JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars and looks ahead to 2016 organized team activities:
OTAs on tap
Gus Bradley likes Blake Bortles. That's a given and that makes sense.
But it's what the head coach likes about Bortles this offseason that's notable, and that's a good topic as the Jaguars prepare to open 2016 organized team activities Monday at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.
Bortles improved dramatically in his second season as the Jaguars' starting quarterback this past season, throwing 35 touchdowns with 18 interceptions compared to 12 and 17 as a rookie. He also set a franchise-record for passing yards in an offense that showed signs of being one of the best young units in the NFL.
You would expect such a season to bolster confidence, and Bradley this week said he indeed has seen Bortles taking ownership of the position and the team early in the offseason program.
"He's a great competitor," Bradley said. "I really think he wants to own the offense – not only just know it, but get to where he and Oley [offensive coordinator Greg Olson] are on the exact same page, where if there were two options they both would go with the same option.
"If you ask Blake, I think his big thing is, 'Consistency.' He wants to have consistency and that starts with understanding all aspects of the offense and being fully confident in understanding it. I think he's getting to that point."
Bradley said he has seen similar growth from players such as wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. Those are signs of young players growing into veterans, and Bradley said having young core players taking such ownership is critical.
On Ramsey …
We covered Jalen Ramsey's injury extensively in Friday's O-Zone, but it bears repeating as we put a wrap on the week: while the small meniscus tear the rookie cornerback sustained in Phase Two offseason on-field work is far from ideal, neither is it considered likely to be nearly as serious as the injury to Dante Fowler Jr. last offseason. Whereas Fowler's torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelined him for the season, Ramsey is absolutely expected to play this season. Recovery time for a torn meniscus varies upon the nature of the injury, and although Ramsey will seek a second opinion next week, the initial thought within the building is the rehabilitation time could be closer to the four-to-six week minimum needed than the four-to-six month maximum. The difference in tone around EverBank Field this week compared to last May when Fowler sustained his injury was notable. On the day Fowler was injured, the mood was dismal and dark. No one was happy when Ramsey was injured, but there was a sense of relief because of the high percentage chance that the situation isn't dire.
With an acknowledgment that OTA storylines lean more toward skill offensive players than defensive or offensive line because of the non-contact nature of the work, here are five storylines for the coming four weeks:
1.Marqise Lee.The mega-talented Lee has yet to be healthy for an entire OTA/minicamp schedule. Doing so would be a big step to finding a role with which the team can take advantage of his game-breaking speed and quickness.
2.Brandon Linder.Can the third-year lineman transition from guard to center? We won't know the answer until contact begins in August and maybe later, but Linder's move is key to an offensive line that must improve in both run blocking and pass protection.
3.Defensive chemistry.There are new faces all around the defense: Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Sheldon Day; veterans Tashaun Gipson, Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara. That's going to mean new faces on the field and old faces in new or tweaked roles. While the scheme won't change dramatically under new defensive coordinator Todd Wash – the defensive line coach the past three seasons – there is enough difference and enough new personnel that getting everyone in lockstep will be key.
4.Left tackle.Kelvin Beachum – brought in to compete at left tackle – won't be available until August while he rehabilitates a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But how will Luke Joeckel – the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft and the starting left tackle the past two seasons – respond to the competition? That will be an OTA topic.
5.Julius Thomas. The veteran tight end was impressive last offseason, and while he flashed at times during the regular season, injuries appeared to prevent him from getting in complete sync with Bortles. Listening to offensive players around the Jaguars this offseason there's a real excitement about what Thomas will bring next season.
*Around the Jaguars *
*Look for "Lotto" to become the new term around the Jaguars' defense this season. The team is exploring more ways to have the Otto position on the field for more plays, with a player such as Dan Skuta – projected as the starting Otto – playing Otto on early downs and shifting to more of a pass-rushing "Leo" role in pass-rushing situations. Hence, "Lotto." …
*Fowler looks good thus far this offseason. In fact, the second-year Leo end looks really good in individual drills. A year removed from his ACL tear, Fowler has impressed coaches with his quickness and burst this far during on-field work. The Jaguars will continue to be cautious in his return. That's the norm, but all signs are he will be 100 percent this season.