AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
ESPN.com Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli makes her game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Washington Redskins
Washington safety Brandon Meriweather will be suspended for this game, aiding the Texans' offense, which will still be figuring itself out at this point. Defensively, I like Houston's chances against Washington's offense, led by a quarterback still learning to play in the pocket. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at Oakland Raiders
The Texans will face ghosts of quarterbacks past this week, playing a team that has former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and the younger brother of former Texans quarterback David Carr. The younger Carr, Derek, was declared the Raiders' starter in the preseason. He's still learning, though, and the Texans will prevail here to repeat last season's 2-0 start. Prediction: Win
Week 3: at New York Giants
After a 2-0 start that leads to positive vibes throughout NRG Park, the Texans stumble during their next road trip. This year, though, a more mentally tough team won't crumble after its first loss. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: Buffalo Bills
Texans coach Bill O'Brien's best friend, Bills head coach Doug Marrone, comes to town. So does DeAndre Hopkins' former teammate, Sammy Watkins. As dynamic as Watkins is, the Bills' quarterback situation will make things difficult on him. And the Texans' pass rush will make things difficult on his quarterback. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Dallas Cowboys
These games are a rare intrastate treat. The Cowboys' defensive line struggled in the preseason, which will make things easier on the Texans' offense. Running back Arian Foster will have a nice day, provided he's still healthy. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Indianapolis Colts
A 4-1 start has visions of a worst-to-first transition dancing through Texans fans' collective heads. Now, though, the team hits a tough stretch. This game is a Thursday night game. The Indianapolis Colts are still the best team in the division and will show it in Houston. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Any discipline for running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, stemming from the pair's marijuana arrest, will be long gone by now. This one will be within the Texans' grasp, but they won't get there. Prediction: Loss
Week 8: at Tennessee Titans
I do think Houston will field a better team than Tennessee, but this third road trip in four weeks will be tough on the Texans. They'll drop to 0-2 in the division and an even record here. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Philadelphia Eagles
The Texans face the NFC East and this is that division's best team. The Eagles' defense will be terrific against the Texans, and despite their offensive issues, they'll take this one. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: at Cleveland Browns
There will be a subset of Texans fans who will feel conflicted today if Johnny Manziel has won the Browns' starting quarterback job by now. If he has, the Texans' defense will feast on him. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are strong in a lot of places. Their defensive line is fantastic, highlighted by tackle Geno Atkins. Quarterback Andy Dalton is serviceable and helped immensely by the guy he throws to, A.J. Green. This is one of the Texans' toughest opponents this year. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: Tennessee Titans
This time the Texans will show that they are in fact a better team. They'll beat Tennessee to split with them and notch their first divisional win. Now comes the bulk of Houston's divisional schedule. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Having come together nicely over the past two months, the Texans' offense shows hope for the future late in the season. They'll follow their first divisional win with their second, this one on the road. Prediction: Win
Week 15: at Indianapolis Colts
The divisional winning streak stops here. The Colts win this game and continue their reign. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: Baltimore Ravens
Finally we get to the Gary Kubiak revenge game. Kubiak and his sidekick, former Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, return to Houston to face a team that fired them. While criticized for being predictable and boring in his play calling in Houston, Kubiak's offense is considered diverse in Baltimore. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: Jacksonville Jaguars
O'Brien will call on the Texans' sense of pride here. With a 7-8 record, the Texans aren't likely to be in playoff contention, but they'll want to finish the season well. While the Jaguars have improved all season, the Texans have, too. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 8-8
ESPN.com Indianapolis Colts reporter Mike Wells makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Denver Broncos
The Colts are facing Peyton Manning at the wrong time. The Broncos were embarrassed in the Super Bowl last season and after the Colts beat Manning in Week 7. Expect the Broncos to score a lot of points in this one.
