AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
MOBILE, Ala. -- Because of all the Jacksonville Jaguars news on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wasn’t able to write much about what was happening on the field at the Senior Bowl.
So here, on my final day in Alabama, are 10 observations from practices. Most involve South team players because that’s the team the Jaguars’ staff is coaching.
TE catches Middleton's eye
Jaguars tight end coach Ron Middleton created a bit of a stir in the Ladd-Peebles Stadium stands during Wednesday’s practice because of his loud, booming voice. Middleton could be heard yelling "You’re my hero!" and "Yeah! Yeah!" as he was raved about tight end Clive Walford.
The former Miami player made a couple nice inside moves on defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt (Samford) and Anthony Jefferson (UCLA) to get open on seam and corner routes. He also made a diving catch and was able to consistently get open.
"Slick made some plays today," Middleton told me after practice. "First of all, I like his attitude. He’s asking questions. He’s into it mentally. He busts his butt every time he’s been out there and the main thing is he made some plays today so that always makes you like them a lot."
Walford caught 121 passes for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns in four years at Miami, including 44 for 676 yards and 7 TDs in 2014. Middleton said Walford has good size (6-feet-4, 254 pounds), very good hands, and "runs good enough" and projects as an inline tight end in the NFL. He’d need to be faster to be used as a move tight end.
Middleton said Walford still has some technique issues that have to fixed, including as a blocker.
"But you can see the willingness and if you’ve got one that’ll bite, then he’s got a chance," Middleton said. " … if he’ll stick his face in the fan he’s got a chance to be a good blocker. We can work on the technique and things; it’s just the attitude of it."
Teams looking for a quarterback probably didn’t get much out of this week because none of them look very good. In fact, after watching Blake Sims throw for several days I’m starting to wonder how Alabama won the SEC and made the College Football Playoff.
Sims had a particularly bad day on Wednesday and underthrew several passes in drills against no rush. He did have a nice deep ball to Josh Harper (Fresno State) but that was the only pass that stood out in a positive way.
Bryce Petty, playing for the North team, hasn’t exactly torn it up, either, as he adjusts from the up-tempo spread to taking snaps under center. He threw two interceptions on Wednesday including one in which he threw a screen pass right at outside linebacker Nate Orchard (Utah).
The top two quarterbacks in the draft aren’t here because they’re underclassmen and the player most consider No. 3 (UCLA’s Brett Hundley) declined the invitation to play.
Now, some shorter observations ...
It’s hard not to be intrigued by mammoth offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 360), but if he’s going to play at the next level it’s not going to be on the outside. The former TCU standout doesn’t move very well at all. He was continually beaten in pass rush drills early in the week before suffering a hip flexor injury that will keep him out of the game.
Three other South offensive linemen that had solid weeks were guard Arie Kouandjio (Alabama), guard Tre’ Jackson (Florida State), and tackle Daryl Williams (Oklahoma). The Jaguars are expected to add a right tackle and another veteran lineman or two in free agency, but taking a lineman later in the draft is a possibility, too. These are three guys to watch.
North running back Ameer Abdullah looked good carrying the ball, which he did a lot at Nebraska (4,438 yards and 36 touchdowns in four seasons) but he struggled in pass protection drills. He’s not too small (5-9, 195) but he was physically overmatched against some of the linebackers. He may never be a great pass-blocker but he can certainly improve. If he doesn’t, he’s not going to play much in his first few seasons except as maybe a third-down back.
South defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington) may be the best player participating in the game. He’s been hard to handle all week. He’s built like a run-plugger (6-2, 332) but he’s got quick feet and looks like he could be productive as an interior pass-rusher.
South running back David Johnson reminds me a bit of Lorenzo Taliaferro, who played in last year’s game. He’s a big back (6-2, 229) from a smaller school (Northern Iowa) that is holding his own against higher-quality competition than he normally faces. Taliaferro (6-0, 226) played at Coastal Carolina and was drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore.
The most exciting player on the field for either team may be South receiver Tyler Lockett (Kansas State). He’s more of a slot receiver because of his size (5-10, 181) but he’s got good quickness and hands. The Jaguars coaching staff had him run several end-arounds to take advantage of his speed and open-field ability. He more than held his own in one-on-one battles with bigger corners. He out-fought 6-1, 205-pound Nick Marshall (Auburn) to catch a fade pass in the end zone.
