NFL Nation: AFC South

Senior Bowl wrap-up

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
MOBILE, Ala. -- Because of all the Jacksonville Jaguars news on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wasn’t able to write much about what was happening on the field at the Senior Bowl.

So here, on my final day in Alabama, are 10 observations from practices. Most involve South team players because that’s the team the Jaguars’ staff is coaching.

TE catches Middleton's eye

Jaguars tight end coach Ron Middleton created a bit of a stir in the Ladd-Peebles Stadium stands during Wednesday’s practice because of his loud, booming voice. Middleton could be heard yelling "You’re my hero!" and "Yeah! Yeah!" as he was raved about tight end Clive Walford.

The former Miami player made a couple nice inside moves on defensive backs Jaquiski Tartt (Samford) and Anthony Jefferson (UCLA) to get open on seam and corner routes. He also made a diving catch and was able to consistently get open.

"Slick made some plays today," Middleton told me after practice. "First of all, I like his attitude. He’s asking questions. He’s into it mentally. He busts his butt every time he’s been out there and the main thing is he made some plays today so that always makes you like them a lot."

Walford caught 121 passes for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns in four years at Miami, including 44 for 676 yards and 7 TDs in 2014. Middleton said Walford has good size (6-feet-4, 254 pounds), very good hands, and "runs good enough" and projects as an inline tight end in the NFL. He’d need to be faster to be used as a move tight end.

Middleton said Walford still has some technique issues that have to fixed, including as a blocker.

"But you can see the willingness and if you’ve got one that’ll bite, then he’s got a chance," Middleton said. " … if he’ll stick his face in the fan he’s got a chance to be a good blocker. We can work on the technique and things; it’s just the attitude of it."

QBs struggled

Teams looking for a quarterback probably didn’t get much out of this week because none of them look very good. In fact, after watching Blake Sims throw for several days I’m starting to wonder how Alabama won the SEC and made the College Football Playoff.

Sims had a particularly bad day on Wednesday and underthrew several passes in drills against no rush. He did have a nice deep ball to Josh Harper (Fresno State) but that was the only pass that stood out in a positive way.

Bryce Petty, playing for the North team, hasn’t exactly torn it up, either, as he adjusts from the up-tempo spread to taking snaps under center. He threw two interceptions on Wednesday including one in which he threw a screen pass right at outside linebacker Nate Orchard (Utah).
The top two quarterbacks in the draft aren’t here because they’re underclassmen and the player most consider No. 3 (UCLA’s Brett Hundley) declined the invitation to play.

Now, some shorter observations ...

It’s hard not to be intrigued by mammoth offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 360), but if he’s going to play at the next level it’s not going to be on the outside. The former TCU standout doesn’t move very well at all. He was continually beaten in pass rush drills early in the week before suffering a hip flexor injury that will keep him out of the game.

Three other South offensive linemen that had solid weeks were guard Arie Kouandjio (Alabama), guard Tre’ Jackson (Florida State), and tackle Daryl Williams (Oklahoma). The Jaguars are expected to add a right tackle and another veteran lineman or two in free agency, but taking a lineman later in the draft is a possibility, too. These are three guys to watch.

North running back Ameer Abdullah looked good carrying the ball, which he did a lot at Nebraska (4,438 yards and 36 touchdowns in four seasons) but he struggled in pass protection drills. He’s not too small (5-9, 195) but he was physically overmatched against some of the linebackers. He may never be a great pass-blocker but he can certainly improve. If he doesn’t, he’s not going to play much in his first few seasons except as maybe a third-down back.

South defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington) may be the best player participating in the game. He’s been hard to handle all week. He’s built like a run-plugger (6-2, 332) but he’s got quick feet and looks like he could be productive as an interior pass-rusher.

South running back David Johnson reminds me a bit of Lorenzo Taliaferro, who played in last year’s game. He’s a big back (6-2, 229) from a smaller school (Northern Iowa) that is holding his own against higher-quality competition than he normally faces. Taliaferro (6-0, 226) played at Coastal Carolina and was drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore.

The most exciting player on the field for either team may be South receiver Tyler Lockett (Kansas State). He’s more of a slot receiver because of his size (5-10, 181) but he’s got good quickness and hands. The Jaguars coaching staff had him run several end-arounds to take advantage of his speed and open-field ability. He more than held his own in one-on-one battles with bigger corners. He out-fought 6-1, 205-pound Nick Marshall (Auburn) to catch a fade pass in the end zone.

