AFC South: Alan Ball

Examining the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
General manager David Caldwell has said he likes to keep three quarterbacks, which means all three will have to be on the active roster, because Stanzi is ineligible for the practice squad. Stanzi should start the season as the No. 2 because he’s more ready to play than Bortles, but that will likely flip-flop at some point. Stephen Morris is a practice squad candidate.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

If the Jags elect to keep only four backs, Todman and Johnson likely would battle for the final spot. That is assuming Robinson continues to be very good in camp. He might end up getting more playing time than any of the other backs after Gerhart if he shows he can be a reliable pass-catcher. Johnson has to prove he can pass block and doesn’t have problems with ball security.

RECEVIERS (6)

The first four players should be locks, but it will be an interesting competition for the final two spots among Brown, Taylor, free-agent signee Tandon Doss, undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, and former practice-squad player Chad Bumphis. Doss missed most of the organized team activities and minicamp because of a calf injury, allowing Taylor, Bumphis and Hurns to get valuable reps. Doss was not a consistent receiver in his three seasons in Baltimore and has more value as a returner, but Sanders’ strength is as a punt returner and the Jags have other options at kickoff returner. I have Taylor narrowly beating out Hurns because of his experience, but I can easily see that being flipped if the Jags want to add more size. Hurns is 6-foot-3; Taylor is 6-0.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Jensen flashed during OTAs and gets the edge over three other players. He’s a big kid (6-6, 270) who is a raw version of Lewis, one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Jensen will need a year or two to develop and likely will be used as an extra blocker more than a pass-catcher.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Some of the battles for starting jobs along the line are going to be intriguing during camp. Joeckel and Beadles are safe, but every other spot is up for grabs. Even Pasztor, who started 12 games last season, is uncertain because we don’t know how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up during camp. If it’s fine, then he will win the starting job at right tackle. McClendon and Linder are battling for the right guard spot, and Brewster is going to have to hold off Bowanko and two others to be the starter at center. Bradfield has value because he can play both tackle spots.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

This should be the biggest upgraded position on the roster thanks to the additions of Clemons, Bryant and Hood. Despite public perception, Alualu isn’t on the bubble for two reasons: He played solidly last season, and there really isn’t anyone else on the roster as talented as he is to back up Bryant. The Jags are excited about Smith, who could end up playing more than Davis as the No. 3 LEO (hybrid end/linebacker) by the time the season is over.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Either John Lotulelei or J.T. Thomas, two key special teams players last season, could stick if the Jaguars decide to keep an extra linebacker instead of five cornerbacks, or if Hayes’ surgically repaired knee doesn’t respond well. Reynolds did a solid job subbing for Watson (groin) during OTAs and minicamp at the new OTTO position (replaces strongside linebacker).

CORNERBACKS (5)

The Jags will have to decide whether to keep fourth-year player Mike Harris or Jeremy Harris, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a back injury. The 6-2, 185-pound Jeremy Harris is a better fit for what coach Gus Bradley wants in his cornerbacks than the 5-10, 188-pound Mike Harris, who was a member of former GM Gene Smith’s final draft class. Blackmon has been working inside as well, which also makes Mike Harris expendable. Fourth-round draft pick Aaron Colvin will begin the season on the PUP list and doesn't count against the roster limit.

SAFETIES (4)
Chris Prosinski has seemingly been a bubble player since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, but there is too much competition for him to survive this time. Martin started 36 games for Carolina in his first five seasons, and that experience gives him the edge. Evans seems to be the name everyone mentions when talking about the first Caldwell draft pick to get cut, but though he might lose his starting job to Guy, he’s likely to stick around at least another year.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These guys should have little or no competition to make the roster.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With more than $50 million in salary-cap space at the beginning of the month, the Jacksonville Jaguars had plenty of ammunition to go on a spending spree.

Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett and Aqib Talib were available. So were Alex Mack, Eric Decker and Jared Veldheer. The Jaguars had enough money to sign three or four of those players, and they certainly would have made the team significantly better in 2014 -- maybe even a playoff team.

But the Jaguars didn’t pursue any of them. General manager David Caldwell resisted the lure and signed seven second-level free agents to responsible, team-friendly contracts. He and coach Gus Bradley are adamant about not taking a shortcut in the second year of the franchise’s rebuild.

"We all know there’s expectations and we get that," Bradley said. "But I think for me it’s more the city of Jacksonville deserves an opportunity to be a part of something really good. I think [owner] Shad [Khan] deserves that and so does Dave. In order to do that, I think we have to be really strict and disciplined to go on our journey this way."