Did Miami really finish 6-5? That’s hard to believe after the week the four Hurricanes players have had. Linebacker Denzel Perryman, receiver Phillip Dorsett, corner Ladarius Gunter, and Walford have all been impressive. Dorsett isn’t big either (5-9, 183) but he has consistently gotten open in team drills and has really good hands. Perryman has had some issues in pass coverage but has been very good against the run in drills.
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Clemson) is undersized at 6-1, 288 pounds, but he makes up for it in athleticism and quickness. He was very productive with the Tigers, recording 156 tackles (21 for loss), 3.5 sacks, 26 quarterback pressures, two caused fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in his final two seasons. He showed off his strength, too, by tossing aside 6-5, 308-pound offensive tackle La’el Collins in one pass blocking drill.
MOBILE, Ala. -- When it came to finding an offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley didn’t look at stats.
They didn’t care about yards or points or touchdowns. They paid no attention to rankings, either.
All they cared about was whether players developed and improved over the course of a season and beyond. They found that to be the case when researching Greg Olson, and that’s why he was hired on Wednesday morning.
When studying film of Olson’s past offenses, whether as a coordinator with four teams (Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Oakland) or as a quarterbacks coach, the Jaguars did see players improving. Especially young players, and that is important because the Jaguars had five rookies start at least seven games in 2014, including quarterback Blake Bortles.
"You watch their film and you see not only did he [Olson] make individual guys better but you saw them get a lot better throughout the season," Caldwell said. "… Just his experience, eight years in the league as an offensive coordinator, his ability to develop quarterbacks -- obviously that’s something that’s going to be key for our franchise moving forward, the development of Blake and a young offense."
It’s a good thing the numbers don’t matter because Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons his offenses averaged less than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.
However, in looking at Olson’s quarterbacks in those eight seasons there is evidence of the improvement that Caldwell and Bradley wanted to see.
In the one season in which Olson was Detroit’s offensive coordinator (2005), Joey Harrington threw for 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions -- only the second time in his six-year NFL career that he didn’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Olson was St. Louis’ offensive coordinator in 2006-07. Marc Bulger threw a career-high 24 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions to go along with a career-high 4,301 yards in 2006. Bulger’s production dipped to 2,392 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2007 but he battled various injuries, including two fractured ribs, throughout the season.
Olson worked with Josh Freeman during his three-year stint as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. Freeman struggled as a rookie in 2009 (10 TDs, 18 INTs) but improved to throw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions, and the Bucs went 10-6 in 2010.
Freeman threw for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns with 22 interceptions in 2011, Olson’s final season in Tampa Bay.
Olson had Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Matt Flynn as his quarterbacks in his first season as Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2013. In 2014 he had rookie Derek Carr, who threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The yards and touchdowns were the most by any rookie in 2014.
The quarterback improvements override the fact that, aside from the 2007 season, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th-32nd in total offense, 12th-32nd in rushing, 16th-26th in passing, and 20th-31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).
"The important part for us is it’s not where we rank offensively," Caldwell said. "It’s not where we rank defensively. It’s where you come out at the end. What do you need to do to have your best performance in a game and come out and win a game? If it’s 100 passing and 150 yards rushing and you win 9-3, well that’s what you needed to do because it’s a team game and you have to have it where offense and defense and special teams all play as one."
Now comes the hard part. Greg Olson has to fix an offense that hasn’t averaged more than 16 points per game since 2010 and has scored just 15.5 points per game over the past four seasons. The Jaguars finished 31st in total offense, 21st in rushing and 31st in passing in 2014.
Those were much better numbers than what Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles posted: 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns, 17 interceptions. Fixing the offense starts with helping Bortles take the next step in his development, and that will be Olson’s No. 1 priority in 2015.
Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons, his offenses averaged fewer than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.
That season the Rams became just the fourth team in NFL history to produce a 4,000-yard passer (Marc Bulger), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce) in the same season. The Rams’ offense ranked sixth in the NFL (fourth in passing) that season.
Aside from the 2007 season, however, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th to 32nd in total offense, from 12th to 32nd in rushing, from 16th to 26th in passing and from 20th to 31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).
But the mitigating factor in those seasons is the fact he hasn’t exactly worked with very good quarterbacks. Bulger is clearly the best, but after him it’s a pretty rough list: Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Gus Frerotte, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Carr have all started multiple games under Olson.
