Jacksonville Jaguars: Jason Babin
Complete Jaguars season preview.
NFL Nation's Michael DiRocco examines the three biggest issues facing the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into training camp.
Offensive line: Only one of the five spots is settled heading into camp: Zane Beadles, whom the team signed in March, is the starting left guard. Almost every other spot is up for grabs. I use "almost" because Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, will start at left tackle, and the team drafted him to be the line's cornerstone. He spent the first four games last season at right tackle and played a quarter at left tackle before a season-ending injury. While the Jags believe he's going to be an elite player, he still has to prove it. Mike Brewster is the leader at center, but he has never snapped in his three-year career. Right guard will be a battle between Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder. Austin Pasztor started 12 games at right tackle last season but will be pushed by Cameron Bradfield, who started the final 11 games at left tackle after Joeckel's injury. Regardless of who wins the position battles, the line has to be better than it was last season. The Jaguars averaged a franchise-worst 78.8 yards per game rushing last season, and a big reason was the play of the interior of the offensive line.
Wide receivers: The Jaguars know what they have in fourth-year player Cecil Shorts (123 career catches). They believe they know what they've got in second-year player Ace Sanders, provided he continues to develop following his 51-catch rookie season. But who are Nos. 3-6? It would seem second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson would naturally be the next two, but both missed most organized team activities and all of minicamp with injuries. They're supposed to be fully cleared for camp, but they missed valuable time working with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, a technician of the finer points of routes, footwork and hand position. Rookie receivers are a crap shoot in the NFL, and there's no guarantee if both are healthy that they'll be able to contribute as much as Sanders did. Kerry Taylor and Mike Brown combined to catch 54 passes last season. Taylor is a bit bigger (6-foot, 200 pounds) than Brown (5-10, 200 pounds), but both can play in the slot or outside. Taylor might have a slight advantage because he was healthy throughout the offseason, while Brown was one of seven receivers who missed significant time because of an injury. A group of undrafted players, led by former Miami standout Allen Hurns, also will compete for the final two spots on the roster. It's important that this group stays healthy, too, because the injuries really affected the offense during minicamp. It was hard for any of the quarterbacks to move the ball consistently.
Pass rush: The Jaguars have had one of the worst pass rushes over the past five season and finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and 2012. Buffalo led the NFL with 57 sacks last season. The Jaguars have 51 in the past two seasons combined, including 20 in 2012. The team took steps to remedy that by signing defensive end Chris Clemons (58 career sacks) and linebacker Dekoda Watson, a young player whom the Jaguars plan on using in their new otto position and rushing the passer on third downs. However, he sat out OTAs and minicamp with a groin injury and former undrafted rookie LaRoy Reynolds got the reps there. Third-year defensive end Andre Branch came on late last season (five of his six sacks in the last seven games) and had a great offseason, and the coaching staff is counting on him rotating with Clemons. The Jaguars felt good enough about Branch and young players Ryan Davis and Gerald Rivers that they released Jason Babin (62.5 career sacks) on the last day of the minicamp. However, Davis and Rivers have played in a combined eight games and have a combined eight tackles and one sack, so that's making a leap of faith that they'll be able to produce in a reserve role.
Jamar Newsome, Dezmon Briscoe and LaRon Byrd. They all have showed skill that could land them on a 53-man roster, but perhaps not this roster. I think the battle between Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams could be a good one at No. 3 tailback. Both of those guys have had moments. Guard Uche Nwaneri is interesting after not seeing him in the offseason. He is strong. On defense, I'm surprised how Rolando McClain has transitioned in. I'm not sure if he is a complete fit with his speed, but he is on my 53-man roster. He's shown some pretty good instincts. Linebacker Keith Smith seems to be around the ball a lot. Linebacker Joe Windsor has some pass-rush pop. Defensive end Dartwan Bush is showing up. I like what corner Terrance Mitchell has done, but I think he grabs too much. Among the guys you know more about, I don't think there has been a "bad" surprise, as in a guy who isn't playing well. At this point there are guys I just want to see more from: J.J. Wilcox, B.W. Webb, Sterling Moore, Terrell McClain (injured ankle) and Ronald Leary (injured hamstring).