Did Miami really finish 6-5? That’s hard to believe after the week the four Hurricanes players have had. Linebacker Denzel Perryman, receiver Phillip Dorsett, corner Ladarius Gunter, and Walford have all been impressive. Dorsett isn’t big either (5-9, 183) but he has consistently gotten open in team drills and has really good hands. Perryman has had some issues in pass coverage but has been very good against the run in drills.

Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Clemson) is undersized at 6-1, 288 pounds, but he makes up for it in athleticism and quickness. He was very productive with the Tigers, recording 156 tackles (21 for loss), 3.5 sacks, 26 quarterback pressures, two caused fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in his final two seasons. He showed off his strength, too, by tossing aside 6-5, 308-pound offensive tackle La’el Collins in one pass blocking drill.

MOBILE, Ala. -- When it came to finding an offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley didn’t look at stats.

They didn’t care about yards or points or touchdowns. They paid no attention to rankings, either.

All they cared about was whether players developed and improved over the course of a season and beyond. They found that to be the case when researching Greg Olson, and that’s why he was hired on Wednesday morning.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olson
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsUnder the guidance of Greg Olson, Derek Carr led all rookie QBs in passing yards and touchdowns in 2014.
"We don’t get caught up in traditional numbers like that," Bradley said on Wednesday afternoon after the South team’s second practice of Senior Bowl week. "We’re looking at does the team get better and the talent he got or has, do they progress? Do you see improvement?"

When studying film of Olson’s past offenses, whether as a coordinator with four teams (Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Oakland) or as a quarterbacks coach, the Jaguars did see players improving. Especially young players, and that is important because the Jaguars had five rookies start at least seven games in 2014, including quarterback Blake Bortles.

"You watch their film and you see not only did he [Olson] make individual guys better but you saw them get a lot better throughout the season," Caldwell said. "… Just his experience, eight years in the league as an offensive coordinator, his ability to develop quarterbacks -- obviously that’s something that’s going to be key for our franchise moving forward, the development of Blake and a young offense."

It’s a good thing the numbers don’t matter because Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons his offenses averaged less than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.

However, in looking at Olson’s quarterbacks in those eight seasons there is evidence of the improvement that Caldwell and Bradley wanted to see.

In the one season in which Olson was Detroit’s offensive coordinator (2005), Joey Harrington threw for 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions -- only the second time in his six-year NFL career that he didn’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

Olson was St. Louis’ offensive coordinator in 2006-07. Marc Bulger threw a career-high 24 touchdown passes to only eight interceptions to go along with a career-high 4,301 yards in 2006. Bulger’s production dipped to 2,392 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2007 but he battled various injuries, including two fractured ribs, throughout the season.

Olson worked with Josh Freeman during his three-year stint as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. Freeman struggled as a rookie in 2009 (10 TDs, 18 INTs) but improved to throw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions, and the Bucs went 10-6 in 2010.

Freeman threw for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns with 22 interceptions in 2011, Olson’s final season in Tampa Bay.

Olson had Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Matt Flynn as his quarterbacks in his first season as Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2013. In 2014 he had rookie Derek Carr, who threw for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The yards and touchdowns were the most by any rookie in 2014.

The quarterback improvements override the fact that, aside from the 2007 season, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th-32nd in total offense, 12th-32nd in rushing, 16th-26th in passing, and 20th-31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).

"The important part for us is it’s not where we rank offensively," Caldwell said. "It’s not where we rank defensively. It’s where you come out at the end. What do you need to do to have your best performance in a game and come out and win a game? If it’s 100 passing and 150 yards rushing and you win 9-3, well that’s what you needed to do because it’s a team game and you have to have it where offense and defense and special teams all play as one."
MOBILE, Ala. -- After a three-week search, the Jacksonville Jaguars finally have an offensive coordinator.