The counterargument is that if Olson were a good coach he would have turned some of those guys into good quarterbacks. That’s a chicken-egg thing, though. Do the players make the coaches or the coaches make the players?
Harrington was a disappointment in five seasons in Detroit and was out of the league after the 2007 season. Frerotte was in his 14th season in the NFL in 2007 and played just one more year after that. Freeman, Johnson, Pryor and McGloin are journeyman players. Pryor wasn’t on a roster in 2014 and was recently signed to a reserves/future contract by the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s too early to know if Bortles will develop into an elite quarterback, an above-average starter or bounce around the league as a backup, though the Jaguars certainly believed in his ability to become an elite quarterback or they wouldn’t have taken him with the third overall pick in last year’s draft. He did some good things in 2014, but he also threw too many interceptions, including four that were returned for touchdowns. He has a lot of work to do in regard to his footwork.
This is Olson’s fifth stint as an offensive coordinator and it’s likely make or break for him. Fix Bortles’ fundamental flaws and speed up his decision-making, improve a running game that has floundered for three years and score more points or this may end up being his last chance to call plays.
So will George Yarno, who hasn't been with the team since last spring because he is battling cancer. Even though he's not going to be able to coach in 2015, the Jaguars are keeping him under contract, meaning he'll still receive his salary and medical benefits. It's a class move by the organization and they deserve to be praised for it, especially because they are reluctant to publicize it.
Yarno has asked the Jaguars to not disclose the details about his medical condition and they are honoring that request, but the team did say recently that Yarno was responding well to treatment. It's no secret that cancer treatments can be very expensive and nearly impossible to afford without health insurance. If the team had opted to terminate Yarno's contract, he would have been forced to go on disability and that would have had an impact on his health benefits.
Coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell declined to discuss the decision to keep Yarno under contract, saying they wanted to respect his privacy.
However, one source close to the situation said that Jaguars owner Shad Khan enthusiastically supported Yarno remaining under contract.
Yarno will do some consulting work for the Jaguars, including evaluating film of prospects.
"No major decisions have been made yet," Bradley said after the South team's Tuesday afternoon practice for the Senior Bowl. "We’re still going through that, the process with that, but hopefully it’ll come together soon."
The decision could -- and likely will -- come later Tuesday night, though. Former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and former Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson are the front-runners, according to a league source. There have also been various reports that the Jaguars could hire both and give one the title of quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator.
If that does happen, it's unclear how that would affect current quarterback coach Frank Scelfo.
In addition to Gase and Olson, Bradley also interviewed Minnesota running backs coach Kirby Wilson, New York Jets assistant head coach/running backs coach Anthony Lynn, former San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Dallas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and former Buffalo offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. New Buffalo coach Rex Ryan hired Roman to be the Bills' offensive coordinator. Callahan has been hired by the Washington Redskins as an offensive line coach.
The Jaguars drafted four players that participated in the 2014 Senior Bowl -- guard Brandon Linder, linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive end Chris Smith, and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- and it'll be a surprise if the Jaguars don't take at least one player from this game in the 2015 draft.
The Jaguars' main areas of need are offensive line, pass-rusher, free safety, pass-catching tight end, outside linebacker and running back. Some of those needs will be addressed in free agency, but the Jaguars will have to fill some via the draft.
OT T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh): The Jaguars won't take an offensive tackle with the third overall pick and likely wouldn't take one if they traded down several spots, either. The Jaguars need to upgrade the right tackle spot, and while the most likely solution will come via free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Jaguars address that position in the middle rounds. ESPN Insider Kevin Weidl lists the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Clemmings as a prospect on the rise that could even end up in the middle of the first round. Right now, he's No. 5 on Mel Kiper Jr.'s list of offensive tackle prospects. He has only played on the offensive line for two seasons and is still raw, but he's athletic and powerful and has room to grow.
S Damarious Randall (Arizona State): Having a free safety with the speed and athleticism to cover the width of the field is a must for Bradley's defense and the Jaguars don't have that right now. Josh Evans, the team's sixth-round pick in 2013, has started 24 games at the spot but has no interceptions, no forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and just two pass breakups. Randall (5-11, 190), another one of Weidl's rising prospects, has the speed to be a center-field safety. He had six interceptions in the last two seasons in ASU and he could be a second- or third-round option.