Morris Claiborne is competing better, but he's given up plays, too. Same with Webb and Moore. I think you're seeing them use different techniques that allow them to be more disruptive outside than last year. It could be a Seattle influence. There could be a lot of penalties called on these guys with how "handsy" they are, but that's OK. There is a balance you have to learn. It's better to be this way rather than passive. And when it comes to games, you could see a situation in which the officials just get tired of throwing flags. I saw something like that when I covered the Dolphins with Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. They were so physical with their press coverage that officials let them get away with a lot.
@toddarcher: I doubt this is even on the radar. Jordan has a lot of money due his way and he has a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. That's not a good thing and it's risky to take on a prospect when something like this happens because the next suspension is a long one. The Cowboys have taken low-risk chances on guys such as Amobi Okoye and McClain, but this one just seems to be too high. And Jordan had just two sacks last season. I don't think he's part of the answer. Lawrence will be back and probably play the bulk of the season.
After losing Lawerence, is it worth trying to trade for Dion Jordan as he had a poor year and is still 2nd on the depth chart #cowboysmail— Tido (@TidoWaleSantana) July 31, 2014
Big Al (Hangover city Fl): What players are you looking forward to seeing the most when the pads go on? For me it's [Andre] Branch since they been singing his praises, and they feel so confident that they released [Jason] Babin.
DiRocco: Andre Branch is one. So are Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Telvin Smith, Chris Smith, Dekoda Watson and Toby Gerhart.
james KY [via mobile]: I just wanted to throw out a scenario and curious as to your response! Say if the Jaguars decide to carry 3 QBs into the regular season on the 53 man roster (Henne, Bortles, Stanzi) and say week 6 or later [Chad] Henne goes down with an injury and the staff decides to put [Ricky] Stanzi in over Bortles should we be concerned at [Blake] Bortles' progress or does that just speak to what Caldwell and Bradley are trying to do and also keeping to their plan/word that Bortles wouldn't play until 2015?
DiRocco: I think it speaks more to the latter. Stanzi may not have any game experience, but he is in his second season in the offense and that gives him a huge advantage. I really believe they want to keep Bortles on the bench all season.
Gary Alexander (Cleveland): Is Allen Hurns simply a good story coming out of minicamp or does the potential exist for him to stick? Love the chats.
DiRocco: He took advantage of the reps he got while the other WRs were injured and that has earned him a longer look at training camp. He still faces an uphill battle to make the roster.
Dirk (Jax, Fl): It was stated that [Gus] Bradley met with the heads of the organization to discuss the situation at WR, and that he came up with a plan going forward. What are they doing differently now so that they don't have more injuries? Please don't give me the injuries are part of the game this I know, I want to know what specifically are they doing if your aware of the plan he mentioned. The Jags have been hit hard by injuries year after year so this is why I ask.
DiRocco: Well, they are a part of the game and the only way to 100 percent prevent injuries is to never practice at anything more than a walk-through pace. But the Jaguars are going to limit the number of full-speed reps they do and spread the reps among the depth chart. But honestly, some guys are just injury prone. Cecil Shorts is one. He's missed 11 games in his first three seasons.
Brian Downing (Anaheim): As a season ticket holder, what stadium upgrade should I be looking forward to the most this season? Thanks for the chats.
DiRocco: Depends on where your tickets are. If you're a club seat holder then the four-top tables outside the club are pretty cool. There's also field-level seating, although that's not as good a seat as many would think because it's hard to see. The pools are going to be cool regardless of where you sit. Plus, the Wi-Fi is getting an upgrade, too. But the biggest has to be the video boards. You'll love them.
"Coming in as an undrafted free agent, you're not looking to get that many reps," Hurns said. "But when some guys go down and you get an opportunity, you've got to make the most of it."
His teammates have noticed.
"Allen Hurns had a heck of a camp," quarterback Chad Henne said. "I'm excited to see what he does in training camp once we get the pads on. He's a big, strong receiver and understands the offense ... Just a really reliable guy."
Here are some additional pieces of Jaguars-related content from around the Web in our Reading the Coverage feature:
USA Today's Jim Corbett writes that offensive tackle Luke Joeckel says Johnny Manziel, his former teammate at Texas A&M, is just being himself.
The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran lists four things he learned from the last month of organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. The Jaguars also signed three tryout players.
The T-U's Vito Stellino writes that Gus Bradley warned his players about staying out of trouble during their break.
Bradley will serve as the grand marshal at a parade in his hometown.
Here's the reaction from Bradley and several players about the release of Jason Babin.