Week 2: Philadelphia Eagles
The Colts could use suspended linebacker Robert Mathis and his 19.5 sacks against Chip Kelly's offense. It's the home opener for the Colts, and they aren't going to lose on national television in back-to-back weeks. Prediction: Win
Week 3: at Jacksonville Jaguars
Gus Bradley and the Jaguars are slowly heading in the right direction. The gap between the two teams is still too large, as Andrew Luck moves to 3-0 against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Prediction: Win
Week 4: Tennessee Titans
The Colts went into the season wondering how they would play without Mathis during his four-game suspension. They wrap up the stretch by beating the Titans to go 3-1 without their defensive leader. Prediction: Win
Week 5: Baltimore Ravens
Mathis shows little sign of rust in his first game of the season, and the Colts feed off his energy to avenge their 2012 playoff loss to the Ravens.
Week 6: at Houston Texans
The Colts are the better team, but the short turnaround -- a Thursday night game -- and having to play on the road catches up with them, as they lose their first game in the AFC South. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: Cincinnati Bengals
The Colts are still stinging over the overturned fourth-down play that was a momentum shift last season in Cincinnati. Luck still hasn't dropped back-to-back games in the NFL. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Pittsburgh Steelers
History is not on the Colts' side in playing at Pittsburgh. Indianapolis is 1-9 in its past 10 regular-season games there. They move to 1-10 after this one. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: at New York Giants
The Colts lost to a Manning earlier in the season. They're not going to lose to both Mannings in the same season. The defense takes advantage of Eli's poor accuracy to force several turnovers. Prediction: Win
Week 11: New England Patriots
Patriots coach Bill Belichick continues to own Luck, as the quarterback moves to 0-3 against New England in his young career. Prediction: Loss
Week 12: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts get their first look at the Jaguars' new franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles. They send the No. 3 pick in the draft back to Jacksonville with another loss. Prediction: Win
Week 13: Washington Redskins
Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the 2012 draft, face off for the first time in their career. Luck shows once again why the Colts made the right decision in selecting him with the No. 1 pick. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Cleveland Browns
Rob Chudzinski, the Colts' assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano, puts on his offensive hat and gives offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton some special plays to run against the team that fired him after only one season as head coach. Prediction: Win
Week 15: Houston Texans
The Colts avenge their early-season loss to the Texans by jumping on their AFC South counterparts early and never letting up. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Dallas Cowboys
Luck is known for his fourth-quarter heroics, but Tony Romo is the one who leads Dallas from behind in the final quarter in this one. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: at Tennessee Titans
With weather conditions limiting the passing game, running back Trent Richardson ends the regular season with his best rushing game of the season, giving the Colts hope that he'll be able to produce in the playoffs. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 11-5
ESPN.com Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the first test for the rebuilt defensive line. The group better be in shape because it's tough to handle the Eagles' ridiculous offensive pace. More importantly, will the Jaguars have the center and right guard spots figured out by then? Prediction: Loss
Week 2: at Washington Redskins
Forget worrying about RG III. The player the Jaguars need to stop in this game is Jordan Reed. Tight ends pretty much had their way with the Jaguars in 2013 and Reed has the potential to be one of the league's better players at that spot. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Indianapolis Colts
In four games against the Jaguars, Andrew Luck has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,079 yards and six TDs with three interceptions. He has thrown for fewer than 250 yards only once. This is where the improved pass rush needs to make its money. Prediction: Loss
Week 4: at San Diego Chargers
The Jaguars have not had much success on the West Coast. They are 2-9 all time in games played in the Pacific Time Zone, and haven't won a game in that time zone since a 13-6 victory over Oakland in 2004. Couple that with the Chargers being the third playoff team the Jaguars will play in the first four weeks. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: Pittsburgh Steelers
Might this be Big Ben versus Big Blake? The Jaguars are committed to Chad Henne as the starter, but if the team struggles in the first month and Blake Bortles continues to develop, this would be a logical point to insert Bortles into the starting lineup. Prediction: Loss
Week 6: at Tennessee Titans