DE Nate Orchard (Utah): Most mock drafts so far have the Jaguars taking either USC's Leonard Williams or Nebraska's Randy Gregory with the third pick, but that doesn't mean the Jaguars can't address the position later in the draft. The Jaguars have only three defensive ends under contract for 2015 (Chris Clemons, Andre Branch and Red Bryant), though they are expected to bring back Ryan Davis and Tyson Alualu. Orchard is coming off a monster year in the Pac-12 (18.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles). He's projected to be a mid-round pick and depending on what he looks like this week he could be tempting for the Jaguars.
RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska): Running back isn't a high priority -- in fact, Caldwell said recently that would be the last piece of the rebuild -- but Abdullah would be tempting in the middle rounds. He's coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and has run for 4,438 yards and 36 touchdowns in that span. He also caught 72 passes for 679 yards seven touchdowns from 2012-14. He's an elusive runner with great vision and acceleration.
TE C.J. Uzomah (Auburn): He doesn't have impressive stats because the tight end isn't exactly featured in Gus Malzahn's up-tempo, no-huddle offense, but he has good size (6-4, 264) and speed. The Jaguars are likely going to add a veteran tight end in free agency and there's the uncertainty with Marcedes Lewis' contract situation, so the Jaguars could be looking for a young tight end in the later rounds.
Instead, he dedicated himself to becoming as good as he could possibly be at the position.
That's what his former teammates will remember most about Jones, who on Thursday signed a one-day contract so he could retire from the NFL after a 10-year career as a member of the Jaguars.
"I don't think in all the years I played with him I ever heard him gripe or complain," center Brad Meester said. "He came in every day, worked his tail off, and worked hard in the weight room, the meeting room, and on the field. Whatever he was asked to do, he did it. He was a great running back for us and when he took over at fullback, he fully embraced that role."
Said running back Maurice Jones-Drew: "He's not selfish. It was never about Greg Jones. It was always about how he could help the Jaguars win a championship."
Another thing Jones' teammates will remember about him: His toughness.
"I never saw him lose a fight," Meester said.
"It’s funny, because people would talk trash to me when Greg wasn’t on the field," Jones-Drew said. "They wouldn’t say too much when he was out there. It just showed you his presence. People wanted to get him out of his game but Greg did a great job of dominating people whistle to whistle."
Humble and tough are two great traits by which to be remembered. He'll also be remembered as a great blocker who helped Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew reach a combined four Pro Bowls. He was the lead blocker when Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,606 yards in 2011. In Jones’ nine seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars finished in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing four times and the Jaguars averaged fewer than 120 yards per game rushing only three times. They were second in the NFL in rushing in 2007, when Jones was a Pro Bowl alternate, and third in 2010.
Jones carried the ball just 270 times in eight seasons with the Jaguars -- he missed the 2006 season with a torn ACL) -- but that was fine because he earned the reputation as one of the league's top fullbacks during his career.
"I didn’t miss the limelight [of being a running back]," Jones said. "One thing about football players, when they line up and when they go through scouting reports and watch tape, they can see who can play and who can not play. The other guys on the other side of the white line knew the deal and knew I was a good player and I was fine with that.
"There were times in the past where I thought about what could've been [had he remained a running back] but other than that I took it in stride and tried to be the best at it that I can. Hopefully I was the best during that time."
Jones tore his right ACL while he was at Florida State and tore his left ACL during training camp in 2006. Had the second injury not happened, he may have gotten a chance to carry the ball more. But Jones-Drew ran for 941 yards in '06 while splitting time with Taylor and Jones spent the 2007-08 seasons clearing holes for the duo.
"Some people asked, 'Well, if you didn’t hurt that knee you ever thought about [whether things may have gone differently]?" Jones said. "I’m like, 'Yeah, but things happen for a reason.' If I didn’t [move to fullback] would I have played 10 years? Maybe, maybe not. I was blessed just to be here and play 10 years."
@ESPNdirocco: There's always a chance, but I have yet to hear his name linked with the Jaguars with anyone that I've talked to. The search for a replacement for Jedd Fisch isn't going to be finished this weekend so I'm sure there will be more candidates emerging.
@ESPNdirocco: The most recent mock drafts around the Web seem to indicate that those two players will go with the first two picks, but the draft is a long way off. There's still the combine and team interviews and a lot can happen during that time. I think the most likely scenario for the Jaguars to get trade offers is if one of those players isn't taken with the first two picks. I believe GM David Caldwell would like to move down if he could, but it depends on the offer and how far back the move would be.