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDespite a 4-12 record, coach Gus Bradley said the Jaguars made significant strides in 2013.
Sometimes it’s hard not to stray, but being patient and building the franchise through the draft is what sold Khan on Caldwell and Bradley. He learned that was the best approach pretty quickly after purchasing the team in November 2011.

Khan listened to then-general manager Gene Smith and opened up his considerable pockets and splurged in his first free agency. The Jaguars signed receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract and cornerback Aaron Ross to a three-year deal worth up to $15.3 million. They also signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey to a four-year extension worth $20 million, including $9 million guaranteed.

They signed several other players, too, and Khan sat back and eagerly awaited the playoff appearance that Smith said would come because of those signings.

The Jaguars went 2-14.

"Certainly, I’ve learned my lesson," Khan said. "If you look at the teams that are successful, they’re going to be built through the draft and some missing pieces are going to be filled in through free agency. I think that is the formula for success."

Khan fired Smith and then-head coach Mike Mularkey after the season and hired Caldwell away from the Atlanta Falcons. Caldwell in turn hired Bradley away from the Seattle Seahawks and the two put together their plan to rebuild the franchise.

They signed 10 new free agents in March and April and hit big on four: linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, defensive tackle Roy Miller, and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks. None were in high demand and the most expensive was Miller, who signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. The four combined to start 59 of a possible 64 games.

Among the team’s eight draft picks were offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz and receiver Ace Sanders. All four started as rookies and showed they are foundation pieces moving forward.

Despite those additions, the Jaguars went 4-12 and started the season by losing their first eight games by double digits. Yet Bradley said the 2013 season was important because it helped establish the culture and the standards by which the team operates.

"We had valuable, valuable lessons that we could teach our team," Bradley said. "We talked about not getting consumed in defeats. We talked about not reveling in accomplishments. All these conversations came up -- celebrating victories, getting better for everybody, being unselfish, learning trust, all these things came up in our conversations last year, and I loved every aspect of that.

"If my sole focus was on winning or losing, I would have missed all that, and we would have missed all those lessons for our team."

It was evident the roster in 2013 was even less talented than anticipated, which produced the temptation to try and speed the process along by splurging in free agency this March. Caldwell and Bradley didn’t waver even though they know expectations are bigger in their second season and they’ll be bigger in 2015 and 2016, as well.

Short-term rewards are not more valuable than long-term success.

"We want to have a consistent winning team moving forward," Khan said. "I think with this rebuilding over and over again is brutal for the fans. I mean, it’s brutal if you have anything to do with it. Just think about it. There are maybe a dozen teams that are always in contention that always manage to be competitive.

"Our goal is we consistently we want to be there."
ORLANDO -- Fourteen Jacksonville Jaguars received performance-based incentives of more than $100,000, led by rookie safety Josh Evans.

Evans, a sixth-round pick out of Florida in 2013, was thrust into a starting role because Dwight Lowery sustained a concussion in a Week 3 loss to Seattle. Evans was expected to spend the season in a reserve role but instead ended up playing 653 of a possible 1,016 snaps (64.3 percent). That additional playing time earned him $181,381.06 to bring his total compensation for 2013 to $437,205.

Performance-based pay compensates players whose playing time was much higher than what their salary would have paid. Players whose base salaries are very low -- which is usually low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents –--stand to earn the most money under the program.

In addition to Evans, the following players earned more than $100,000: offensive tackle Austin Pasztor ($175,996.58), offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield ($155,588.53), receiver Mike Brown ($142,384.82), cornerback Will Blackmon ($134,617,61), cornerback Alan Ball ($129,120.82), receiver Ace Sanders ($127,592.32), safety Winston Guy ($112,796.88), cornerback Mike Harris ($110,352.63), fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou ($108,097.31), safety Johnathan Cyprien ($108,018.59), receiver Cecil Shorts ($104,795.99), cornerback Demetrius McCray ($104,681.44) and tight end Clay Harbor ($102,227.69).

On the other end of the spectrum was running back Delone Carter, who received $182.17.

Jaguars players received a total of $3.46 million in performance-based pay, which is the league limit for each team. However, the players will not be paid until April 1, 2016.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Red Bryant is never going to forget what it felt like to win the Super Bowl earlier this year.

He also isn't going to forget the 2008 and 2009 seasons, either.