Ken Whisenhunt helped Philip Rivers and Kurt Warner reclaim their mojo, but the problem in Tennessee is that Jake Locker never had any mojo to begin with. Even if Whisenhunt is able to work some magic with Locker, the one thing he can't do is keep him from getting hurt. Prediction: Win
Week 7: Cleveland Browns
The Browns do have a talented roster, but the Jaguars won this game in Cleveland last year and they're a better team in 2014. Maybe they'll be better at defending tight ends at this point, too. Prediction: Win
Week 8: Miami Dolphins
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill seems to be on a lot of "breakout players" lists. If that turns out to be the case, the Dolphins should be a playoff team. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: at Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals may be the most balanced team -- offensively and defensively -- the Jaguars will face this season. It'll be interesting to see if and how much Andy Dalton is energized by the club's confidence in him after the contract extension. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: Dallas Cowboys
It's hard to get a read on the Cowboys. They're no doubt loaded with talent on offense and Tony Romo is one of the league's top quarterbacks. And yet, somehow, things never seem to be quite in sync and there always seems to be some kind of distraction going on. But when that offense is rolling ... Prediction: Loss
Week 12: at Indianapolis Colts
Last season was the first since 2010 that the Jaguars didn't win a game in Indianapolis, but last year's loss came at the end of the season when the team was down nine starters or key players. The Jaguars have gone 3-1 after their bye the past four seasons. This also could be a good time for the Bortles era to begin. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: New York Giants
This is one of the swing games on the schedule, along with the Pittsburgh and Dallas games -- games the Jaguars could win if everything falls into place. It also depends on whether Eli Manning will be in the midst of leading the NFL in interceptions again. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: Houston Texans
It has been evident in the preseason that the Texans have more issues than just starting quarterback play. J.J. Watt is going to line up in different spots and it'll be interesting to watch his battles with left tackle Luke Joeckel, who was drafted in part to deal with the Texans defensive end for the next 10 years. Prediction: Win
Week 15: at Baltimore Ravens
This may be an important game in the wild-card playoff race -- for the Ravens. The Jaguars could get a chance to play spoiler. After winning in their first four trips to Baltimore, the Jaguars have lost their past five. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: Tennessee Titans
The Jaguars should have swept the Titans in 2013, but the roster was depleted by injuries at the end of the season. They should be able to get it done this season. Prediction: Win
Week 17: at Houston Texans
The Jaguars did sweep the Texans in 2013 and they'll be improved enough in 2014 to do it again, even if Bortles is on the field. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 6-10
"We knew that he [Thomas] could play Will [weakside linebacker]," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "We wanted to see if he could play Mike, because in our linebacking situation, we need a swing guy. That was the competition between him and Stupar: Who could play both and give us the best opportunity?"
It’s easier to take an outside linebacker and ask him to play inside than to take an inside linebacker and ask him to play outside. Thomas was an outside linebacker at West Virginia, although he did play inside on third downs, and that is where he spent his time in his first two seasons in Chicago after the Bears drafted him in the sixth round in 2011.
He played outside linebacker and special teams with the Jaguars last season, but went into organized team activities and minicamp hoping to get some work inside to help increase his value.
"I had kind of been eying that position a little bit since the spring, just making myself a little bit more versatile, and I know that that can help the team and help myself as well," Thomas said. "I just embraced it. From the moment they told me I’d be playing a little bit of middle linebacker, I was rather excited for it. And I’ve been able to grasp concepts pretty easily."
He's had a lot of help. Thomas said he learned a lot from playing with Brian Urlacher in Chicago and from spending time with Posluszny last season. Plus, his father, J.T. Thomas Sr., was a middle linebacker at West Virginia from 1994-95, and he talks to him often.
Thomas isn’t built like a middle linebacker -- he’s 6-foot-1 but only 236 pounds -- but he has the traits that are more important than size: he’s athletic and he can run.
"You have to be [versatile] and you have to be able to run, and those are my strong assets," said Thomas, who made 17 tackles on defense and six on special teams last season. "I can be athletic in the inside and be able to make some plays on the perimeter. I definitely use my speed and quickness to my advantage."
Thomas is still going to see a lot of playing time on special teams this season. But in addition to backing up Posluszny he will also back up starting weakside linebacker Geno Hayes, who is coming back from knee surgery. The Jaguars are going to use Thomas to help manage Hayes’ reps.
