Each day this week I'll provide an answer to a key question facing the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason.
After pass rusher and free safety -- the Jaguars’ top two needs -- which position must be addressed?
I may have a different take on this than most because I’m not going to go with linebacker, which is the logical answer because the Jaguars certainly need an upgrade there. Instead, I’m going with center.
The Jaguar’s offense made big strides in 2015, especially in the passing game, but the run game still needs work. T.J. Yeldon ran for 740 yards in 12 games, but he rarely had room to get going before he encountered defenders. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Yeldon averaged just 2.36 yards before first contact, which ranked 25th in the NFL.
As a result, the Jaguars averaged 92.1 yards per game rushing (which ranked 27th). That forced the Jaguars to rely on the pass more, and while Blake Bortles made significant strides he still has work to do on raising his completion percentage, which is his offseason priority.
To be better in the run game in 2016, the Jaguars need to solidify the middle of their offensive line. Stefen Wisniewski started every game in 2015, but his contract expires in March. The Jaguars have plenty of options, though.
One is landing Cleveland’s Alex Mack, who is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, centers in the league. Remember, the Jaguars signed him to an offer sheet two years ago, but the Browns matched it. There was a clause in the contract that allowed him to void the deal after two years, and if he does that the Jaguars would certainly be considered the favorite for his services. Mack reportedly liked the culture in Jacksonville and really clicked with coach Gus Bradley.
Jaguars GM David Caldwell, however, also believes there are several players already on the roster that could play center, beginning with Luke Bowanko. He started 14 games there as a rookie in 2014 but was beaten out by Wisniewski last season.
Caldwell also said that guards Brandon Linder, the team’s best offensive lineman, and A.J. Cann could move to center. Linder missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury and Cann started in his place and played well, so it may be best to leave those two at guard (putting Zane Beadles on the bench). In addition, the Jaguars have been working Tyler Shatley, who has played mainly special teams in 12 games in his two seasons, at center.
"It’ll be a very good situation there, and we still like Luke Bowanko and Tyler Shatley, who was active [in the final] game," Caldwell said. "I feel like those guys are at a point where [they] have been practicing real well [and] have gained some good weight and strength."
Regardless of which option the Jaguars choose, they need to be better in the middle of the offensive line in 2016 to make the offense more consistent and more balanced.