Now comes the hard part. Greg Olson has to fix an offense that hasn’t averaged more than 16 points per game since 2010 and has scored just 15.5 points per game over the past four seasons. The Jaguars finished 31st in total offense, 21st in rushing and 31st in passing in 2014.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesBlake Bortles will need to make quicker, better decisions moving forward.
The Oakland Raiders were worse, finishing last in total offense and rushing and 26th in passing with Olson calling the plays. However, quarterback Derek Carr had a solid rookie season in throwing for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Those were much better numbers than what Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles posted: 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns, 17 interceptions. Fixing the offense starts with helping Bortles take the next step in his development, and that will be Olson’s No. 1 priority in 2015.

Olson has a spotty history as an offensive coordinator. In eight seasons, his offenses averaged fewer than 20 points per game five times, including three years in which they failed to average at least 16 points per game. His best season as a playcaller came in 2006 with the St. Louis Rams when his offense averaged 22.9 points per game and finished sixth in total offense and fourth in passing.

That season the Rams became just the fourth team in NFL history to produce a 4,000-yard passer (Marc Bulger), a 1,500-yard rusher (Steven Jackson) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce) in the same season. The Rams’ offense ranked sixth in the NFL (fourth in passing) that season.

Aside from the 2007 season, however, Olson’s offenses ranged from 19th to 32nd in total offense, from 12th to 32nd in rushing, from 16th to 26th in passing and from 20th to 31st in scoring. That includes his stops in Detroit (2005), St. Louis (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2009-11) and Oakland (2013-14).

But the mitigating factor in those seasons is the fact he hasn’t exactly worked with very good quarterbacks. Bulger is clearly the best, but after him it’s a pretty rough list: Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Gus Frerotte, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Carr have all started multiple games under Olson.

The counterargument is that if Olson were a good coach he would have turned some of those guys into good quarterbacks. That’s a chicken-egg thing, though. Do the players make the coaches or the coaches make the players?

Harrington was a disappointment in five seasons in Detroit and was out of the league after the 2007 season. Frerotte was in his 14th season in the NFL in 2007 and played just one more year after that. Freeman, Johnson, Pryor and McGloin are journeyman players. Pryor wasn’t on a roster in 2014 and was recently signed to a reserves/future contract by the Kansas City Chiefs.

It’s too early to know if Bortles will develop into an elite quarterback, an above-average starter or bounce around the league as a backup, though the Jaguars certainly believed in his ability to become an elite quarterback or they wouldn’t have taken him with the third overall pick in last year’s draft. He did some good things in 2014, but he also threw too many interceptions, including four that were returned for touchdowns. He has a lot of work to do in regard to his footwork.

This is Olson’s fifth stint as an offensive coordinator and it’s likely make or break for him. Fix Bortles’ fundamental flaws and speed up his decision-making, improve a running game that has floundered for three years and score more points or this may end up being his last chance to call plays.
MOBILE, Ala. --The Jacksonville Jaguars have three offensive line coaches currently under contract and the team has no plans to change that in 2015.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Yarno
AP Photo/John RaouxGeorge Yarno, shown in June 2014, is continuing cancer treatment. He was replaced as the Jaguars' offensive line coach, but remains employed by the team.
The Jaguars hired Doug Marrone on Tuesday to be the assistant head coach/offensive line coach. Luke Butkus, who coached the offensive line in 2014, will remain with the team as an assistant OL coach.

So will George Yarno, who hasn't been with the team since last spring because he is battling cancer. Even though he's not going to be able to coach in 2015, the Jaguars are keeping him under contract, meaning he'll still receive his salary and medical benefits. It's a class move by the organization and they deserve to be praised for it, especially because they are reluctant to publicize it.

Yarno has asked the Jaguars to not disclose the details about his medical condition and they are honoring that request, but the team did say recently that Yarno was responding well to treatment. It's no secret that cancer treatments can be very expensive and nearly impossible to afford without health insurance. If the team had opted to terminate Yarno's contract, he would have been forced to go on disability and that would have had an impact on his health benefits.

Coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell declined to discuss the decision to keep Yarno under contract, saying they wanted to respect his privacy.

However, one source close to the situation said that Jaguars owner Shad Khan enthusiastically supported Yarno remaining under contract.

Yarno will do some consulting work for the Jaguars, including evaluating film of prospects.
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will again coach the South team in the Reese's Senior Bowl this week, and coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell are hoping their second consecutive trip to Mobile pays off the way it did last year.

