JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at last week's 2019 NFL Annual Meeting, with an eye on Head Coach Doug Marrone's thoughts on a Jaguars offensive line that continues to take shape
The Jaguars are confident in their offensive line.
That has been evident in recent weeks, with Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin expressing confidence in the unit shortly after the mid-March start of unrestricted free agency – and with Head Coach Doug Marrone reiterating that feeling more recently.
"Obviously, I have a comfort level with those players," Marrone said of the line during the AFC-NFC Coaches Media breakfast at the 2019 NFL Annual Meeting last week at the Arizona Biltmore.
The line is an offseason focal point for an important reason: For the Jaguars to be what they want to be offensively the group must play more like the one that helped the Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing in 2017 than the one that struggled during an injury-plagued 2018.
Marrone last week expressed confidence not only in the unit but in new offensive line coach George Warhop, who coached Marrone when Marrone played for the World League of American Football's London Monarchs in 1991 and 1992.
"I just feel really comfortable knowing how he is going to approach that room and what he is going to do," Marrone said of Warhop.
Still, the line is something of an unknown as the April 15 start of the offseason program approaches. While re-signing unrestricted free agent right guard A.J. Cann in mid-March means four 2018 Week 1 starters will return, it's a unit that dealt with significant injuries last season.
Cann started a unit-high 15 games in 2018, but the other three returning starters – left tackle Cam Robinson (torn anterior cruciate ligament), left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle) and center Brandon Linder (knee) -- finished the season on injured reserve.
Marrone said while he's not worried about the players returning to their pre-injury level, their progress is something to watch.
"When they are gone for a while, in your mind, you have a picture of how they were playing before the injuries and it's always a pretty good positive picture," Marrone said. "All of a sudden when they come back, it takes a while to do what you do. You are going to lift, you are going to run, you are going to get stronger, but I'm talking about technique and getting back on to the field. It's one of those things that everyone goes through."
The major unknown on the line aside from injuries? Right tackle, where 2018 fourth-round selection Will Richardson missed his rookie season with a knee injury and where the Jaguars in March signed Cincinnati Bengals 2015 first-round selection Cedric Ogbuehi as an unrestricted free agent.
"I'm looking forward to seeing where he is," Marrone said of Ogbuehi.
That position figures to be a major focus among observers as the 2019 NFL Draft approaches. Will Ogbuehi and Richardson compete, or could the team's premium No. 7 overall selection be used on the position? Getting the answer right will be key for a unit that must return to its 2018 level – or better – for the team to reestablish itself as a playoff contender.
The NFL owners' vote Tuesday to add pass interference calls and non-calls to the league's replay system shocked long-time league observers. The reason for the shock value wasn't that observers thought the league never would add wrinkles to replay, but that it happened at this meeting. The NFL's Competition Committee had not recommended the change entering the meeting, and the league's owners typically follow the committee's recommendations. For the changes to get made as they did – with the NFL's coaches pushing through a proposal during the meeting and league owners approving it nearly unanimously – speaks to the passion of coaches on the issue in the wake of a non-call on the game-turning play in this past season's New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams NFC Championship Game. The wishes of coaches clearly sided with public sentiment to a rare degree on this matter, pushing the normally slow-to-change NFL to what will amount to a seismic change. A lingering question remains: Will the change create more problems than it solves? By having pass interference reviewable, the league took a mammoth step away from replay's original mission of being used to overturn obvious calls. Pass interference often is a highly debatable call in which strong arguments can be made for and against a particular call. This rule won't fix many such controversial calls and could slow some games interminably if multiple borderline plays are reviewed automatically in the final two minutes. Still, the change would have fixed the ugly Saints-Rams error, so in that sense the people – and the league coaches – got what they wanted on this one.
"Jalen's so competitive in everything he does. He's competitive on the field. Obviously on Sunday he's super-competitive. … Our expectation of Jalen is to never be beat. That's how Jalen approaches it; he doesn't think anyone should be able to do that. We have lot good quarterbacks and a lot of good receivers in the league, and we're very fortunate to have Jalen and [cornerbacks] A.J. [Bouye] and D.J. [Hayden]. We're fortunate to have those players and we're comfortable with them. We're going to need those players to play well with the quarterbacks we face in our division and the receivers in our division."
--Marrone on Jaguars cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and D.J. Hayden