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Jaguars' young offensive core gives the franchise hope

Allen Robinson led the NFL in touchdown catches with 14. Jonathan Bachman/AP Photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson looks back over the 2015 season, he’s going to see more than a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard receivers.

He’s going to see hope.

"You’re looking for something to grab on to when you’re changing the culture," Olson said. "To me, that’s what we have here. We have growth. It gives people hope.

"The message [in late December was] let’s give Jaguars fans hope for the holidays and show them that there is something good that’s happening here. Let’s continue to show improvement and give them hope."

Specifically, hope that the Jaguars’ offense indeed has its foundation in quarterback Blake Bortles, receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and running back T.J. Yeldon. Just like it did when the franchise was rolling in the late 90s and early 2000s with Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell and Fred Taylor.

Smith, Brunell and McCardell led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game in 1996 and another playoff appearance the following season. Taylor joined the group in 1998, and the Jaguars made two more playoff appearances, including reaching the 1999 AFC Championship Game.

So can Bortles, Hurns, Robinson and Yeldon fuel a similar run?

"There are lots of similarities between the two," said NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks, who was a cornerback with the Jaguars in 1996-97. "You had a young quarterback in Mark Brunell and some unknown receivers and that core was able to grow together. If you think about the success they were able to have, a lot of it was fueled by their offense.

"They could score points from anywhere on the field. Mark Brunell played an exciting brand of football and could make plays from anywhere. Smith and McCardell emerging as a top one-two punch in the league. They were able to win a lot of games."

That also describes Bortles, Hurns, Robinson and Yeldon, except, obviously, for the “win a lot of games” part. Bortles is in his second season, and he certainly plays exciting football: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles led the NFL in attempts (96), completions (39), and yards (1,289) of passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air.

He set single-season franchise records for attempts (606), completions (355), yards (4,428) and touchdowns (35).

Robinson led the NFL in touchdown catches (14) and his 17.5 yards per catch led all players with 51 or more catches. He and Hurns both surpassed 1,000 yards, and that’s the first time the Jaguars have had two 1,000-yard receivers since Smith and McCardell in 2001.

Bortles thinks his group is just getting started, because they put up those numbers in their first season in Olson’s offense.

"To have the same guys in a system for a long period of time, I think the arrow is going to continue to go up," Bortles said. "Guys are going to continue to grow and get better and more comfortable and confident to the point where, as a player and as an offensive unit, we’ll own the system.

"That’s where you’ll see so many of the older guys and the older quarterbacks that do know how to do stuff like that because everybody has a good understanding of the offense now and what’s going on schematically."

Tight end Marcedes Lewis, who just finished his 10th season with the franchise, said he believes this group can be every bit as good as Brunell, Smith, McCardell and Taylor.

"As you can see, those guys are getting better every game," Lewis said. "It’s good to see them having some success. As long as they just continue to stay focused, control what they can control and everybody even around them continues to do their part and get better, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with."