JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned – and where we stand – after the first week of the Jaguars' 2016 offseason:
1.The Jaguars need a new defensive coordinator.This was the Jaguars' major news last week, with the team announcing two days after the regular-season finale that Bob Babich won't return to the position. No timetable has been set for finding a replacement, but the team reportedly will interview Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel on Tuesday.
2.Allen Robinson is going to the Pro Bowl. The second-year wide receiver deserved to make the Pro Bowl when the rosters were announced in December. Instead, he was named an alternate and made the game last Thursday when Calvin Johnson of Detroit opted to not play. Either way, the honor was well-deserved for a player who caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns – and who became the first Jaguars receiver with more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season since 2005.
3.The Jaguars are coaching the Senior Bowl again.This will be the third consecutive year the Jaguars' staff has coached in the game. In 2013, the Jaguars selected linebacker Telvin Smith, cornerback Aaron Colvin, defensive end Chris Smith and guard Brandon Linder after they played in the Senior Bowl.
4.The offseason will be newsy.This was pretty obvious, but Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell during his season-ending press conference Tuesday made it clear the team will be aggressive when free agency begins in March. That won't mean spending for the sake of spending, but the Jaguars will be aggressive pursuing players they believe can make an impact. "I don't know if we'll set the market, but we'll have our targets of guys that we really want and we'll do whatever we need to get them," Caldwell said.
5.Older free agents are a possibility.Caldwell in three previous offseasons as general manager typically has stayed in the 25-29-year-old range when signing free agents, with the idea being those players can develop while being part of the core of the future. With the roster closer to being ready to contend, Caldwell said he won't rule out signing free agents in the 30-to-31-year-old range.
6.Caldwell doesn't blame Bradley for 2013 and 2014.This was one of the major takeaways from Caldwell's season-ending press conference. While many critics focus on Bradley's overall 12-36 record in three seasons as head coach, Caldwell made clear he sees Bradley through a different lens. "I don't hold Gus responsible for the first two years," Caldwell said, adding that the Jaguars knew because of their approach of building and developing through the draft that competing in those seasons would be difficult. The Jaguars went 4-12 and 3-13 in those seasons. "We didn't do anything free agent-wise of note our first year here, played a lot of rookies and just kind of survived," Caldwell said.
7.Expectations will be higher next season.Owner Shad Khan made this clear the week of the regular-season finale when he announced Bradley will return for the 2016 season. Caldwell made it clearer last week when he opened his season-ending press conference by saying, "We're going to be aggressive in trying to get this right and succeeding in getting this right. I think it's important that we raise the level of expectations going into this offseason, not only for our players and coaches, but for myself too and everybody in this organization."
8.Gus Bradley calling defensive plays is a possibility …Neither Caldwell nor Bradley ruled this out, with Caldwell saying he would be more comfortable with Bradley calling plays now that the culture inside the building is established and other pieces are in place. "I trust Gus," Caldwell said.
9. … but it's no guarantee.While Bradley also made clear he is considering calling plays, he said whether he does so or not will be determined during the search for a coordinator.
10.Caldwell sees the defense as fixable.The Jaguars struggled all season to pressure the passer, finishing 31st in third-down defense and allowing the second-most points in the NFL. But Caldwell on Tuesday made clear he believes there are pieces in place – nose tackle Roy Miller, defensive end Jared Odrick, linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith and cornerbacks Aaron Colvin and Davon House among them – and believes quick improvement can be made. "I think it's easier in this league to fix a defense than it is an offense," Caldwell said, adding, "We have a mountain of cap space and eight draft picks, coupled with players that we felt like had good years on defense."
11.Bradley doesn't regret "those two words."Much has been made throughout the season of Bradley's "It's-built" comment before the season. Bradley was asked the day after the regular season if he regretted the comment. "Sometimes messages you send to the team … you want them to know how much you believe in them, and I do believe in them," he said. "We've got to keep going and keep challenging them, so I don't regret that part of it."
12.Blake Bortles is the guy.We learned this all season as the second-year quarterback set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns. Caldwell put the Jaguars' thoughts on Bortles into words Tuesday: "We've been looking for a franchise quarterback for a long period of time. We now feel like we have one."
13.The "mental" is key now for Bortles.Bortles made clear the Monday after the regular season he knows he must improve. The focus now: gaining greater command of the offense at the line of scrimmage. "For him, it's going to be mentally and focusing in on the finer details and staying ahead of the curve," Caldwell said.
14.Bortles' hand should be fine.Bortles sustained a broken thumb on his left, non-throwing hand in the regular-season finale. Caldwell said he should be fine.
15.Allen Hurns is tough. We knew this already, too, but the second-year wide receiver will undergo surgery to repair a sports hernia this week after playing through the injury much of the season. "I think if you would talk to a lot of the guys on the team – top three, top four toughest guys – Hurns would be in that category," Bradley said. Hurns caught 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
16.The Jaguars love A.J. Cann. Caldwell said the right guard played as well as any rookie offensive linemen he has been around. The question now: where will Cann play? He replaced Brandon Linder at right guard after the latter sustained an early-season shoulder injury. Those two figure to start at right and left guard, though who will start where remains in question. Caldwell also mentioned the idea of Cann playing center. As for whether next season's starting center is on the roster, Caldwell said that will be decided in roster evaluation in the coming two months. Stefen Wisniewski, who started 16 games at center this season, will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
17.Finding a free safety is tough.How tough? "Like finding a franchise quarterback, if not maybe more difficult in my estimation," Caldwell said.
18.The Jaguars' leadership remains on the same page.Khan made that clear by retaining Bradley, and Caldwell last week expanded on the relationship between front office and coaching. "We're a very functional organization between personnel staffs, coaching staffs [and] ownership," he said. "We've been able to keep things professional and in-house. That's been the thing that's given us the best chance to succeed in the future: we make decisions that are best for the Jaguars. ... That's the biggest thing for us, is the fact that we've been able to stay cohesive. It hasn't been easy and usually in situations like this when you win 12 games over a three-year period, it doesn't work as well as we would like."
19.The Jaguars want Telvin Smith bigger and stronger.The weak-side linebacker has played at or near a Pro Bowl level in each of his first two seasons. Caldwell and Bradley both said the next step for Smith is gaining some size and strength in the offseason. "He needs to put more size on and get stronger because it's hard when he's playing the inside position," Bradley said. "Certain schemes are more taxing than others. But he's got to be a guy that can play year in and year out and all 16 games at that position. He's got to understand the importance of durability and strength."
20.The Jaguars haven't given up on Luke Joeckel.The third-year left tackle struggled in the regular-season finale, allowing five sacks. But Bradley and Caldwell agreed he progressed throughout the season. "A lot of progress," Bradley said, adding that while the Jaguars must improve their strength up front he was pleased overall with the progress of the offensive line.
21.The build remains on course.Has it taken longer than fans would like? Yes. Has it surprised Caldwell? No. "I think it's probably right where we thought it would be," he said. "The fact that we were talking about us making the playoffs or possibly winning the division in December show signs that there's been great improvement. Now the fact that we've got to start playing in January to finish it off."