He knows it could end rather quickly.
Third-year player Mike Brewster began training camp as the starting center and McClendon was the starting right guard. But Brewster struggled and McClendon and rookie sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko got work at center. The Jaguars chose to go with the third-year player from Tennessee. Brewster was cut on Friday.
"His experience and where he’s at right now [is the reason they chose to go with McClendon]," coach Gus Bradley said. "We feel that Luke still has an upside. He’ll continue to compete in the reps that he gets, but we just felt at this point in time, Jacques is the guy."
It has been a long road for the 6-foot-3, 324-pound McClendon, who has played in nine games (two starts) with Jacksonville and Indianapolis. The Colts drafted him in the fourth round in 2010 and he played in four games as a rookie. Since then he has been cut seven times, including twice by the Jaguars.
He has been with the team continuously since Sept. 30, 2013, and started the final two games of last season at left guard. He did play one snap at center, moving over when the Jaguars sent center Brad Meester out to catch a pass in his final home game.
Now center is McClendon's home, beginning with Sunday’s season opener in Philadelphia.
Offensive tackle Cody Booth, defensive tackle DeAndre Coleman, safety Craig Loston, quarterback Stephen Morris, receiver Kerry Taylor, and linebacker Marcus Whitfield were with the Jaguars in training camp and are being brought back for the practice squad.
The Jaguars also signed rookie receiver Tony Washington, who had spent the past three months with the Indianapolis Colts. Washington (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) had just three catches in the preseason after making 139 catches for 1,837 yards at Appalachian State.
The Jaguars also worked out four other players on Sunday: nose tackle Hebron Fanguo, receiver Jace Davis, receiver Chris Harper and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.
The Jaguars have three spots remaining on the practice squad.
Five WRs: The Jaguars opted to go with five wide receivers for the first month of the season -- Ace Sanders is suspended for the first four games -- and that leaves the offense with little experience at the spot. They’re in essence only going with four because rookie second-round pick Allen Robinson has missed nearly a month with a hamstring injury and hasn’t practiced fully since he was injured July 31. Rookie receivers can have a difficult time adjusting to the NFL and missing the entire preseason all but guarantees Robinson will have minimal impact in the early part of the season. Two of the other receivers that made the roster are also rookies (Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee), meaning the Jaguars have only two receivers who have caught passes in a game: Cecil Shorts (123) and Mike Brown (32).
Two QBs: General manager David Caldwell has said he likes to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster, but he’s only going with Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles, waiving Ricky Stanzi and Stephen Morris. That undoubtedly has to do with Bortles' quicker-than-expected development throughout training camp and the preseason. Had he not progressed from the way he was throwing the ball in OTAs and minicamp, then it would have been a surprise if the Jaguars had not kept Stanzi on the active roster. Stanzi is entering his fourth season but still has practice squad eligibility. If he isn’t claimed by another team, I’d expect the Jaguars to sign him to the practice squad.
What’s next: The Jaguars will try and sign several of the players that they waived to the 10-man practice squad and also will mine the list of players cut from other teams to fill out the squad. Caldwell is expecting to lose a couple players that he released and had targeted for the practice squad to other teams. We will have the updated depth chart and roster posted shortly.
Jaguars moves: TE Brandon Barden (waived/injured), OT Cody Booth, C Mike Brewster, WR Chad Bumphis, DL DeAndre Coleman, WR Tandon Doss (IR), CB Jamell Fleming, DT Ricky Havili-Heimuli, FB Eric Kettani, S Craig Loston, S Sherrod Martin, QB Stephen Morris, G Drew Nowak, K/P Kasey Redfern, CB Rashaad Reynolds (IR), DE Gerald Rivers, QB Ricky Stanzi, LB Nate Stupar, WR Kerry Taylor, TE D.J. Tialavea and LB Marcus Whitfield.
Brewster was one of 18 players the Jaguars cut on Friday afternoon, little more than a month after he began training camp as the starter. However, he had issues with snaps and was passed on the depth chart by Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder.