The Jaguars drafted four players that participated in the 2014 Senior Bowl -- guard Brandon Linder, linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive end Chris Smith, and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- and it'll be a surprise if the Jaguars don't take at least one player from this game in the 2015 draft.

The Jaguars' main areas of need are offensive line, pass-rusher, free safety, pass-catching tight end, outside linebacker and running back. Some of those needs will be addressed in free agency, but the Jaguars will have to fill some via the draft.

[+] EnlargeDamarious Randall
AP Photo/Matt YorkDamarious Randall out of Arizona State has the speed to be a center-field safety.
Here are five players to watch in this week's Senior Bowl that are likely on the Jaguars' radar this week:

OT T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh): The Jaguars won't take an offensive tackle with the third overall pick and likely wouldn't take one if they traded down several spots, either. The Jaguars need to upgrade the right tackle spot, and while the most likely solution will come via free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Jaguars address that position in the middle rounds. ESPN Insider Kevin Weidl lists the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Clemmings as a prospect on the rise that could even end up in the middle of the first round. Right now, he's No. 5 on Mel Kiper Jr.'s list of offensive tackle prospects. He has only played on the offensive line for two seasons and is still raw, but he's athletic and powerful and has room to grow.

S Damarious Randall (Arizona State): Having a free safety with the speed and athleticism to cover the width of the field is a must for Bradley's defense and the Jaguars don't have that right now. Josh Evans, the team's sixth-round pick in 2013, has started 24 games at the spot but has no interceptions, no forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and just two pass breakups. Randall (5-11, 190), another one of Weidl's rising prospects, has the speed to be a center-field safety. He had six interceptions in the last two seasons in ASU and he could be a second- or third-round option.

DE Nate Orchard (Utah): Most mock drafts so far have the Jaguars taking either USC's Leonard Williams or Nebraska's Randy Gregory with the third pick, but that doesn't mean the Jaguars can't address the position later in the draft. The Jaguars have only three defensive ends under contract for 2015 (Chris Clemons, Andre Branch and Red Bryant), though they are expected to bring back Ryan Davis and Tyson Alualu. Orchard is coming off a monster year in the Pac-12 (18.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles). He's projected to be a mid-round pick and depending on what he looks like this week he could be tempting for the Jaguars.

RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska): Running back isn't a high priority -- in fact, Caldwell said recently that would be the last piece of the rebuild -- but Abdullah would be tempting in the middle rounds. He's coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and has run for 4,438 yards and 36 touchdowns in that span. He also caught 72 passes for 679 yards seven touchdowns from 2012-14. He's an elusive runner with great vision and acceleration.

TE C.J. Uzomah (Auburn): He doesn't have impressive stats because the tight end isn't exactly featured in Gus Malzahn's up-tempo, no-huddle offense, but he has good size (6-4, 264) and speed. The Jaguars are likely going to add a veteran tight end in free agency and there's the uncertainty with Marcedes Lewis' contract situation, so the Jaguars could be looking for a young tight end in the later rounds.
Greg JonesJake Roth/USA TODAY SportsDespite being a standout collegiate running back, Greg Jones never sought the limelight during his 10-year career in the NFL.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Greg Jones never wanted to be a fullback, but when he was moved to that spot full-time in his second season with the Jacksonville Jaguars the former Florida State standout never complained.

Instead, he dedicated himself to becoming as good as he could possibly be at the position.

That's what his former teammates will remember most about Jones, who on Thursday signed a one-day contract so he could retire from the NFL after a 10-year career as a member of the Jaguars.

"I don't think in all the years I played with him I ever heard him gripe or complain," center Brad Meester said. "He came in every day, worked his tail off, and worked hard in the weight room, the meeting room, and on the field. Whatever he was asked to do, he did it. He was a great running back for us and when he took over at fullback, he fully embraced that role."

Said running back Maurice Jones-Drew: "He's not selfish. It was never about Greg Jones. It was always about how he could help the Jaguars win a championship."

Another thing Jones' teammates will remember about him: His toughness.

"I never saw him lose a fight," Meester said.

"It’s funny, because people would talk trash to me when Greg wasn’t on the field," Jones-Drew said. "They wouldn’t say too much when he was out there. It just showed you his presence. People wanted to get him out of his game but Greg did a great job of dominating people whistle to whistle."