What he experienced then -- going 4-12 in '08 and 5-11 in '09 -- was just as much a part of Seattle's championship run as anything they did last season, he said.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsRed Bryant, who signed a four-year deal with the Jaguars, believes his new team has a similar level of commitment that his former team had.
"A lot of people talk about the great season we had this past season, being able to win the Super Bowl, but a lot of people forget the journey that led up to the Super Bowl," Bryant said Monday, two days after he signed a four-year contract worth $17 million with the Jaguars. "It was a lot of shortcomings, hard falls, and we persevered and I was there during that whole process."

One of the main reasons Bryant signed with Jacksonville is he believes the Jaguars are on a similar path under general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, who was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator from 2009-12. He sees the Jaguars at the same point the Seahawks were in his first two seasons and believes he can help as the franchise attempts to maneuver its way through the same building process.

"They've got a vision from the owner to the general manager to the head coach to everybody in the program," Bryant said. "They know what their vision it. They're going to be committed to it and they're not going to [deviate from it]. When you have that type of commitment to winning, commitment to excellence, only good things can happen.

"...I know what it takes. I know what type of commitment you have to have from the front office on down and that's the same commitment that I see the Jacksonville Jags have."

That's a pretty big leap of faith considering Caldwell and Bradley are only in their second year in Jacksonville and inherited a roster that was one of the worst in the NFL. The Jaguars lost their first eight games of 2013 by double digits and finished the season ranked 22nd or worse in the six major statistical categories (yards per game, rushing yards per game, and passing yards per game). They were 29th against the rush and 31st in total offense and rushing.

But there is optimism because early returns are solid on the duo's first draft class and they were able to add several free agents who turned into key players, such as defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, cornerback Alan Ball, and linebacker Geno Hayes. Marks signed a four-year extension in December and is one of the players around which the defense will be built.

Bryant is another one of those players. He's a five-technique defensive end, meaning he lines up over the offensive tackle and is responsible for the gaps on either side. The 6-foot-4, 323-pound Bryant began his career as a tackle before moving to end in 2010 and he said he's willing to play inside and outside with the Jaguars.

"I'm pretty sure Gus will have a plan and the defensive coordinator will have a plan on how to use me," Bryant said. "I definitely feel like I can play inside if given the opportunity and I hope moving forward that's in the plan to utilize me inside as well."

Bryant, whom Seattle cut on Feb. 28, had planned on visiting Green Bay and Kansas City and said the Washington Redskins also expressed interest, but when he got to Jacksonville and spent time with Bradley, Caldwell and defensive line coach Todd Wash he felt the Jaguars were the perfect situation.

"I just think it's a great fit for me all the way around," he said. "I know where the vision starts from the top down and I believe Jacksonville is definitely moving in the right direction and I'm excited about being able to help their franchise turn it around."
Here is the ninth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Cornerback

Blackmon
Who’s on the roster: Alan Ball, Will Blackmon, Jamell Fleming, Dwayne Gratz, Mike Harris and Demetrius McCray.

Analysis: The Jaguars are pretty solid at this spot, especially if the team re-signs Blackmon, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next week. Ball was signed as a free agent last year, and were it not for the play of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks would have been tabbed as GM David Caldwell’s best signing. Ball started 15 games, led the team with 14 pass breakups, and intercepted two passes. Gratz, the team’s third-round pick, missed six games with ankle injuries, but started eight games and showed development despite the injuries. Blackmon was signed just before the final preseason game and worked as a punt returner and started eight games. Harris worked as a fifth defensive back and provided solid depth. The group’s biggest issue was it didn’t make many big plays and had several instances, notably against Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, where it gave up game-changing plays.

NFL free agents of interest: Sam Shields, Walter Thurmond and Javier Arenas.

Need meter: 3. The Jaguars don’t have to address cornerback in free agency or in the draft because they have more pressing needs elsewhere on defense, notably pass-rusher and outside linebacker. If Gratz remains healthy and Blackmon is re-signed, the duo can combine with Ball to give the Jaguars three solid options. If one of the better corners remains unsigned later in free agency the Jaguars might get involved, especially if the price is reasonable.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars general manager David Caldwell can be very aggressive in free agency if he chooses because the Jaguars are projected to have the third-most cap room available when the free-agency period begins next month.

According to a Feb. 7 report from Roster Management System, the Jaguars will have nearly $30 million in cap space. The team's cap number -- which includes salaries, penalties, dead money, and futures contracts -- for 2014 is $96,517,190, well below the estimated 2014 salary cap of $126 million.

That leaves the Jaguars with $29,482,810 to spend on free agents and draft picks.

Only two teams in the NFL have more projected cap room: Indianapolis ($33,096,844) and Oakland ($58,242,920).