The Jaguars have to release three more players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday to get to 54 players because they have a four-week roster exemption for suspended receiver Ace Sanders.
Brewster was the starting center when training camp began but had two high snaps in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and bounced one in the second half against Atlanta on Thursday. He was already in jeopardy of making the roster before that game.
The other players the Jaguars released are: quarterback Ricky Stanzi, quarterback Stephen Morris, guard Drew Nowak, defensive end Gerald Rivers, receiver Chad Bumphis, fullback Erik Kettani, tight end Brandon Barden (waived/injured), offensive tackle Cody Booth, defensive lineman DeAndre Coleman, defensive tackle Ricky Havili-Heimuli, safety Craig Loston, kicker/punter Kasey Redfern, guard Tyler Shatley, tight end D.J.Tialavea, and linebacker Marcus Whitfield.
In addition, the team placed wide receiver Tandon Doss (ankle) and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds (hand) on injured reserve.
He has gone from being the team’s starter when training camp began to playing in the second half of the final preseason game, and his play in Thursday night’s 24-14 loss to Atlanta at EverBank Field didn’t help. Brewster bounced a snap past quarterback Ricky Stanzi and the play ended up costing the Jaguars three points.
Brewster was already in jeopardy of not making the 53-man roster before Thursday night’s game, and coach Gus Bradley said the low snap didn’t help. Brewster’s biggest issue is that he’s not a powerful player at the point of attack and he had several chances to seize the starting job and never did.
The Jaguars gave guard Jacques McClendon and sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko reps over Brewster in the third preseason game at Detroit. The Jaguars are likely to keep eight offensive linemen, with the five projected starters (Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, McClendon, Brandon Linder, Austin Pasztor) plus swing tackle Cameron Bradfield and Bowanko, who also can play guard. That leaves just one spot remaining and that may go to rookie tackle Josh Wells or veteran tackle Sam Young because Pasztor is going to miss several weeks with a broken right hand.
So Brewster may be out.
"When you have a couple bad snaps in the first game and then you throw a low one back there in the last game, I mean, yeah, it’s not a comforting feeling," Brewster said. "But I know I can play in this league. I have played in this league. I’ve played a lot of guard. I’ve got to get my mind off the snap thing. I feel like I have too much talent to waste it doing something like that. It’s tough. So, we’ll see.
"Whatever happens, happens. I can’t blame anybody but myself and whatever the problem is I’ve got to move beyond that."
Bradley and GM David Caldwell said in late March at the NFL’s owners meetings that they believed Brewster could be the replacement for 14-year veteran Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season. However, several weeks later they signed restricted free agent Alex Mack to an offer sheet ($42 million over five years). The Cleveland Browns matched the offer and the Jaguars went into training camp with Brewster as the starter.
He has dropped down the depth chart since and may not survive the roster cut to 53, which has to be done by 4 p.m. ET Saturday.
"I’ve just got to clean this issue [bad snaps] up," Brewster said. "It’s not like it’s a problem throughout the week. Just got to stop thinking and stop thinking so much and just make it more natural and not worry about it, I guess. Stop compensating.
"I want my main position to be center. Obviously, they’ve got to be able to trust you and, obviously, they probably don’t at this point."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It wasn’t as easy as it has been for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, but the former Central Florida standout still put together another impressive preseason performance in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 24-14 loss to Atlanta at EverBank Field Thursday night.
Bortles started, but had to play behind a makeshift offensive line that was without two starters and had two others at different positions. He was sacked twice and was banged around twice more, but hung in there and completed 4 of 6 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown pass came on his final play of the night -- and possibly the entire season -- when he came off his primary receiver and found rookie Marqise Lee running open behind the coverage for a 57-yard bomb.
"It was a good play," Bortles said. "I had him on a seam and threw a little later than I wanted to, but he did a good job staying alive and running down the field to make a play."
Here are some other thoughts on the Jaguars’ final preseason game of the year:
- Because of injuries and healthy scratches, the Jaguars shuffled the starting lineup significantly. One of the beneficiaries was running back Denard Robinson. He didn’t have a lot of success running the ball, gaining 12 yards on seven carries, but he did take a swing pass 20 yards. That’s the best way to use the former Michigan quarterback. He’s still adjusting to the position but he’s very good in space, where he can use his speed and elusiveness to make plays.