@ESPNdirocco pats just resigned SS Chung and another player to ext. does this mean that McCourty is on his way out? Jax a potential spot? $$— zach goodall (@zach_goodall) January 9, 2015
@ESPNdirocco: Patrick Chung's new contract isn't very big (at most $8.2 million) so I don't think that impacts the Patriots' decision on Devin McCourty. It'd be crazy for the Patriots to keep Chung over McCourty. The Patriots could put the franchise tag on him and there's still time to work out a contract extension. If he were available I believe the Jaguars would go pretty hard after him.
@ESPNdirocco: I think Caldwell would prefer it to work out the same way it did with Jason Babin: The Jaguars cut Lewis and he quickly agrees to sign a more team-friendly contract. However, it depends on whether Marcedes Lewis is willing to do that. The Jags could still keep him at his current salary, too, because they're so far under the cap in 2015 that they'd be able to absorb his cap figure of $8.3 million.
@ESPNdirocco: If I had to pick one, I'd say free safety because that's an integral piece to the defense and the Jaguars need an upgrade there. The Jaguars would benefit from a veteran or two at receiver and at tight end as well if Marcedes Lewis doesn't return.
@ESPNdirocco from a fan who didnt get to see Jags football regularly until recently, who was the better player; Henderson or Stroud?— Damian Moody-Smith (@DMoodySmith) January 9, 2015
@ESPNdirocco: Though I was in the Jacksonville area then, I was covering the University of Florida for the Florida Times-Union so I didn't pay close attention to the Jaguars. However, I know that Marcus Stroud was a three-time Pro Bowler and was voted All-Pro three times. Henderson made two Pro Bowls and was a second-team All-Pro once. Stroud had 29.5 quarterback sacks and Henderson had 29. Basically I'm saying they were both pretty darn good and they complemented each other well. It'd be hard to choose between them.
@ESPNdirocco: That's a possibility. Maybe Baltimore QB coach Rick Dennison, who was Gary Kubiak's offensive coordinator in Houston from 2010-13. The Texans used the zone-blocking scheme to which the Jaguars are committed.
@ESPNdirocco: Like I said in reference to Kyle Shanahan, there's always a chance but there have been reports that Marc Trestman may not be a priority candidate for the Jaguars.
@ESPNdirocco: I think it corresponds to their needs, which means offensive line and pass-rusher are the top two priorities. They'll also look at running backs and safeties pretty closely, too.
@ESPNdirocco: They absolutely will have interest in Cobb, who is one of the top young receivers in the game. However, it'd be a surprise if he were available. I expect Green Bay to work out an extension or use the franchise tag on him.
@ESPNdirocco: Caldwell said the Jaguars don't have to spend big this offseason but it would be a surprise to me if they weren't very aggressive. It's hard to say which players they'll target or have a chance to land because we don't know who will be available.
@ESPNdirocco: No. He's a very good player and durable, but the team would be better served spending the kind of money that it would take to sign Ndamukong Suh. I doubt he'll even be available. Detroit GM Martin Mayhew said this week the team is willing to use the franchise tag on Suh.
@ESPNdirocco: It's not a great class of safeties. Probably the best after McCourty is Cleveland's Tashaun Gipson, but he's a restricted free agent. I don't expect the Jaguars to target Rahim Moore because he doesn't fit the system as a centerfield safety.
@ESPNdirocco: Caldwell said he wants Alualu back and Alualu told me he wants to be back, so I'd say there's a very good chance he'll be here in 2015. He'll get moderate interest but it's not like he'll be fielding big-money offers.
@ESPNdirocco: Gus Bradley was going to be under pressure next season whether he kept Jedd Fisch or not, so the decision to fire him has no bearing or that. After winning just seven games in his first two seasons Bradley needs to win more in 2015.
ESPN NFL insider Adam Caplan reports that San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman is scheduled to interview with coach Gus Bradley this weekend, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reports that former Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman is expected to visit with Bradley, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that the Jaguars have asked for permission to speak with Minnesota running backs coach Kirby Wilson. The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran first reported the Roman news.
Roman's name came up as a potential replacement the day the Jaguars fired Jedd Fisch for what Bradley said were philosophical differences related to how much the team asked of quarterback Blake Bortles. Roman and Jaguars GM David Caldwell were teammates at John Carroll University and Roman allowed Caldwell to stay with him rent-free when the two were starting out their NFL careers with the Carolina Panthers.