The team cut the defensive end early in the morning, a move coach Gus Bradley said was done now because of the development of some of the younger pass-rushers, but also as a sign of respect for the 34-year-old Babin to give him a chance to land with another team before training camps begin next month.
"I don’t know if there ever is a right time or how to do it. We try to do the best we can, but when we’re dealing with a man like Jason Babin that is tough on both sides."
Babin led the team with 7.5 sacks in 2013 and had nine sacks, 57 tackles and five forced fumbles in 21 games with the Jaguars. His teammates will miss him for more than that, though.
"Just the leadership he brings, the knowledge he brings," said defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, who had the locker next to Babin. "Knowing everybody and how we were with Babs, Babs left a lot behind just by the things he used to teach and the way that he carried himself. I’ll talk to Babs probably for the rest of my life just because of the type of guy he is.
"He was the same way every single day. I don’t want to sit here and talk like he passed or he died or something, but Babs -- he was just a great guy. He always was willing to teach and he’s always willing to help."
Second-year defensive end Ryan Davis is one of the younger players -- along with rookie Chris Smith and second-year player Gerald Rivers -- who will benefit from Babin’s release. He was still surprised by the move, though.
"It was shocking," Davis said. "Jason was a key piece of this team, definitely helped this team in leadership. We were such a young team and he helped in my development. ... Whenever I needed to know something I’d go ask Babin and Babin would direct me or tell me what the best move was or pre-snap keys and stuff like that. [He taught me] how to prepare for a game. Babin was very instrumental in stuff like that. Not only that, he’s a great guy."
Babin might have come to Jacksonville in 2012 with a bit of a reputation as a surly guy, but that was not the case with the Jaguars. In fact, Bradley called Babin a "tremendous" leader and said he was a big help to him during the team’s rough start to the 2013 season.
"He ended up being one of our strongest leaders," Bradley said. "We went through some tough times and I leaned on him. He did a great job.
"... He’s a big part of what we’re building here and always will be."
Coach Gus Bradley has consistently praised third-year player Andre Branch, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2012, throughout OTAs. His burst off the ball and quickness around the edge is noticeable, and he has consistently been in the backfield during 11-on-11 drills. Though the players are only wearing helmets and prohibited from full contact, Branch appears to be ready to become the kind of consistent player he was during the second half of the 2013 season, when he recorded five of his six sacks in the final seven games.
"You see Andre Branch really focused and really capturing every opportunity," Bradley said.
Fifth-round pick Chris Smith doesn’t fit the Jaguars’ typical measurables for what they want in a LEO -- a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is rushing the passer -- but they liked what they saw from him during Senior Bowl week so they took a chance. The 6-foot-1, 266-pound Smith is a little shorter than ideal, but he has long arms and runs well.
"He had a couple good rushes [Wednesday] and I think he’s a guy that the more comfortable he gets and the more reps he gets we’ll see what he’s doing," Bradley said. "He’s got the traits we’re looking for. Now we just need to see it in training camp."
Second-year player Ryan Davis played in seven games last season and had one sack and made one huge play: an interception that sealed the Jaguars’ victory in Houston. He is another player who doesn’t have the typical LEO size (he’s 6-2, 260) but he’s an effort guy and the Jaguars are intrigued by his development.
Gerald Rivers is another second-year player that has worked at LEO. He has the prototypical LEO size (6-5, 258).
The key traits Branch, Smith, Davis and Rivers all share are youth and potential. At 34, Babin wasn’t going to get any better. It’s likely, even with reduced snaps because of the addition of the 32-year-old Clemons (58 career sacks), that he was going to be less effective. But there is room for improvement for the four younger (and cheaper) players, and that is better for the health of the roster beyond the 2014 season.
@ESPNdirocco: There really aren't any front-line guys that are on the bubble, to be honest. Defensive end Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu should make the team unless several younger players have outstanding training camps, but I still think they're pretty solid to be on the 53-man roster. Defensive backs Mike Harris and Chris Prosinski are going to be pushed by some undrafted guys. There may be a surprise or two but I really don't see many front-line guys on the bubble.
@ESPNdirocco: I know that the thought of Ace Sanders getting cut has gained legs recently but I'd be very surprised if he didn't make the roster. He caught 50 passes as a rookie and it's even more impressive when you consider the Jaguars really hadn't planned on using him that much as a receiver but were forced into it by injuries. The only way I see Sanders being iffy to make the roster is if he continues to be just average as a punt returner. That's his forte and that's why the Jaguars drafted him. The expectation is that he'll have a smaller workload at receiver because of the addition of the two rookies and that should allow him to concentrate more on returning punts.