Humble and tough are two great traits by which to be remembered. He'll also be remembered as a great blocker who helped Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew reach a combined four Pro Bowls. He was the lead blocker when Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,606 yards in 2011. In Jones’ nine seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars finished in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing four times and the Jaguars averaged fewer than 120 yards per game rushing only three times. They were second in the NFL in rushing in 2007, when Jones was a Pro Bowl alternate, and third in 2010.

Jones carried the ball just 270 times in eight seasons with the Jaguars -- he missed the 2006 season with a torn ACL) -- but that was fine because he earned the reputation as one of the league's top fullbacks during his career.

"I didn’t miss the limelight [of being a running back]," Jones said. "One thing about football players, when they line up and when they go through scouting reports and watch tape, they can see who can play and who can not play. The other guys on the other side of the white line knew the deal and knew I was a good player and I was fine with that.

"There were times in the past where I thought about what could've been [had he remained a running back] but other than that I took it in stride and tried to be the best at it that I can. Hopefully I was the best during that time."

Jones tore his right ACL while he was at Florida State and tore his left ACL during training camp in 2006. Had the second injury not happened, he may have gotten a chance to carry the ball more. But Jones-Drew ran for 941 yards in '06 while splitting time with Taylor and Jones spent the 2007-08 seasons clearing holes for the duo.

"Some people asked, 'Well, if you didn’t hurt that knee you ever thought about [whether things may have gone differently]?" Jones said. "I’m like, 'Yeah, but things happen for a reason.' If I didn’t [move to fullback] would I have played 10 years? Maybe, maybe not. I was blessed just to be here and play 10 years."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have 12 free agents (five on offense, seven on defense) as they enter the 2015 offseason. The new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Here’s a list of the Jaguars' unrestricted and restricted free agents:


Tyson Alualu, defensive end
Alan Ball, cornerback
A.J. Edds, linebacker
Geno Hayes, linebacker
Sherrod Martin, safety
Cecil Shorts, wide receiver
J.T. Thomas, linebacker

Jacques McClendon, guard
Fendi Onubun, tight end
Will Ta'ufo'ou, fullback
Jordan Todman, running back
Teddy Williams, cornerback
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart was eager to clear out his locker on Monday, the last day that players were required to be at the team facility.

Not because he didn’t like his teammates or coach Gus Bradley, or that he was regretting his decision to sign with the team last March. It was more symbolic, a way to wipe away what had been the most trying season of his career.

Injuries to his foot and ribs hobbled the normally durable Gerhart throughout the season and kept him from contributing as much as he wanted.

"I’m just glad this year is over [so he can] put 2014 behind me and I’m looking forward to getting healthy in 2015," Gerhart said. "Every week it seemed there was something. It started off with the foot, and that nagged forever. It was a frustrating year, and I’m excited that this one’s behind me and looking forward to the future."

Gerhart originally hurt his foot when he was brought down by a horse-collar tackle in the season opener against Philadelphia, but didn’t miss any time in the next three games. He re-injured the foot in the Jaguars' loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 4 and he sat out the Tennessee and Cleveland games.

He started to hit his stride after the bye week, rushing for 111 yards over four games and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Gerhart averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the eight games in which he played before the bye.

He had his best game of the season against Tennessee in Week 16, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars’ 21-13 victory, but he left the game in the second half because of a rib injury. That limited him to just four carries for 8 yards in the season finale against Houston.

He finished with 326 yards rushing on 101 carries and averaged 3.2 yards per carry, the lowest average of his career. However, it was the second-most carries of his career. He had 109 in 2011 but averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

Fans might have been disappointed with Gerhart’s numbers, but the Jaguars weren’t.

"They’re disappointed because of fantasy football," general manager David Caldwell said. "Toby had a tough year from that Philly game on in terms of being not healthy. You saw some glimpses later in the year, when he was healthy, of what he could do, and that’s why we signed him, and that’s what we hope to get out of him in the future."

Caldwell said he views running back as a lower priority in free agency and the draft, so Gerhart and Denard Robinson likely will enter 2015 as the team’s top two backs. For Gerhart, though, his main goal next season is staying healthy. He had missed just three games in his first four seasons with Minnesota, but missed two this past season.

Bradley said he could tell that bothered Gerhart, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract in March. Gerhart is still in the team’s plans, though.

