a three-down linebacker."


Around the Jaguars

*The news regarding Dante Fowler Jr. continues to be positive. Caldwell and Bradley have said throughout the offseason that the second-year veteran defensive end has looked good in workouts as he returns from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he sustained in rookie minicamp last May. Caldwell said last week Fowler – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft -- has been cleared to participate fully in the team's offseason program, though he did say the team will be cautious with him during his return. …

*Caldwell and Bradley both confirmed Friday that the rookie minicamp the week after the draft will be more orientation with very little on-field work. The move is a bit of a reaction to Fowler's injury last offseason, though Caldwell said Friday he has thought for some time there was too much risk practicing rookies following the long pre-draft schedule. …

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