@ESPNdirocco: The pass rush should be significantly better with the additions of Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood and Dekoda Watson. When healthy, Clemons is a double-digit sack guy even at 32 years old. Hood returns to his natural spot as a three-technique defensive tackle and that should boost the interior rush significantly. Watson is playing the new otto position, which replaces the strongside linebacker and includes some pass-rush duties. Coach Gus Bradley has consistently praised Andre Branch throughout OTAs and the 34-year-old Jason Babin should be more effective by playing less snaps. The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season and it'd be a surprise to me if they didn't top 40 in 2014.
@ESPNdirocco: There is no date. Blackmon has to petition the NFL to be reinstated and then it's up to commissioner Roger Goodell to determine what additional punishment -- whether it's a further suspension or a fine -- he would face.
Clemons made his Jaguars' debut on Monday after missing the first week of the team’s organized team activities while dealing with family issues. Despite being familiar with the defensive scheme because of his time with Jaguars coach Gus Bradley in Seattle, Clemons eased into the rotation and drills as he got acclimated to his new surroundings and teammates.
Clemons, 32, signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract with the Jaguars in March after being let go in a salary-cap move by Seattle. He is expected to bolster a pass rush that finished last in the NFL in sacks in each of the past two seasons. He should take over for Jason Babin as the starter at the leo spot.
Clemons, however, was the only player that didn’t attend any of last week’s OTAs. He and Bradley had several phone conversations during the week, and Clemons assured Bradley he would be here this week.
"Gus has always been great," Clemons said. "He understood that I had family issues. We all have issues that we go through that we can’t control. Me being one of the leaders of my family, I had to step in and take control of that issue, so Gus understood that. We’ve always had that open communication with each other."
Clemons said he has been working out and is in pretty good shape and the fact he’s familiar with the defensive scheme from his time in Seattle has kept him from being too far behind. Now that he’s here, though, he says one of his duties is to help Bradley cultivate an environment similar to what’s happening in Seattle.
"The mindset is the first thing," said Clemons, who has 58 sacks and 13 forced fumbles in his 10 seasons in the NFL. "You want to bring that aggressive mindset here and get the guys to understand that it takes a team effort to win. Not one person won a Super Bowl by themself. So to bring that mindset here and to get everybody on board and be a collective group and to have that unit that once you go out on the field you know what everybody else is doing.
"That’s one of the reasons why being here [at OTAs] is important. The main thing was just getting here and getting that understanding and bringing that focus and that aggressiveness here."
Bradley said Clemons will quickly be accepted by the other players and his absence last week won’t be an issue.
"He will get around them all in the locker room. I know they had their first D-line meeting too and he was in there," Bradley said. "He will mesh around them well. Those guys are true professionals and they will get him caught up on everything. Clemons and I have had extended conversations throughout this time and he came in here, went through all the philosophy and things like that so he had a clear picture. Now it’s just a matter of getting reps for him."
Cornerback Aaron Colvin, the team's fourth-round pick, signed his contract Wednesday afternoon. He receives a $453,153 signing bonus and the four-year deal is worth $2,673,152.
UPDATE: The Jaguars signed fifth-round pick Chris Smith on Wednesday as well. The former Arkansas defensive end agreed to a four-year deal worth $2,407,252 with a signing bonus of $187,252. Smith is projected to play the leo spot, which is a hybrid end/linebacker, but enters training camp fourth on the depth chart behind Chris Clemons, Jason Babin and Andre Branch.
The Jaguars signed sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko on Monday and seventh-round pick Storm Johnson on Tuesday.
Colvin is probably going to begin the season on the PUP list because he suffered a torn right ACL on the second day of Senior Bowl practices. He's likely not going to be cleared for full contact until later in training camp and GM David Caldwell is planning on Colvin getting on the field in the second half of the season, though how much depends on his grasp of the defense.
The 6-foot, 192-pound Colvin fits the Jaguars' profile for defensive backs and should become the eventual starter opposite Dwayne Gratz.
Defensive end Chris Smith
Round drafted (pick): Fifth (No. 159 overall).
Height and weight: 6-feet-1, 266 pounds.
