JACKSONVILLE – The times they are a changin' around the Jaguars.
That has been disputed this week, and reasonably so. The Jaguars after all a week ago removed the interim tag and made Doug Marrone permanent head coach – and later that week retained Todd Wash as defensive coordinator. This past Wednesday, the Jaguars announced they had retained Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator.
That's a lot of retaining for a team that went 3-13 last season.
But while there will be familiar faces in familiar roles next season, all is not the same – and it's quite possible and even likely a whole lot will be different. That's particularly true when it comes to offensive and defensive approach – and coaching philosophy.
Let's start with Marrone.
Yes, he spent the past two seasons as assistant head coach-offense/offensive line coach, but if anything was clear in the final two games of the 2016 season it was that Marrone's approach is far different than that of former Head Coach Gus Bradley. Marrone spent those two games as the interim head coach, and he clearly took a harder-edged approach. The Jaguars went 1-1 in those games, and for most of that two-game stretch looked like an improved team.
Was that improvement a short-term surge, the kind that sometimes happens with a coaching change? Was it the result of players responding to a new style?
Impossible to tell, but players late in the season lauded Marrone and credited his focus on winning – compared to Bradley's approach of daily improvement and letting winning take care of itself.
That new focus doesn't guarantee success, but there's no denying change has occurred. You couldn't listen to Marrone and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin at last Thursday's introductory press conference and not feel a different vibe.
It seems likely there will be changes offensively and defensively, too.
Start with Hackett. He spent the last nine games of last season as offensive coordinator, but his return doesn't means the Jaguars will return the same offense. He spent 2015 and the first part of 2016 as quarterbacks coach under then-offensive coordinator Greg Olson. When Hackett took over as coordinator in late October he put his personality and approach on Olson's scheme, but in no way installed his own offense. That's something that's difficult if not impossible midseason.
One thing that's probably safe to assume is that Hackett's approach will be run-centric. The Jaguars' run offense improved in the final nine games of last season, and the Bills finished first in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2013. That was Hackett's first season as Buffalo's coordinator under Marrone, then the Bills' head coach.
As intriguing next season will be the Jaguars' defense.
Wash, who will enter his second season as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator, oversaw a defense that improved from 24th in the NFL in yards allowed in 2015 to sixth this past season. Still, it was not a dominant defense and it must improve as a pass-rushing defense and needs to force more takeaways.
Coughlin and Marrone both mentioned changes to the defense when issuing statements following Wash's hiring, and it seems likely the Jaguars will at least somewhat move from the 4-3/3-4 hybrid scheme with single-high-safety emphasis and Leo pass rusher that was emphasized under Bradley. How far away? How will the Jaguars' defense look?
Stay tuned, but it seems evident it will look different. That's true of the Jaguars' overall approach –whatever the identity of the coordinators and head coach.
BOUND FOR MOBILE
We'll have a more detailed preview of the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl on jaguars.com Monday, but an early look at next week's game in Mobile, Alabama, reveals typically strong rosters.
The 2017 Senior Bowl understandably doesn't feature players projected to be selected in the Top 10 of the 2017 NFL Draft. While North Dakota State quarterback and eventual No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft Carson Wentz played in last year's game because he wanted to show himself against big-school competition, most elite prospects forgo the game to avoid injuries – and protect their draft status.
Nate Peterman of Pittsburgh and Davis Webb of California appear to be the game's top quarterbacks this year. They are projected around the fourth round.
The game is typically strong at receiver, with possible second-rounders Amara Darboh of Michigan, Zay Jones of East Carolina and Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington all attending.
Possible first-rounders attending include Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, Indiana offensive guard Dan Feeney, Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and UCLA outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley.
The Jaguars unsurprisingly aren't rolling in postseason honors. When you're 3-13, January is about coaching and front-office changes, not hardware. But rookies Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue were deservedly named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team this week. Ramsey was a defensive strength all season – and more importantly, he went from good to dominant in the final month of the season. That's a positive sign. Ngakoue started the final 15 games of the season and his eight sacks were very solid production at a position where it typically takes young players a season or two to adapt to the NFL.