But just because the Jaguars have a significant amount of money to spend doesn't mean Caldwell will be writing a lot of big checks. The Jaguars will target some offensive and defensive linemen in free agency, especially a center, and will be somewhat aggressive early and then back off in the hopes of finding a bargain later in free agency.

That doesn't mean the Jaguars are going to jump into the competition for Alex Mack, who is one of the league's top centers. Ryan Kalil signed a six-year, $49.12 million deal in 2011 with Carolina that made him the NFL's highest-paid center and Mack's deal is expected to top that.

He may not even be available, either, because Cleveland could sign him to an extension before his contract expires last month. Mack also said he would give the Browns the chance to match any offer he received.

"Some of these guys [available linemen] are going to get signed before free agency becomes available," Caldwell said. "We'll just have to wait and see who becomes available and who's out there. You have the franchise tag and some other methods that teams use to keep their guys so we'll see.

"There will be another influx of guys that become available when teams have to get under the salary cap."

Waiting paid off for the Jaguars last year. They signed four unrestricted free agents from other teams (linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, running back Justin Forsett and defensive tackle Roy Miller) from March 13-15 and then added defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks on April 2.

Marks had a career year and ended up signing a four-year contract extension in December.

Jaguars top 10: The final list

January, 3, 2014
1/03/14
1:07
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Each week this season I put together a list of the top 10 playmakers from the previous week's game.

Sometimes it wasn't easy, especially in the first half of the season. With the Jaguars going 0-8 I had to dig deep, and twice I had to use mascot Jaxson DeVille for his dramatic pregame entrances.

Thing were much easier in the second half of the season, though. The Jaguars played significantly better and went 4-4.

At the midway point I gave you a list of the top 10 playmakers for the first half of the season. Now that the season is over, here's the final list.

Remember, this isn't a list of the MVP candidates, but a compilation of the players who made the biggest difference this season.

Following each player's name will be three numbers: their final point total, their first-half point total, and second-half point total. Points were assigned to each spot on the weekly list. The No. 1 playmaker each week got 10 points, the No. 2 got nine, the No. 3 got eight, etc.

[+] EnlargePosluszny
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerPaul Posluszny was the Jaguars' best defensive player and arguably their top player overall.
1. LB Paul Posluszny (83 total, 46 first half, 37 second half): It's no surprise that he tops the list. He was the Jaguars' best defensive player all season and you could argue that he was the team's best overall player. His 161 tackles (121 solo) were second in the NFL. He also had three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

T2. RB Maurice Jones-Drew (77-41-36): It wasn't his best season, but he still was the Jaguars' leading rusher (803 yards) and was the third-leading receiver (43 receptions for 314 yards). He only scored five touchdowns and his 3.4 yards per carry average was the lowest of his career, but he still was the offense's biggest playmaker. He did that despite being less than a year removed from Lisfranc surgery and battling through ankle, knee and hamstring issues.

T2. QB Chad Henne (77-45-32): He finished with 13 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, but he threw for nine touchdown passes and five interceptions in the last five games. He also threw for 3,241 yards, making him the first Jaguars quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards since David Garrard in 2009. Though he wasn't spectacular, he made a lot of good plays and rarely put the Jaguars in a bad situation.

4. WR Cecil Shorts (57-44-13): He fought through shoulder and groin injuries to catch a team-high 66 passes for 777 yards and three touchdowns. He missed the final three games because the groin injury became too severe for him to play through. For nine of the 13 games he was the team's No. 1 receiver and struggled with that role in the first month but handled it much better after Justin Blackmon's second suspension.

5. K Josh Scobee (46-30-16): He missed only two of his 25 field goal attempts. One was a 60-yarder and the other was blocked. He scored 94 points, which led the team for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

6. P Bryan Anger (45-34-11): He was the team's best offensive player in the first month of the season. His gross average was down 2.1 yards from his rookie season but he equaled his rookie mark of 31 punts inside the 20-yard line.

7. TE Marcedes Lewis (41-6-35): A calf injury kept him out for all but two plays in the first six games and he needed time to get used to the offense and figure out his role. Once he got comfortable, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch made him a significant part of the game plan and Lewis caught 16 passes for 242 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and four touchdowns in the last five games.

8. WR Ace Sanders (40-13-27): He was drafted to be the team's punt returner and because of injuries and Blackmon's suspension ended up playing a key role on offense. His 51 receptions for 484 yards were second on the team. For comparison, Shorts caught only two passes as a rookie and Blackmon caught 64.

9. DT Sen'Derrick Marks (37-15-22): He was the Jaguars' best defensive lineman all season and put together a career year. He set career highs in sacks (four), passes defensed (eight), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (three) in 2013. He had three sacks, eight passes defensed, three forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries in his first four seasons with Tennessee. He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension last month.