- Receiver Tandon Doss reinjured his right ankle and now the situation at punt returner is just as murky as it was last week. Even though Ace Sanders made his preseason debut and fielded punts against the Falcons, he’s unable to help because he is suspended for the first four games because of a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Doss was supposed to be his replacement -- he led the AFC in punt return yardage last season while with Baltimore -- but the injury puts that in doubt. Doss had just returned to practice last Monday after missing 24 days with a sprained right ankle. Receiver Mike Brown returned punts against Detroit last week and he’s the likely candidate if Doss’ injury keeps him out several weeks. Cornerback Will Blackmon also has lined up to return punts in the preseason, but he has had trouble deciding whether to catch the ball or let it bounce.
- It’s pretty clear by now that center Mike Brewster is in jeopardy of getting cut, and not just because he zipped a low snap by quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the third quarter. It’s one thing to not play in the first half of the third preseason game because the Jaguars wanted to see Jacques McClendon and Luke Bowanko, but Brewster didn’t enter Thursday's game until the third quarter. McClendon played left guard because of the injury to Zane Beadles (calf) and Bowanko snapped for the entire first half. Brewster has had several chances to grab the starting job and now might not make the roster, even though he can also play guard, because the Jaguars aren’t likely to keep more than one interior reserve.
- Defensive end Ryan Davis received a lot of playing time early and recorded 1˝ sacks. It was a good showing for the second-year player from Bethune-Cookman, who is a key part of the Jaguars’ four-LEO package. … It wasn’t a good night for left tackle Cameron Bradfield, though. He had trouble handling Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux, who flew past him and put a big hit on quarterback Bortles. Bradfield missed another block on a play in which Bortles was sacked. It’s certainly a concern, as Bradfield is going to have to start at right tackle for the first several games of the regular season while starter Austin Pasztor is out with a broken hand. … Kicker Kasey Redfern was short on a 52-yard field goal attempt but did a solid job as a punter, averaging 49 yards on seven punts. That will give him some stuff to put on tape for other teams.
"It definitely motivates you," Bryant said. "In my situation, me being a captain for the last two years, and then after winning the Super Bowl and in the offseason being released, it adds fuel to the fire. But that's the business of football. Like I always tell people, it isn't what happens to you it's how you respond.
"So if I respond in the right way, if I can prove Gus [Bradley] and Dave [Caldwell] right for wanting to pick me up, I'll feel like I accomplished something."
Bryant was a salary-cap casualty in Seattle -- he was due a $4 million roster bonus in March -- so his release wasn't related to his performance. So far this preseason, Bryant has shown that the Jaguars' decision to sign him to a four-year, $17 million contract less than two weeks after he was released looks pretty good. The Jaguars ranked 29th in the league in rush defense (131.8 yards per game) and gave up at least 150 yards rushing seven times in 2013. The 6-foot-4, 323-pound Bryant has helped drop that number to 113 yards per game in three preseason games.
Roughly a quarter of the 339 rushing yards the Jaguars have allowed this preseason came on Reggie Bush's 86-yard touchdown run last Friday night. Several players, including safety Johnathan Cyprien and linebacker Telvin Smith, were out of position on that play. Otherwise, the Jaguars' run defense has been solid.
That's due in large part to Bryant, who anchors the outside of the defensive line as a five-technique end. He hasn't played an entire game yet, but Bryant certainly upgrades the defensive front. He is coming off a season in which he made 30 tackles, recorded a career-high 1.5 sacks, and had a career-high four tackles for loss.
The Jaguars are counting on him to not only boost the run defense but to mentor some younger players such as Abry Jones and Tyson Alualu, as well.
"It takes a while to know what type of impact you have," Bryant said. "I just try to keep the younger players encouraged because this is a talented group. It's deep at every position and that's always a great starting point when you're trying to build something. I feel like Gus and Mr. Caldwell got this program on the right track in terms of trying to build a consistent winner. If I could just keep the younger guys encouraged of what it takes I feel like I'll be doing my job."