"He’s never been hurt like that," Bradley said. "I think we started to see signs of him do some good things. I know he was frustrated over that: 'I wanted to help this team more but I didn’t anticipate I’d be hurt like I was.'

"But yeah, we still think highly of him."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Under normal circumstances, Philadelphia Eagles rookie receiver Jordan Matthews had a very good game in the Eagles' season-ending 34-26 victory over the New York Giants.

Matthews caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, a 44-yarder from Mark Sanchez. It tied his season high for catches and it was the third-most receiving yards he's posted this season.

But it was overshadowed by -- who else? -- Odell Beckham Jr. He caught 12 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown, but the real eye-popping number is that quarterback Eli Manning targeted Beckham 21 times. Manning threw 53 passes and nearly half were aimed at Beckham.

Beckham's performance against the Eagles, and all season, highlights a banner class of rookie receivers, which includes three Jaguars. Here's a look at the group. They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We're using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game (64 targets needed to qualify):

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (144 targets): He caught just one pass for 9 yards in the Panthers' 34-3 rout of Atlanta and finishes with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led all rookies with seven drops.

Beckham Jr., New York Giants (128): We covered what he did against Philadelphia above and he led all rookies in catches (91), receiving yards (1,305) and touchdown catches (12).

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (128): He caught three passes for 57 yards in the Bills' 17-9 victory over New England and finished with 65 catches for 982 yards and six touchdowns.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (118): Evans had five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs' 23-20 loss to New Orleans and finished with 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is tied with Beckham for tops among rookies in touchdown catches and is second to Beckham in receiving yardage.

Jarvis Landry, Miami (111): He caught five passes for 55 yards in the Dolphins' 37-24 loss to the New York Jets and finished with 84 catches for 758 yards and five touchdowns.

John Brown, Arizona (104): He caught four passes for 51 yards in the Cardinals' 20-17 loss to San Francisco and finished with 48 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns.

Matthews, Philadelphia (102): We covered what he did against the Giants above and he finished with 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, the third-most touchdowns among all rookie receivers.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (96): He caught just two passes for 15 yards in the Jaguars' 23-17 loss to Houston and finished with 51 catches for 677 yards and six touchdowns.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (80): He's out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot and finishes with 48 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns.

Taylor Gabriel, Cleveland (71): He caught three passes for 66 yards in 20-10 loss to Baltimore and finished with 36 catches for 621 yards and one touchdown.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (66): He is out for the rest of the season with a broken thumb and finishes with 53 catches for 550 yards and three TDs.

Marqise Lee, Jacksonville (64): He caught just two passes for 8 yards in the Jaguars' loss to Houston and finished with 37 catches for 422 yards and one touchdown.
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There was supposed to be some progress made in Year 2 of the GM David Caldwell/coach Gus Bradley regime, but it certainly didn’t show up in the team’s record or on the stat sheet.

The Jacksonville Jaguars went 3-13, their third consecutive season of at least 12 losses. They had one of the NFL’s worst offenses, finishing last in scoring (15.6 PPG) and 31st in passing offense (187.6 YPG) and red zone offense (40.6 percent). They were 21st in rushing (102.1 YPG), 29th in third-down conversions (31.9 percent) and gave up a franchise-record 71 sacks.

So was there progress?

In spots, which made it harder to see. Bradley captured that perfectly a few weeks ago when he talked about seeing offensive linemen Luke Joeckel, Brandon Linder, and Zane Beadles playing better in the latter part of the season, but it not translating to the offensive line playing better as a unit. Individual progress, but not unit progress.

You could say the same for what happened at linebacker, cornerback, receiver and safety. The next step in the Caldwell/Bradley rebuild is turning that individual progress into something that will impact the result of games in 2015.

Team MVP: Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks was the Jaguars’ best, and most consistent, player all season. Some of his numbers were down from the previous season (such as pass breakups and forced fumbles), but he was been better at the point of attack and provided very good pressure up the middle. Marks finished the season second among all defensive tackles with 8.5 sacks, an unusually high number for an interior lineman, and had 44 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup. He led the team in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. More than half of his 16.5 career sacks came this season.