10. WR Justin Blackmon (34-0-34): He played in just four games but he was the Jaguars' best offensive player in those four. He caught 29 passes for 446 yards and one touchdown. His 29 receptions are fifth on the team and the 415 yards are fourth. He will be eligible to apply for reinstatement before the 2014 season begins.

Here are the players who finished 11th-20th:

11. RB/KR Jordan Todman (32-5-27): He finished as the Jaguars' second-leading rusher (256 yards) but made his biggest mark as a kickoff returner. His 27.4 yards per return average was seventh in the NFL. He proved he could be a complementary back as well, rushing for 109 yards against Buffalo when Jones-Drew sat out with a hamstring injury.

12. S Johnathan Cyprien (31-23-9): He finished second on the team with 104 tackles and progressively improved throughout the season.

13. LB Geno Hayes (29-6-23): Played through a knee injury all season and finished third with 78 tackles and two interceptions.

14. WR Mike Brown (26-26-0): He missed four games with a fractured vertebrae but rebounded to finish fourth with 32 catches for 446 yards and two touchdowns.

15. CB Alan Ball (24-3-21): He led the team with 14 pass breakups to go along with 45 tackles and two interceptions.

16. CB Will Blackmon (21-11-10): He was a late-August acquisition who became the leader in the secondary. His strip-sack and return for a touchdown was instrumental in the Jaguars' first victory. He finished with 10 pass breakups, one interception, and 40 tackles.

17. DE Jason Babin (19-6-13): He led the team with 7.5 sacks to go along with 40 tackles.

18. WR Kerry Taylor (18-0-18): He joined the team on Nov. 4 and caught 16 passes for 162 yards in the last three games.

19. LB LaRoy Reynolds (17-0-17): The sight of him assisting on a tackle on a punt return despite losing his helmet will be one of the lasting images of the season.

20. LB J.T. Thomas (15-11-4): He had 17 tackles and a forced fumble. He started the last two games of the season and had seven tackles and a forced fumble against Indianapolis.

 

These Jaguars are no longer a joke

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
2:30
AM ET
Marcedes LewisAP Photo/Chris O'MearaMarcedes Lewis and the Jaguars have won three in a row and four out of five since their bye week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Go ahead, Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri said, make jokes now.

Bring on the snide remarks about 0-16 and being one of the worst teams in NFL history.

He's waiting ...

He knows nobody's going to have much -- if anything -- to say, not after Thursday night's 27-20 victory over Houston in front of 60,414 at EverBank Field. That was the Jaguars' third win in a row, which Nwaneri said proves they're no longer the joke they were in the first half of the season.

"Everybody who was talking noise can just eat some crow real quick," he said.

The Jaguars (4-9) are the hottest team in the AFC, having won four of their five games since the bye week. The fact that none of the teams they've beaten has a winning record and one, the Texans, has lost 11 in a row, is irrelevant. The Jaguars are winning games, which is something that looked darn near impossible in the first month of the season.

They scored just two points in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. They lost their first eight games all by double digits. They didn't score a touchdown at EverBank Field until Nov. 17.

They're starting three rookies in the secondary. They don't have their best receiver, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for a third time.

The Jaguars were a mess. They were hopeless. They were a joke.

And boy did people pile on. The season's first month wasn't even over before NFL analysts were comparing the Jaguars to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only teams in the NFL's modern era to go winless. The players answered those questions openly and honestly, but they were angry inside.

Thursday was another vindication.

"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "We tried to tune it out but when the media asks that or tweets that we're going to draft so-and-so every day, it's hard to get out of your mind.

"But we did a good job of staying the course and things are really paying off. But we've got a long way to go. Our goal is to get better each and every day."

They've done that since the bye week. Especially defensively, improving their run defense from 161.8 yards per game allowed in the first eight games to 70.8 yards per game allowed over the past five.

But more important, they're making plays in crucial situations. Their first two touchdowns against the Texans came on third down -- Chad Henne's 1-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis and Henne's 6-yard pass to Shorts -- and the third came on a well-designed trick play. Henne threw a lateral to receiver Ace Sanders, who lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Cecil Shorts
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," said Cecil Shorts of the chatter surrounding the Jaguars' 0-8 start.
While Matt Schaub and Case Keenum combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns, the Jaguars made two key interceptions. Alan Ball picked off Keenum late in the first half, and that led to Josh Scobee's 40-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted Matt Schaub with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game, and that led to Scobee's 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.