Roman has been San Francisco’s coordinator for the past four seasons and before that was Jim Harbaugh’s OC at Stanford, where he worked with Andrew Luck.
Trestman was recently fired after two seasons as the Bears’ head coach and will have no shortage of job offers. He has had success with quarterbacks such as Jake Plummer, Scott Mitchell and Rich Gannon, and while serving as offensive coordinator has had teams lead the NFL in scoring, passing yards, and total offense. He led the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes to a pair Grey Cups and a 59-31 record in five seasons.
Wilson has been a running backs coach in the NFL for the past 13 seasons, in Tampa Bay (2002-03), Arizona (2004-06), Pittsburgh (2007-13), and Minnesota (2014). He also coached running backs in New England (1997-99) and Washington (2000). He interviewed with Baltimore to be the Ravens' offensive coordinator in January 2014 but the Ravens instead hired Gary Kubiak.
Not because he didn’t like his teammates or coach Gus Bradley, or that he was regretting his decision to sign with the team last March. It was more symbolic, a way to wipe away what had been the most trying season of his career.
"I’m just glad this year is over [so he can] put 2014 behind me and I’m looking forward to getting healthy in 2015," Gerhart said. "Every week it seemed there was something. It started off with the foot, and that nagged forever. It was a frustrating year, and I’m excited that this one’s behind me and looking forward to the future."
Gerhart originally hurt his foot when he was brought down by a horse-collar tackle in the season opener against Philadelphia, but didn’t miss any time in the next three games. He re-injured the foot in the Jaguars' loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 4 and he sat out the Tennessee and Cleveland games.
He started to hit his stride after the bye week, rushing for 111 yards over four games and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Gerhart averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the eight games in which he played before the bye.
He had his best game of the season against Tennessee in Week 16, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars’ 21-13 victory, but he left the game in the second half because of a rib injury. That limited him to just four carries for 8 yards in the season finale against Houston.
He finished with 326 yards rushing on 101 carries and averaged 3.2 yards per carry, the lowest average of his career. However, it was the second-most carries of his career. He had 109 in 2011 but averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
Fans might have been disappointed with Gerhart’s numbers, but the Jaguars weren’t.
"They’re disappointed because of fantasy football," general manager David Caldwell said. "Toby had a tough year from that Philly game on in terms of being not healthy. You saw some glimpses later in the year, when he was healthy, of what he could do, and that’s why we signed him, and that’s what we hope to get out of him in the future."
Caldwell said he views running back as a lower priority in free agency and the draft, so Gerhart and Denard Robinson likely will enter 2015 as the team’s top two backs. For Gerhart, though, his main goal next season is staying healthy. He had missed just three games in his first four seasons with Minnesota, but missed two this past season.
Bradley said he could tell that bothered Gerhart, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract in March. Gerhart is still in the team’s plans, though.
"He’s never been hurt like that," Bradley said. "I think we started to see signs of him do some good things. I know he was frustrated over that: 'I wanted to help this team more but I didn’t anticipate I’d be hurt like I was.'
"But yeah, we still think highly of him."
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There was supposed to be some progress made in Year 2 of the GM David Caldwell/coach Gus Bradley regime, but it certainly didn’t show up in the team’s record or on the stat sheet.
The Jacksonville Jaguars went 3-13, their third consecutive season of at least 12 losses. They had one of the NFL’s worst offenses, finishing last in scoring (15.6 PPG) and 31st in passing offense (187.6 YPG) and red zone offense (40.6 percent). They were 21st in rushing (102.1 YPG), 29th in third-down conversions (31.9 percent) and gave up a franchise-record 71 sacks.
So was there progress?
In spots, which made it harder to see. Bradley captured that perfectly a few weeks ago when he talked about seeing offensive linemen Luke Joeckel, Brandon Linder, and Zane Beadles playing better in the latter part of the season, but it not translating to the offensive line playing better as a unit. Individual progress, but not unit progress.
You could say the same for what happened at linebacker, cornerback, receiver and safety. The next step in the Caldwell/Bradley rebuild is turning that individual progress into something that will impact the result of games in 2015.
Team MVP: Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks was the Jaguars’ best, and most consistent, player all season. Some of his numbers were down from the previous season (such as pass breakups and forced fumbles), but he was been better at the point of attack and provided very good pressure up the middle. Marks finished the season second among all defensive tackles with 8.5 sacks, an unusually high number for an interior lineman, and had 44 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup. He led the team in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. More than half of his 16.5 career sacks came this season.