There have been no Jaguars players among the first 60 players announced on each side of the ball. I don't think I'm giving away any spoilers when I tell you that there won't be any in the remaining 30 that will be released today, Thursday and Friday, either.
But the Jaguars are represented in other areas of the rankings, which were determined by 90 evaluators inside ESPN, including all 32 NFL Nation writers (myself included). While we're only releasing the top 100 of the rankings, we did end up ranking 309 players on offense and defense, and it's in the latter two thirds of the rankings where you'll find Jaguars players.
Here's a breakdown of where they landed, plus a few thoughts on where we missed in the rankings:
146. WR Cecil Shorts
178. OT Luke Joeckel
181. G Zane Beadles
190. TE Marcedes Lewis
288. RB Toby Gerhart
307. QB Blake Bortles
308. QB Chad Henne
It's hard to argue that Shorts belongs in the top 100. He just doesn't have the numbers to warrant being that high (123 catches, 1,786 yards, 11 TDs in three seasons) plus he has missed 11 games in his three seasons. It's also easy to see why Gerhart was so low. He spent the first four years of his career backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and he is an unproven commodity as a feature back.
It doesn't seem logical that Beadles, a former Pro Bowler, is ranked below Joeckel, especially since Joeckel played just 12 snaps at left tackle before suffering a season-ending injury. However, Joeckel is a left tackle and that position is the most important along the offensive line.
But Henne at No. 308, ahead of only rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the rankings? That's not right. Granted, Henne deserves to be tabbed as an average quarterback since he has an 18-32 record as a starter, has 55 TD passes and 62 interceptions in his career, and has thrown for more than two touchdowns in a game only once. However, he's not as terrible a quarterback as he's made out to be.
I'd take Henne over EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub, Jake Locker, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, all of whom finished ahead of Henne in the rankings. In some cases it was by a few spots, but Henne should be ranked ahead of that group.
106. LB Paul Posluszny
142. DE Red Bryant
146. DE Chris Clemons
217. SS Johnathan Cyprien
251. DT Sen'Derrick Marks
264. LB Geno Hayes
281. LB Dekoda Watson
282. CB Alan Ball
288. CB Dwayne Gratz
Posluszny deserved to be in the top 100. He's certainly better than Buffalo linebacker Brandon Spikes (98th) and while defensive end Chandler Jones (85th) appears to be a rising star, Posluszny' s résumé dwarfs the New England Patriots' second-year player. Posluszny finished second in the NFL in tackles last season and was a Pro Bowl alternate. He has recorded at least 119 tackles in his three seasons with the Jaguars.
I have a feeling that if the rankings were re-done at the end of the season, Clemons and Cyprien would be significantly higher. Clemons recorded at least 11 sacks a season from 2010-12, but his production dipped to 4.5 last season. However, that was due to the torn ACL he suffered in the 2012 postseason and he said he didn't feel quite 100 percent until the 2013 postseason. Cyprien is a rising star in the league and the Jaguars are expecting him to make a bit jump in his second season.
It could be a few drives, a quarter or even a half. Regardless of how long it is, it’d be advisable to postpone any bathroom breaks, concession stand runs or forays into the kitchen (for TV viewers) when he’s on the field.
That may be the last time anyone sees him in game action for a long time, maybe even a year.
So after Thursday night’s game against the Falcons, it could be Bye Bye Blake.
"I don’t really think about it like that," Bortles said. "I think about it each and every day as an opportunity to go get better, to go improve. If it’s taking scout-team cards against our defense and going and working against our No. 1 defense, that’s just as good as going and playing in the game.
"Obviously Thursday night I want to go out there and continue to work, continue to get better, continue to improve on some things and kind of finish the preseason off on a good note."
