JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the first week of 2016 free agency …
1.The Jaguars got better defensively.OK, this is a presumptive lead off to this Week 1 Free Agency What We Learned. You never absolutely know how much free agents will improve a roster. But the Jaguars upgraded the talent level at safety with Tashaun Gipson, and defensive tackle Malik Jackson was the No. 1 free agent available according to many analysts. It's hard to imagine these two acquisitions not improving the defense.
2.The Jaguars hit more than they missed – a lot more.The Jaguars pursued defensive end Olivier Vernon before the Giants guaranteed $52.5 million. More on that later, but don't believe for a minute Vernon – or defensive end Robert Ayers – defined the Jaguars' 2016 free-agency period. "We addressed needs," Jaguars General Manager Caldwell told Jaguars Today on 1010XL radio Friday. "We made our team better in four spots. Somebody said if you get 25 percent targets, you had a good free agency. We got 75 percent of our targets and we missed on one – and missing on one will enable us to be more aggressive down the road."
3.Dan Skuta is going to rush more.Skuta, who played mostly Otto linebacker in 2016, could be used more in pass-rushing situations next season. Plans last season to use him more in that role were derailed by a midseason groin injury. "That's the plan moving forward with him," Caldwell said.
4.Gipson is quotable and confident, too.Gipson's introductory press conference Thursday was memorable, with the veteran describing his style as "seeing the ball and getting the ball." He also said that playing with players such as Jared Odrick, Jackson and Dante Fowler could help him get "six or seven picks this year." …
5.Time will be split in the backfield.Running back will be an offseason position to watch. The Jaguars love the stylistic mix of newly –signed Chris Ivory and 2015 second-round draft selection T.J. Yeldon. "They have a really different running style," Caldwell said. "T.J. is a more patient. Chris is a little bit more urgent." Caldwell said the two likely will split carries.
6.Sen'Derrick Marks is on schedule …Caldwell told 1010XL radio Friday that the veteran defensive tackle likely will participate in organized team activities in May. Marks missed the final seven games last season with a triceps injury.
7. … and Dante Fowler Jr. is, too.Caldwell, speaking Thursday, had this to say about the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft who missed his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament: "He's doing extremely well. I saw a video of him with our trainer out on the field [Thursday] running. I was extremely encouraged by what I saw on the video. He looks good, and he's working hard. We expect him to be a major factor for us next year."
8.Jackson should be a factor in the pass rush.While not a true edge-rusher, Caldwell said a major reason the Jaguars valued him so highly was his ability to get a quarterback "off his mark" with an inside rush. "He does that better than anybody," Caldwell said Friday on 1010XL radio.
9.The Jaguars see Marks/Jackson as a "formidable" inside-rush combination. Caldwell said Thursday Jackson can play at least three spots, and said Friday the combination of Marks and Jackson inside should be effective. "You don't have to have two outside guys," Caldwell said. "If you have two inside guys and a really good outside guy in Dante Fowler, you're better off than most teams."
10.The offensive line remains uncertain.If there is a glaring unknown on the depth chart it's at center, where center Stefen Wisniewski is a free agent. Guards Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann have been mentioned as possibilities, and Caldwell on Friday mentioned Tyler Shatley, Luke Bowanko and practice squad players Chris Reed and Kadeem Edwards as possibilities. "Those guys are viable, NFL type of options," Caldwell said.
11.Interior offensive line still will be addressed in the offseason.Caldwell said the Jaguars will still address center or guard "between now and training camp … whether it's through the draft or free agency." Caldwell added, "If we did nothing, I think we'd more than OK."
12.Team still confident in Joeckel.The team's thoughts on fourth-year left tackle Luke Joeckel are always pertinent. He has struggled at times in three seasons, yet the team has continued to show faith in him. Caldwell addressed Joeckel Friday. "We never make excuses for Luke," Caldwell said. "I would say he hasn't reached his ceiling yet. He has a lot of room for improvement. I think he needs to improve and I think he knows that, too. I think he's good enough to get to where we want to be – and that's a Super Bowl championship – but he has to get better along with everybody else."
13.The Jaguars weren't despondent over losing Vernon.Caldwell made that clear Thursday and again Friday, calling his reaction to losing Vernon, "Disappointing and a sense of relief, too. We got way out of our comfort zone on his deal. We never imagined it would get to the numbers that it got to. He did not make this decision based on a financial situation. I can't comment on what his reasons were, but I assure you it wasn't financial."
14.The Jaguars weren't interested in Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin …who signed with the Oakland Raiders. "I don't think we were going down that road ever," Caldwell said.
15.They also weren't interested in Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack …who signed with the Atlanta Falcons. The Jaguars signed Mack to an offer sheet when he was under the transition tag two years ago, but Caldwell said the team didn't pursue him this offseason. "He's still a very good player, but we always feel like we have guys here, as opposed to two years ago, that can fill that center position," Caldwell said.
16.Jonathan Cyprien's not moving to linebacker.Caldwell said Friday the staff considered the possibility of the fourth-year strong safety playing some snaps at linebacker, but said that could make the team too small at the linebacker position. "You have to be careful," Caldwell said, noting that Cyprien and weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith are both listed at 223 pounds. "You don't want to have too many small guys."
17.Dante Fowler will start out at the Leo.Much was made early this offseason of the possibility of moving Fowler around in the defense. That likely will eventually happen, but Caldwell said the initial plan for now is to play Fowler at the Leo. "The wise thing and the prescient thing for us is to put him at Leo and let him get as many reps as he can in order to be successful there," Caldwell said. "Once he has that down, and teams figure, 'this guy's pretty good … we need to double or chip him …' That's when start saying, 'Maybe we can move you around.' Right now, let him master the Leo positon."