Best moment: The Jaguars got one shot to make a good impression on national television in a Thursday night game against Tennessee on Dec. 18, and they made the most of it in a 21-13 victory. The video boards were even more impressive at night than they are during the day, and that helped distract from a pretty poor offensive performance to start (16 yards on the first four possessions). Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who was doubtful with a sprained foot, got things going after that, leading the Jaguars on back-to-back long TD drives. He had key runs despite his injury on each drive.
Worst moment: The Jaguars' offensive performance in their first game after the bye week was an embarrassment. They set a season low in points (three), passing yards (114) and completions (14), and their 194 total yards was their second-lowest output of the season. They had only four drives reach Colts territory, and two of those possessions began with fumble recoveries already inside Colts territory. The Jaguars failed to score a touchdown on four tries inside the 3-yard line late in the 23-3 loss. It was particularly disappointing because it came after the bye week, and it appeared the Jaguars and Bortles had failed to make any progress from the first part of the season.
2015 outlook: The Jaguars took the rare approach of going with a lot of youth on offense -- six rookies started at least eight games -- and taking the expected lumps this season so the unit would be experienced enough to be significantly better in 2015. Most of that depends on how much progress Bortles makes in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Bortles needs to immerse himself in the offense so they can concentrate more on opposing defenses when the offseason program begins. Defensively, the Jaguars have to make upgrades at free safety and linebacker, but it appears young cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin will be a pretty good tandem. The schedule looks to be easier next season, too. It sets up for a run at a .500 record.
Gabbert certainly had other issues, but having a new offensive coordinator in each of his three seasons was one of the main roadblocks in his development. Each season he had to learn a new offense, new audibles, new terminology, new reads. All while trying to make the adjustment to the NFL.
It was a disaster. Gabbert was 5-22 as a starter and threw 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games.
"You obviously want continuity," Bradley said. "We all know that here with some of the experiences that we had, so that was something that I took very seriously. Sometimes when you do this sometimes you take a step back a little bit because there’s learning a new system, a new playbook, a new coordinator and you’ve got to go through a learning curve.
"But in my analysis of it I thought that we might take a step back but hopefully it’s with two or three steps forward."
The Jaguars can’t go back much further. The offense has been last in the NFL in scoring the past two seasons -- averaging 15.5 points this season -- and hasn’t ranked higher than 29th in total offense the past four years. In 32 games under Fisch, the Jaguars averaged 291.7 yards per game.
The 2014 team averaged 15.5 points per game and ranked 31st in total offense, 31st in passing and 21st in rushing. The Jaguars didn’t finish with more than 288 yards in any of their final six games.
There is somewhat of a mitigating factor, though. The Jaguars had eight rookies start games on offense, including six that started at least eight games: Bortles (14), Marqise Lee (eight), Allen Hurns (eight), Allen Robinson (eight), Brandon Linder (16) and Luke Bowanko (14).
The original plan for Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in May, was for him to sit the entire season but the offense was so non-functional through the first 2.5 games with Chad Henne that the Jaguars were forced to put Bortles on the field.
So not only is Fisch’s firing impacting Bortles, it’s forcing five other rookies to learn a new system, as well.
But Bradley is willing to take the risk and believes Bortles will be able to handle it.
"I know Blake will be ready and open for a challenge, too," Bradley said.
But can he handle it better than Gabbert did? He was not supposed to play his first season, either, but was forced onto the field because the team cut David Garrard days before the season began and Luke McCown struggled in the first two games.
Gabbert’s head coach was Jack Del Rio and his offensive coordinator was Dirk Koetter that season. The staff was fired after the season and Mike Mularkey and Bob Bratkowski filled those roles in 2012. That staff was fired after one season, and Bradley and Fisch took over in 2013.
Gabbert started three games, got hurt and never regained his starting job. The Jaguars traded him to San Francisco in the offseason.
Three different offenses in three seasons certainly impacted Gabbert’s development. Bradley is willing to take the risk that Bortles won’t be similarly affected.
Ever since he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the Jaguars' victory over Cleveland on Oct. 19, Posluszny hasn't been able to work out his upper body and that has been tough for him to handle. Posluszny is a fiend when it comes to taking care of his body and not being able to work out the way he wants has been driving him crazy.