They weren't making those plays in the first half of the season. Heck, they weren't even in position to make those plays.

But coach Gus Bradley never wavered in his message to the team. He told the players to trust in their preparation, trust in what the coaching staff was asking them to do, and trust that if they did those things the results would eventually be positive.

It was hard, for sure, because for so long the results did not come. But Bradley was so strong that the players stayed with him. They never doubted.

Then came a 29-27 victory at Tennessee on Nov. 10. Two weeks later, the Jaguars beat the host Texans 13-6. On Sunday, they beat the host Cleveland Browns 32-28. Then Thursday night.

"We talked a couple weeks ago about it validates what we're doing," Bradley said. "It really is a credit to our players for what they've gone through and to stick to it and have some results go their way, it's pretty cool."

Now the Jaguars are no longer a mess. In fact, their recent run has -- believe it or not -- kept them alive in the playoff race. It's obviously a ridiculously small chance, but the fact that they're still alive after the horrendous 0-8 start means they deserve respect, not ridicule.

"That just lets you know that all the analysts and people who [are] so-called professionals and geniuses don't know what they're talking about," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's the NFL. Any given Sunday any team can go out and beat any team."

That's no joke.
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory against Cleveland:

[+] EnlargeDwayne Gratz
AP Photo/Tony DejakDwayne Gratz, right, and the Jacksonville secondary had its hands full with Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
Secondary issues: One week after holding Houston receiver Andre Johnson to just two catches for 36 yards, the Jaguars’ secondary was absolutely torched by Cleveland’s Josh Gordon: 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder in the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball each had their troubles with Gordon, and they got little safety help from Johnathan Cyprien and Winston Guy. Both seemed to be late getting over to help, and the one time Guy did get there in time he was penalized for hitting Gordon in the head. Guy also was the main guy to blame for the 95-yard TD because he went for the interception -- coming from behind Gordon -- instead of trying to hit Gordon and knock the ball that way or just make the tackle. Cyprien did get his first career interception on a pass thrown behind tight end Jordan Cameron.

Help needed: Rookie receiver Ace Sanders had his most productive day, and the Jaguars certainly needed it, with Cecil Shorts dealing with Browns cornerback Joe Haden (and two drops) and Mike Brown playing through a very sore shoulder. Sanders tied his season high with eight catches and set a season high with 67 yards receiving. He also carried the ball once for 4 yards on a misdirection pitch play. The biggest number, however, is six: Of his nine touches, six resulted in first downs. Shorts came up big late, but Brown had just one catch.

Improved pass rush: All the attention since the bye week has been on how much the run defense has improved, but the Jaguars’ pass rush also has been much more effective the past month. The Jaguars sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden three times on Sunday, including one by Jason Babin that resulted in a fumble that defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered to set up a field goal. The Jaguars now have 20 sacks, which matches their 2012 total. They have recorded nine sacks in the four games since the bye and eight in the past three games. One thing they’re doing differently is rushing middle linebacker Paul Posluszny more often. He had a half-sack (along with Babin) against Weeden.

A Marks man: Marks had another big day: a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Marks’ fumble recovery and 15-yard return set up Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Marks has three sacks this season after recording just three in his first four seasons in the NFL. Marks, who signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in April, has been the team’s best defensive lineman.
HOUSTON -- Safety Josh Evans sounded a lot like a real estate agent on Sunday when he was explaining how the Jaguars defended Houston receiver Andre Johnson.

Location, location, location.

Everyone needed to know exactly where Johnson was at all times, Evans said. Find him when he left the huddle, check where he lined up, keep an eye on him when he went in motion, and make sure he didn’t go anywhere unaccompanied after the snap.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Andre Johnson
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Jaguars' corralled Andre Johnson all afternoon, limiting the Texans' star to just two receptions.
"The whole thing was to see where he was at on the field at all times and I think we did a good job of that," Evans said after the Jaguars' 13-6 victory at Reliant Stadium. "We know that he was their main threat and their main guy they wanted to go to, so eliminating him just kind of made things a little easier for the defense."

The Jaguars didn’t eliminate Johnson from the game, but they came pretty darn close. Johnson caught just two passes for 36 yards: a 15-yarder on third-and-6 early in the third quarter and a 21-yarder on third-and-4 on the Texans’ final drive.

It was his worst performance of the season, surpassing his three-catch day in the Texans’ 34-3 loss to San Francisco.

"We suck as an offense," Johnson said. "That’s pretty much it."