It’d be hard to be more impressive than he already has been this month. Bortles has completed 62 percent of his passes for 435 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions in the Jaguars’ first three preseason games. He finally got to work with the first-team offense against a first-team defense last Friday in Detroit and responded by going 10-for-17 for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Bortles did throw two passes that should have been intercepted (one would have been wiped out by a penalty), and coach Gus Bradley said Bortles was late on several slant-route throws. Bortles tagged that on his footwork, which is still a work in progress. Though Bortles worked with quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Charlie Taafe during his entire Central Florida career, he has repeatedly said the footwork and fundamentals he’s learning from Jaguars OC Jedd Fisch and QB coach Frank Scelfo are things to which he has never been exposed.
"It’s hard when you’ve been doing it your whole life and now you’re trying to change it," Bortles said. "Me and Frank go every period and do kind of our own thing where I’m working on certain things and trying to change the muscle memory of how to do things and kind of re-learn how to do things correctly or more efficiently."
Those things -- plus gaining a more complete understanding of the offense, learning to read and understand coverages, and adjusting to the speed of the game -- are the main reasons why the Jaguars are putting him on the bench after Thursday.
There are no concerns among the coaches or players that Bortles won’t be able to handle not being a starter for the first time since 2011 and not even getting on the field for the first time since 2010.
"I think he’s going to be fine," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "He’s in a situation where he is the future of the franchise, so I feel like in his mind, his attitude, and how he approaches things, he’ll be just fine.
"Of course you want to play. Anybody wants to come in and play right away, but I think he’s coming into a very good situation. If you look at other situations, like an Aaron Rodgers and others that waited a little bit, they came out and turned out pretty well."
What’s making it easier for Bortles is that Bradley and GM David Caldwell have been up front with Bortles about their plan to go with Henne and have Bortles sit the bench -- ideally for the entire 2014 season.
"I think from the get-go there was kind of a plan, kind of a big-picture thing that they had in mind and were going to do," Bortles said. "That was for me to come in and learn from Chad, ask [questions], and kind of mimic, and figure out things, get acclimated to everything. That was made clear from Day 1.
"I kind of came in with no expectations and was kind of like a sponge, just wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible. ... I know a thousand times more now than I did two months ago."
After Thursday, it’ll be time to learn what it’s like to be a backup again.
In putting together a big piece on NFL head coaches, ESPN's Mike Sando asked a panel of 30 insiders (eight GMs, four former GMs, six coordinators, four position coaches, four executives, and four personnel director types) to rate the 32 NFL coaches on a 1-5 scale (one is best, five is worst). Bradley came in 19th in the ranking, ahead of established coaches such as Carolina’s Ron Rivera (23rd) and Dallas’ Jason Garrett (30th).
A more important thing to consider is that Sando broke the coaches down into tiers and Bradley was squarely in the second tier. That’s impressive considering Bradley has been an NFL head coach for only one year and has a 4-12 record.
Sando’s piece is an interesting read, and you can check it out here. Reminder, it’s Insider content.
One more move: The Jaguars are finished with this round of cuts and have 76 players on the roster but will move rookie cornerback Aaron Colvin to the reserve/non-football injury list on Tuesday. He won’t count against the roster total at that point. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL during Senior Bowl practices, cannot practice for six weeks after the season starts. The Jaguars could then decide to activate him or place him on IR.
A lot of new blood: Harris’ release leaves the Jaguars with just six draft picks remaining from Smith’s tenure (2009-12): defensive end Tyson Alualu, receiver Cecil Shorts, safety Chris Prosinski, defensive end Andre Branch, punter Bryan Anger, and receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon doesn’t count against the salary cap or the Jaguars’ roster total while he is suspended indefinitely. Quarterback Chad Henne and linebacker Paul Posluszny are the only remaining free-agent signees from Smith’s tenure. Of the 75 players remaining, 68 were signed or drafted by GM David Caldwell.
Jaguars' cuts: CB Mike Harris, WR Ramses Barden, LB Allen Bradford, G/C Antoine Caldwell, LB Josh Hull, FB Harvey Unga, S Joe Young, C Patrick Lewis, WR Kenny Shaw, LS Charley Hughlett, DB Deion Belue, WR Lamaar Thomas, RB Terrance Cobb, DT David Carter (waived/injured).