Best moment: The Jaguars got one shot to make a good impression on national television in a Thursday night game against Tennessee on Dec. 18, and they made the most of it in a 21-13 victory. The video boards were even more impressive at night than they are during the day, and that helped distract from a pretty poor offensive performance to start (16 yards on the first four possessions). Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who was doubtful with a sprained foot, got things going after that, leading the Jaguars on back-to-back long TD drives. He had key runs despite his injury on each drive.

Worst moment: The Jaguars' offensive performance in their first game after the bye week was an embarrassment. They set a season low in points (three), passing yards (114) and completions (14), and their 194 total yards was their second-lowest output of the season. They had only four drives reach Colts territory, and two of those possessions began with fumble recoveries already inside Colts territory. The Jaguars failed to score a touchdown on four tries inside the 3-yard line late in the 23-3 loss. It was particularly disappointing because it came after the bye week, and it appeared the Jaguars and Bortles had failed to make any progress from the first part of the season.

2015 outlook: The Jaguars took the rare approach of going with a lot of youth on offense -- six rookies started at least eight games -- and taking the expected lumps this season so the unit would be experienced enough to be significantly better in 2015. Most of that depends on how much progress Bortles makes in the offseason. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Bortles needs to immerse himself in the offense so they can concentrate more on opposing defenses when the offseason program begins. Defensively, the Jaguars have to make upgrades at free safety and linebacker, but it appears young cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin will be a pretty good tandem. The schedule looks to be easier next season, too. It sets up for a run at a .500 record.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- One of the reasons that Blaine Gabbert flamed out with the Jacksonville Jaguars was the fact he was ditching playbooks every February.

Gabbert certainly had other issues, but having a new offensive coordinator in each of his three seasons was one of the main roadblocks in his development. Each season he had to learn a new offense, new audibles, new terminology, new reads. All while trying to make the adjustment to the NFL.

It was a disaster. Gabbert was 5-22 as a starter and threw 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesJaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will need to adjust to a new playbook and offensive coordinator in 2015.
That’s why Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch on Tuesday is such a bold move. Bradley has often talked about the importance of continuity but he decided philosophical differences with Fisch regarding how much to ask of quarterback Blake Bortles outweighed the benefits of maintaining the status quo.

"You obviously want continuity," Bradley said. "We all know that here with some of the experiences that we had, so that was something that I took very seriously. Sometimes when you do this sometimes you take a step back a little bit because there’s learning a new system, a new playbook, a new coordinator and you’ve got to go through a learning curve.

"But in my analysis of it I thought that we might take a step back but hopefully it’s with two or three steps forward."

The Jaguars can’t go back much further. The offense has been last in the NFL in scoring the past two seasons -- averaging 15.5 points this season -- and hasn’t ranked higher than 29th in total offense the past four years. In 32 games under Fisch, the Jaguars averaged 291.7 yards per game.

The 2014 team averaged 15.5 points per game and ranked 31st in total offense, 31st in passing and 21st in rushing. The Jaguars didn’t finish with more than 288 yards in any of their final six games.

There is somewhat of a mitigating factor, though. The Jaguars had eight rookies start games on offense, including six that started at least eight games: Bortles (14), Marqise Lee (eight), Allen Hurns (eight), Allen Robinson (eight), Brandon Linder (16) and Luke Bowanko (14).

The original plan for Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in May, was for him to sit the entire season but the offense was so non-functional through the first 2.5 games with Chad Henne that the Jaguars were forced to put Bortles on the field.

So not only is Fisch’s firing impacting Bortles, it’s forcing five other rookies to learn a new system, as well.

But Bradley is willing to take the risk and believes Bortles will be able to handle it.

"I know Blake will be ready and open for a challenge, too," Bradley said.

But can he handle it better than Gabbert did? He was not supposed to play his first season, either, but was forced onto the field because the team cut David Garrard days before the season began and Luke McCown struggled in the first two games.

Gabbert’s head coach was Jack Del Rio and his offensive coordinator was Dirk Koetter that season. The staff was fired after the season and Mike Mularkey and Bob Bratkowski filled those roles in 2012. That staff was fired after one season, and Bradley and Fisch took over in 2013.
Gabbert started three games, got hurt and never regained his starting job. The Jaguars traded him to San Francisco in the offseason.

Three different offenses in three seasons certainly impacted Gabbert’s development. Bradley is willing to take the risk that Bortles won’t be similarly affected.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars won one fewer game in 2014 than they did in 2013 but still ended up in the same spot, picking third in the upcoming draft.