"I can still strain but we wanted to lay off activating the pec as much as we can but once we get to week 12 that’s when we really start to strengthen that pec up and go from there," Posluszny said.
Even if there was some hesitation about paying Posluszny that much, the reality is that he's a valuable piece of the defense because he's responsible for making the defensive calls and he's a good influence on the younger linebackers. Plus, he can still play at a high level. The 2013 Pro Bowler has recorded at least 110 tackles from 2008-13 and was second in the NFL with 162 tackles in 2013.
And there's this stat: The Jaguars gave up 110.3 yards per game on the ground in the seven games with Posluszny, which ranked 15th in the NFL over that span. They gave up 140.1 yards per game rushing in the nine games in which he didn't play.
Fourth-year player J.T. Thomas stepped into Posluszny's spot and played solidly. He's a versatile player -- he also played both outside linebacker spots this season -- but he's an unrestricted free agent. Indications are that the team is interested in re-signing him. Outside linebacker Geno Hayes also is an unrestricted free agent and he is unlikely to be re-signed. That's another reason bringing Posluszny back makes sense.
"It’ll be interesting to see what happens with our linebacking corps this offseason because we know we have guys that can play multiple spots," Posluszny said. "We know we have Telvin [Smith], who’s going to be a fixture there. You know he’s going to continue to improve and do a great job. It’s going to be interesting to see who ends up where, where we put certain guys, because now we feel like we have guys that have a lot of game-time experience and guys that can really help us out."
Bortles said Monday afternoon that he plans on working with Jordan Palmer during the offseason to help fix some of the fundamental issues that lingered throughout his rookie season. Bortles worked with Palmer, who has played for four NFL teams (including the Jaguars), at the EXOS training facility in California to get ready for the 2014 draft.
Bortles worked on that with Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo during minicamps and training camp, but once the season started, there wasn’t as much time to continue that work. At times, Bortles reverted to poor mechanics during games.
"There’s a lot of stuff that’s kind of hard to fix while you’re playing," said Bortles, who set the Jaguars rookie record with 2,908 passing yards. “I know what I’m doing wrong and I know how to fix it, but I [didn't] have the time to put the work in to get it to become muscle memory.
"That’s the thing: I have a good understanding of what I need to do. Obviously I’ll continue to go work with Jordan [Palmer] and continue to seek guys that will help me out and continue to try to learn to get better."
Bortles said fixing his mechanics will help his completion percentage (58.9 percent).
"I think I’d expect more consistency," he said. "I think when that comes, the accuracy as well as many other things, will come as well.”
Bortles and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have the same agent, Ryan Tollner, and Bortles and Roethisberger spent some time together in California before the season. Bortles said he hopes to be able to do that again this offseason.
He also said he’s already spoken with the Jaguars receivers about getting together for several days, whether it’s in Jacksonville or California, to throw and work on the offense.
First, though, comes a week off. Bortles plans on getting his offseason work started soon after.
"This offseason is kind of like a trial run in a sense of what am I going to do every offseason after this one," he said. "Kind of figure out the routine and what I’m going to do. So I’m going to do some different things. Obviously I’m going to be working out and running and paying attention mentally to our offense, but I’m going to try some different stuff and figure out what fits and what I like so I can go back to that every offseason, reaching out, talking to other quarterbacks and see what I can do."
Once he found out on Monday the injury was that serious, Marks vowed to remain positive and said he plans on returning to the field for the 2015 season opener.
Marks said doctors are waiting on the swelling to go down before they perform the surgery. He said he wants to have it as soon as possible so he can begin the rehab process.
It is not out of the question for Marks to play in the 2015 season opener, which is a little less than 9 months away, and he doesn't need to look far for examples. Rookie cornerback Aaron Colvin suffered a torn ACL last January and returned to the practice field in nine months but still had to sit out another month on the reserve/non-football injury list before he made his pro debut.
Defensive end Chris Clemons suffered a torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs but returned to play in 14 games in 2013.
"You've heard of guys coming back playing stronger so I'm going to stay positive about it and hopefully have the surgery soon and just continue to work," Marks said.
Marks was hurt on Alfred Blue's 1-yard touchdown run with 6:54 remaining in the first half. He immediately was taken to the locker room and underwent an MRI on Monday.
Marks, 27, has been the Jaguars' best and most consistent player all season. He led the team with 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 16 QB hurries to go along with 44 tackles and a fumble recovery. He was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl last week.