AFC South: John Lotulelei

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.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are off until they have to report for training camp July 24. For some, the break will be relaxing. For others, there's probably a little bit of anxiety. Maybe they didn't perform well in OTAs or minicamp, or because of the development of other players they know they're going to be on the bubble in August. They may not necessarily be front-line players, but they've played key roles in the past. Each day this week I'll take a quick look at one of those players who's going to have a lot to prove in camp.

LB J.T. Thomas

Why he'll make the team: The Jaguars claimed him off waivers Sept. 1 and he became a solid contributor. Injuries forced Thomas into a starting role at weakside linebacker in the final two games of the 2013 season and he responded with 13 tackles and a forced fumble. He's a fourth-year player who can play multiple spots, too. Thomas also is one of the Jaguars' better special teams players. He was tied for third with six special teams tackles and also blocked a punt last season, the latter of which led to the Jags' only points in the season opener.

Why he should be worried: The Jaguars signed Dekoda Watson in March and installed him as the starter at the new otto position, which replaces the strongside linebacker. Second-year player LaRoy Reynolds got the first-team reps at that spot, though, because Watson missed most of OTAs and minicamp with a groin injury. Second-year player John Lotulelei got a lot of reps with the second-team defense. The Jaguars also drafted Telvin Smith, a speedy player the coaches envision getting on the field as a nickel linebacker. Geno Hayes also should return from a knee injury to claim the starting job at weakside linebacker. That doesn't leave much room for Thomas to get a lot of playing time.

The bottom line: Thomas is going to have to be impressive in the limited reps he will get during training camp. His special teams play makes him a valuable contributor and likely will be what keeps him on the team.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With the third pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select ... Khalil Mack, linebacker, Buffalo.

That's what happened early Tuesday afternoon in the NFL Nation mock draft. Each of the bloggers who cover a team with a first-round pick acted as general manager and made picks they thought the team they cover would make. In doing my best David Caldwell impersonation, I grabbed Mack.

I actually went after Jadeveon Clowney. I had some discussions with Houston reporter Tania Ganguli to move up to No. 1 but I felt the price was too high. The Jaguars need to continue to build the roster and I thought losing as many picks as she wanted was not the best approach. Ganguli managed to work out a deal with Buffalo reporter Mike Rodak, though.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesKhalil Mack could be the playmaker the Jaguars' defense sorely needs.
It was a pretty steep price: The Bills gave up their first-round pick (No. 9), their second-round pick (No. 41), their 2015 first- and third-round picks, and their 2016 second-round pick.

Nobody was jumping to No. 1 to take one of the quarterbacks, Mack or receiver Sammy Watkins so when I heard about the trade I knew I wasn't getting Clowney. Sure enough, the Bills took him.

St. Louis followed by taking offensive tackle Greg Robinson, which left me with an interesting dilemma: Mack or Watkins.

I couldn't really lose. Both are elite players and both would fill some pretty pressing needs, but the deciding factor was how deep of an offensive draft this is. While I couldn't get a player of Watkins' caliber later in the draft, the receiver position is pretty deep and I would be able to add a pretty good player later.

The draft isn't deep on elite pass-rushers and linebackers, and Mack fills both needs there.

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Mack fits right into coach Gus Bradley's defense as a "leo," a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer. The Jaguars certainly need help there after finishing last in the league the past two seasons in sacks (20 in 2012 and 31 last season). Mack also makes big plays, and that's where he can really help.

In addition to making 327 tackles in four years, Mack also recorded 28.5 sacks and forced an NCAA-record 16 fumbles. Look at what he did against Ohio State in the 2013 season opener: nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Take Paul Posluszny out of the mix and the Jaguars linebackers had two interceptions, two sacks, four pass breakups, one forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 2013. That’s from Geno Hayes, Russell Allen, J.T. Thomas, John Lotulelei, and LaRoy Reynolds.

Mack brings a couple of other things the Jaguars desperately need at linebacker: athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash and played in coverage as well as being a pass-rusher at Buffalo.

I didn't really consider taking a quarterback at No. 3 because I wasn't completely sold on any of them that high. It would have been too risky of a pick and right now the Jaguars can't afford to take those kinds of risks.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 29
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: When the Jaguars signed defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last April, they thought he’d be a good fit in coach Gus Bradley’s system. Turns out he was a perfect fit. Marks plays the three-technique, which means he lines up on the guard’s outside shoulder, and that position is supposed to provide interior pass rush. Marks finished with four sacks, nine quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups -- all numbers that equaled or surpassed the totals from his first four seasons. He seemed to make at least one impactful play every game and he accounted for two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. His play earned him a four-year contract extension as one of the building blocks of the defense.

Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars’ inability to consistently run the ball, especially early in the season, was vexing. The Jaguars switched from a predominantly man-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, and the offensive line had trouble with the transition. Four of the five starters at the beginning of the season also started in 2011, when Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing. The Jaguars mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed and things got better, but the problem wasn’t “fixed.” In addition, Jones-Drew clearly was not the same player he was two years ago. He missed all but six games last season with a Lisfranc injury and also battled ankle, knee and hamstring issues this season.

Biggest need: The Jaguars have a pretty long list of needs, but two stand out above all others: quarterback and pass-rusher. Quarterback is the top need because former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer and neither is Chad Henne, who will be a free agent but wants to return to Jacksonville in 2014. The Jaguars haven’t had a bona fide threat at quarterback since coach Jack Del Rio put Mark Brunell on the bench for Byron Leftwich in 2003. New general manager David Caldwell and Bradley need a player around which to build the franchise, and the Jaguars will have the opportunity to possibly find one when they pick third overall in May’s draft.

Team MVP: The first impulse is to go with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose 161 tackles ranked second in the NFL. He was clearly the team’s best defensive player and arguably the best overall player. However, what Henne did to stabilize the offense earns him MVP honors. Gabbert had played terribly in the first part of the season (seven INTs, one TD) and Henne stepped in and played the most consistent football of his career. He didn’t always light it up and he made some poor decisions and mistakes, but he kept the Jaguars in games in the second half of the season and made enough plays to go 4-4 after the bye. He threw nine touchdown passes -- including the game winner against Cleveland with 40 seconds to play -- and five interceptions over the final five games.

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
3:53
PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: The Jaguars (4-11) were unable to overcome a slew of injuries and pick up their second victory at EverBank Field this season. It's just the second time in franchise history the Jaguars have won just one game at home. They went 1-7 at EverBank last season and 1-6 this season (they played a home game against San Francisco in London).

Stock watch: The Jaguars' group of no-name receivers did a solid job against the Titans. Injuries have left the Jaguars with little experience at the position. Entering the game, the team's four active receivers (Ace Sanders, Kerry Taylor, Mike Brown and Lamaar Thomas) had a combined 75 catches this season. None of them have more than a year of experience in the NFL. The group responded, especially Brown and Taylor. Brown caught five passes for 71 yards and one touchdown while Taylor had four catches for 45 yards.

Honoring Meester: The Jaguars had a quick postgame ceremony to honor center Brad Meester, who is retiring at the end of the season after 14 years with the team. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch tried to send him out in style by calling a screen pass for Meester that was designed to get him a touchdown. Meester made the catch but cut left instead of right and got tackled at the 4-yard line. Hard to criticize him for making that wrong cut, though. As former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli joked at halftime, it's not like offensive linemen regularly read blocks.

Depleted defense: The Jaguars were already without three starters (linebackers Russell Allen and Geno Hayes and defensive tackle Roy Miller) and they lost two more key players during the game: defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick (elbow) and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle). That forced the Jaguars to use defensive tackle Jordan Miller, who was active for the first time this season, and start inexperienced linebackers J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei. You could see the drop off. The Titans ran for 182 yards and had most of their success in the passing game in the middle of the field.

What's next: The Jaguars end the 2013 season at Indianapolis on Sunday.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s Jacksonville Jaguars-Arizona Cardinals game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Peterson
Peterson
Shorts vs. Peterson: Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson usually shadows the opposing team’s best receiver. In the Jaguars’ case, that’s Cecil Shorts (48 catches, 607 yards). Can the 6-foot, 202-pound Shorts handle the 6-1, 219-pound Peterson? Shorts cannot get completely taken out of the game, because the Jaguars’ other receivers aren’t good enough to carry the passing game. Mike Brown is a solid No. 3 receiver but the only other healthy receiver is Kerry Taylor.

The Honey Badger: Tyrann Mathieu was a ballhawk at LSU, and he’s doing the same with Arizona. He has two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He starts at safety, and he’s also talented enough to cover slot receivers man-to-man. The Jaguars need to be aware of where he is pre-snap, because he’s also a decent blitzer.

Who’s in the middle: Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is questionable because of a concussion. He’s by far the defense’s best player (88 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles), so not having him on the field would be a huge loss. Outside linebacker Russell Allen would take his place. Though he has played all three spot in his five-year career, Allen hasn’t started a game in the middle since his rookie season (2009). Allen’s replacement would be rookie John Lotulelei, who has played in just two games this season.

Can Mojo get going? The Jaguars have struggled to run the ball all season, and now they’ll be facing the No. 3 run defense in the league. The Cardinals are allowing only 86.9 yards per game on the ground. Jones-Drew has rushed for 432 yards, and is averaging 3.0 yards per carry, more than a yard less than his career average. The offensive line might be without starting left guard Will Rackley (concussion), too.

The end zone: The Jaguars haven’t been in one in EverBank Field this season. The last TD the team scored there came in the first quarter of a Week 16 loss to New England in 2012. The Jaguars have been out-scored 89-11 in three games at EverBank this season.

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