Stat(s) to know: Smith recorded 21.5 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in 43 games at Arkansas. … He is one of only five players in school history to record more than 20 sacks in their career. … He had 18 sacks in his final two seasons, including 9.5 in 2012.
Where he fits: The Jaguars plan to use Smith at the leo spot, which is a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is rushing the passer. He will get limited reps because he'll be behind Chris Clemons, Jason Babin and Andre Branch, although if he develops more rapidly than anticipated then he could make Babin, who turns 34 later this month, expendable.
Concern(s): Smith doesn't have the size the team likes in a leo -- he's about three to four inches too short -- but he has long arms (34 1/8 inches) and that somewhat makes up for it. He is not a dynamic pass-rusher, either, but gets most of his sacks by being relentless. That's a good quality but he'd be even more dangerous if he were an explosive rusher.
Rookie projection: Smith will be a part of the leo rotation but he won't get many reps, maybe five to seven per game.
"It's a free market and you're only worth what someone is willing to pay you," Babin told Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. "No matter how you feel about your abilities, that's the cold, hard fact."
Babin said he spoke with other teams but they were offering numbers similar to what he signed for (three years, $8.28 million) and he wanted to remain in Jacksonville because his family likes it here.
Here are some additional pieces of Jaguars-related content from around the Web in our Reading the Coverage feature:
The T-U's Hays Carylon writes that safety is not a high priority in the draft.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks did a four-round mock draft. His picks for the Jaguars: quarterback Johnny Manziel, defensive end Kyle Van Noy, running back Tre Mason, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, and linebacker Christian Kirksey.
NFL.com's Adam Schein lists linebacker Khalil Mack as a perfect fit for the Jaguars.
Mel Kiper and Todd McShay did a three-round mock draft. Their picks for the Jaguars included a quarterback in the second round -- just not one that many expected.
But this is the first look at the 2014 Jaguars. They’ll look a lot different after next month’s draft, but here’s an early look at the offensive depth chart. The offensive depth chart appeared Monday:
Starters: LDE Red Bryant, DT Roy Miller, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, LEO Chris Clemons.
Reserves: DE Tyson Alualu, DE Ryan Davis, DT Ziggy Hood, DT Abry Jones, DT Jordan Miller, DT Drake Nevis, LEO Jason Babin, LEO Andre Branch, LEO Gerald Rivers.
The defensive line got a serious upgrade in free agency with the additions of Bryant, Clemons and Hood, who also can play end. It needed it, especially against the run (29th in the NFL last season). Bryant will be a big help there because he plays the end spot that’s main responsibility is setting the edge and stopping the run. The pass rush is better, too, though both Clemons and Babin are in their 30s and the team will likely draft a pass-rusher -- possibly Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack in the first round -- at some point in the draft. The depth at tackle needs to be addressed, too.
Starters: WLB Geno Hayes, MLB Paul Posluszny, SLB Dekoda Watson.
Reserves: OLB John Lotulelei. OLB LaRoy Reynolds, MLB Nate Stupar, OLB J.T. Thomas.
The signing of Watson didn’t get much attention outside of Jacksonville but it could turn out to be one the team’s best acquisitions of the offseason. He’s going to play strongside linebacker on first and second down and then move to leo on third down to give the Jaguars a chance to get four pass-rushers on the field at one time. Posluszny is a tackling machine and Hayes should be better in 2014 after playing through a knee injury in 2013 and undergoing offseason surgery. The backups were big special-teams contributors.
Starters: LCB Dwayne Gratz, RCB Alan Ball.
Reserves: Will Blackmon, Mike Harris, Jamell Fleming, Jeremy Harris, Demetrius McCray.
Re-signing Blackmon was a good move because he can play either spot as a fill-in starter and also play a nickelback. Plus, he and Ball -- one of the team’s top free-agent signings last year -- have become the leaders of a pretty young group of corners. With the exception of those two players, the other corners have been in the league two or fewer years. Gratz is the player they’re counting on to make a big jump in his second season. Just because the Jaguars are happy with their top four corners doesn’t mean they won’t draft one, though.
Starters: SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Josh Evans.
Reserves: Winston Guy, Chris Prosinski, Sherrod Martin, Joe Young.
Coach Gus Bradley said after the season he was surprised at Cyprien’s cover skills and he’s expecting big things from him in his second season. Evans was thrust into a starting role before he was ready last season and really struggled. Guy came on late in the season and the competition between the two for the starting job will be an interesting one to watch.