But the Texans didn’t stink at getting Johnson the ball this season. He entered the game second in the NFL with 72 catches and needed just 34 yards for his seventh’s 1,000-yard season. Quarterback Case Keenum targeted him once in the first quarter, once in the second, and once early in the third before the two finally hooked up for a 15-yard gain.

Johnson should have had his first catch in the second quarter on a deep in, but safety Winston Guy hammered Johnson from behind and knocked the ball loose.

"That’s one of those plays you need throughout the game," cornerback Alan Ball said. "When they get big hits like that no matter what it does to the offensive player it ignites us. That was a boost for us."

The Jaguars play almost exclusively man coverage and Ball drew Johnson most of the game. He was rarely alone, though. He had safety help over the top and a player without coverage responsibilities sliding over to help on shorter routes. Another factor was the pass rush. The Jaguars got good pressure on Keenum, sometimes using blitzes up the middle, and was able to rattle him into some errant throws.

The Jaguars sacked Keenum twice, hit him five other times, and broke up nine passes, including two at the line of scrimmage by tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. One of Marks’ deflections came on a throw to Johnson.

"Our D-line did a great job," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "You put pressure on and that makes a world of difference. All of a sudden the quarterback can't stand in the pocket and look for No. 80 downfield. He’s got guys in his face. That makes a world of difference."

Making Johnson a non-factor was a bit surprising considering Arizona’s Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards last week and Michael Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Evans said the secondary was stung by that performance and felt that corralling Johnson would be a good way to make up for it.

But he didn’t know just how good of a job they had done.

"As the game’s going you honestly don’t even pay attention to it that much because you’re trying to work on getting off the field on third down," Evans said. "But you start noticing, ‘Hey, we’re starting to do a pretty good job on him and he hasn’t had a lot of touches.’"

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
6:15
PM ET
 

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
4:07
PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

What it means: The Jaguars were trying to achieve something that hasn't happened since 2010: win back-to-back games. They beat Tennessee and Oakland in consecutive weeks in December that season but have won just eight games since. There is a silver lining in the loss, though. Tampa Bay was routing the Falcons, which leaves the Jaguars as the league's only team with a single victory and puts them in the lead for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

Stock watch: Punter Bryan Anger had perhaps his best game of the season, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt and pinning the Cardinals deep in their own territory. In the third quarter alone he forced the Cardinals into starting drives on their 9-, 10- and 2-yard line. Anger kept the Jaguars in the game while the offense sputtered in the second half. Cornerback Alan Ball had a solid game, too, by breaking up four passes in the first half -- three of which were intended for Michael Floyd.

TOs overturned: The Jaguars had what appeared to be two turnovers deep in Arizona territory wiped out. Patrick Peterson fumbled a punt at his own 10-yard line. Three Jaguars pounced on the ball but somehow Peterson came out with it and the Cardinals retained possession. Replays appeared to show long-snapper Carson Tinker coming out of the pile with the ball and the Jaguars challenged the play, but officials upheld the ruling on the field. Two plays later, middle linebacker Russell Allen intercepted Carson Palmer's pass to Larry Fitzgerald, but officials announced after the play that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

Sneaky: The Jaguars scored their first touchdown on an interesting fourth-and-1 call. They lined up at their own 38 with extra tight ends. The Cardinals played run all the way, and the play-action fake allowed recently acquired tight end Danny Noble to get behind the first level of defenders. Chad Henne hit him with a good pass and Noble broke a tackle to score a 62-yard touchdown. What made the play work is the fact that Noble is a blocking tight end who had played in only five games and never had a catch until Sunday.

What's next: The Jaguars will play at Houston on Sunday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed in the locker room after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

Laughter: That hasn't been heard in the Jaguars locker room all season, which isn't a surprise considering the team had lost its first eight games by double digits. But there was plenty of it on Sunday. There was some good-natured ribbing, too. Cornerback Will Blackmon was talking about the defense forcing four turnovers and said it was good to see "some people holding onto interceptions." The player who did was cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who was sitting in the locker to Blackmon's right. The player who dropped an interception was cornerback Alan Ball, who was sitting in the locker to Blackmon's left.

Hayes
Stepping up: The numbers weren't eye-popping, but Mike Brown, Clay Harbor and Stephen Burton did a solid job helping to replace the production lost from the suspension of Justin Blackmon. The three combined to catch four passes for 64 yards.

Injury report: Burton and linebacker Paul Posluszny each suffered a head injury, though Posluszny seemed fine in the locker room after the game. Burton was hurt when he got hit after making a 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter. He had missed the previous five games with a concussion.

Big game for Hayes: Linebacker Geno Hayes had his most productive game of the season, leading the team with 11 tackles, knocking down one pass and forcing a fumble. The pass breakup was a leaping, one-hander that he also nearly intercepted.

Sluggish O: The Jaguars gained 93 yards in the first quarter but had just 121 yards in the final three. The 218 total yards was the third-fewest of the season, behind the 178 against Kansas City in the season opener and the 205 against Indianapolis.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars might not have left guard Will Rackley in the lineup for Sunday’s game at Tennessee because of a reappearance of concussion symptoms.

Head coach Gus Bradley said Friday that Rackley was undergoing further tests and might be a game-time decision.

Rackley
"We are not going to push anything with Will Rackley, and will see how he feels leading up to the game and make our decision," Bradley said.

If Rackley can’t play, second-year player Mike Brewster would take his spot in the lineup.

Bradley also announced three lineup tweaks: Winston Guy will get reps at free safety, and cornerback Dwayne Gratz will return to the starting lineup for the first time since the season opener.

Guy, a second-year player whom the Jaguars claimed off waivers from Seattle on Sept. 1, has played just four snaps on defense this season. Rookie Josh Evans has played every snap there since joining the lineup in Week 3 after Dwight Lowery suffered a concussion.

Evans has made 31 tackles, but has just one pass breakup and has struggled with bad angles and missed tackles.

"He [Guy] has shown more consistency, and we just felt like at the free safety spot we just needed to increase that level of play so we’re competing there," Bradley said. "I think it’ll re-direct his [Evans] attention to the competition part of it, and if that’s what he needs to help be focused, then we’ll do that."

Gratz, the Jaguars’ third-round draft pick, suffered a high ankle sprain in the season opener and missed the next five games. He has played in a reserve role the past two games, but will make his second career start on Sunday.

He’ll replace seven-year veteran Will Blackmon in the starting lineup, but Bradley said the team will use a rotation of Gratz, Blackmon and Alan Ball as the cornerbacks.

Jaguars missing too many tackles

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
4:38
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had a lot of issues to address on Monday when coach Gus Bradley brought the team together for what he called a State of the Union message.

One of the biggest was missed tackles.

The Jaguars have missed a lot, especially in the past two games, and it’s one of the reasons they’re last in the NFL in rush defense and scoring.

"We’re missing far too many tackles, and it’s leading to explosive plays," Bradley said.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsThe Jaguars, last in the NFL in rushing defense, have put an emphasis on limiting explosive plays.
Defensive coordinator Bob Babich said tackling was emphasized on Monday and Wednesday and he has seen an improvement in practice. The problem is a lack of fundamentals, not only in terms of wrapping up -- which seems to be a problem throughout the NFL -- but taking proper angles and good positioning.

The Jaguars’ tackling woes were most visible against San Francisco on Oct. 27 when they missed 12, including three on Kendall Hunters' 41-yard run. Safety Josh Evans whiffed, safety Johnathan Cyprien didn’t wrap up, and cornerback Alan Ball went along for a ride. Had Evans been able the make the tackle, Hunter would have only had 11 yards.

Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said the defensive front isn’t doing a good job of staying in assigned gaps, which leads to longer runs where the running backs get into the open field and are able to make a move to juke potential tacklers.

"We went in and saw that we need everybody to be accountable," Marks said. "That’s our main thing, because we’ll play games and there’s only three runs that get out on us for 30, 40, 50 yards. We take those runs away where we make contact at 8 yards, 9 yards then the rushing yards average will go down.

"We’ve got to be accountable and make tackles. That has been our biggest thing. Tackling hasn’t been emphasized as much as it should. We’ve been doing that a lot this week. Guys making sure we are where we’re supposed to be and we make tackles."

That’s especially important against the Titans and Chris Johnson on Sunday. He’s one of the most dangerous backs in the NFL. With his speed and elusiveness, he needs only a small crease to break a big run -- and he’s done that a lot. He has six touchdown runs of 80 or more yards, the most in NFL history. No other player has more than three.

Johnson also has 11 career rushing touchdowns of 50 or more yards, and three career touchdown receptions of 50 or more yards.

He had been pretty quiet this season until last Sunday’s game against St. Louis, when he ran for a season-high 150 yards and two touchdowns. The Jaguars are giving up a league-worst 161.8 yards per game rushing. That’s two reasons the Jaguars can’t afford to miss tackles at LP Field.

"We put a big emphasis on it the first two practices of this week and it seems to have gotten a lot better, but we’ll see Sunday," Babich said. "It’s a problem. It was a concern and we addressed it. We need to get it right, period."

SPONSORED HEADLINES