Tampa Bay (2-14) and Tennessee (2-14) pick first and second, respectively, followed by the Jaguars (3-13), Oakland (3-13) and Washington (4-12) to round out the top five.

If the early mock drafts hold true and the Bucs and Titans take quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston (provided both come out early), the Jaguars have their choice of two elite defensive ends in Nebraska's Randy Gregory or USC's Leonard Williams. Or general manager David Caldwell could opt for Alabama receiver Amari Cooper or one of several offensive tackles.

All but Cooper would fill an immediate need. Here's my ranking of the Jaguars' needs heading into the offseason, some of which will be addressed in free agency: offensive line, free safety, pass-catching tight end, running back and linebacker.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' opponents for the 2015 season are set, and on paper it looks like an easier schedule than the one that just finished with a 23-17 loss to Houston. That's good news for a team that has won just nine of its last 48 games.

The combined 2014 record of their 2015 opponents (figuring in division teams twice) is 118-137-1 (.461). The combined 2013 records of the opponents the Jaguars played this season was 116-140 (.453).

The Jaguars will play six teams that finished the 2014 season with winning record: Indianapolis, Houston, Buffalo, San Diego, New England, and Baltimore.

They will play four teams that made the playoffs in 2014: Indianapolis, New England, Baltimore and Carolina. Three of those teams (Indianapolis, New England and Carolina) won their respective divisions.

Dates and times for the regular-season games will be announced in the spring. Here's the breakdown:

Home games
Houston (9-7 in 2014)
Indianapolis (11-5)
Tennessee (2-14)
Buffalo (9-7) in London
Miami (8-8)
Atlanta (6-10)
Carolina (7-8-1)
San Diego 9-7)

Away games
Houston (9-7 in 2014)
Indianapolis (11-5)
Tennessee (2-14)
New England (12-4)
New York Jets (4-12)
New Orleans (7-9)
Tampa Bay (2-14)
Baltimore (10-6)
Blake BortlesAP Photo/David J. PhillipBlake Bortles will need to make big strides in the offseason if the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to improve on offense in 2015.
It’s clear that the Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of work to do if the offense is going to consistently move the ball and score points in 2015.

Fixing the offensive line is a priority as well as finding a No. 1 running back and a pass-catching tight end who can work the middle of the field.

However, it begins with the continued development of quarterback Blake Bortles. The rookie from Central Florida threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions in 14 games (13 starts). That’s the most passing yardage and third-most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback in team history, but Bortles clearly has two main areas he must improve: decision-making and footwork.

If he doesn’t make advances in those areas, then any other upgrades the Jaguars make to an offense that finished last in the NFL in scoring (and 30th in passing and total offense) will be meaningless.

"I think the understanding [is where] Bortles has to make his biggest improvement," coach Gus Bradley said recently. "Speeding up the decision-making. I would say that’s probably the biggest thing, to know where he wants to go with it and then make the decision and do it quickly. If he can get to that point, I think that would be a very good step in the right direction.

"You see it at times. He’ll go back and fire it and he knows right where he’s going, but I think sometimes that [making slower decisions] happens when you’re trying to own the offense."

Bradley is saying that Bortles needs to be more decisive in his reads and then quickly get rid of the ball. He needs to trust his pre-snap reads, the blocking adjustments, and the route adjustments. He must have a fuller understanding of the offense to do all that, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.

That’s why he and quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo will help Bortles map out a schedule until the offseason program begins. Coaches and players cannot have much contact with each other at that time of the year, per NFL rules, so that will put much of the responsibility on Bortles.

"I think speeding up the decision-making will come from knowledge. This offseason has to be a constant quest for knowledge," Fisch said recently. "When we are not together for those X amount of months that we’re not allowed to see one another, he has to make sure that he is studying, studying, studying, studying our offense so that when we come back together and we can meet, we can then start talking about defenses.

"If we have to start over and just talk about our offense for those next three months, then the decision-making process won’t get sped up because we’ll then go back to not being able to focus in on all of the little tips and reminders that defenses can give us, so that [the offense] is where his focus is going to be. I think if he does that and owns it, now we can do a great job of giving him indicators to really help him play fast."

The footwork issue is a matter of drilling over and over to imprint the proper fundamentals into Bortles' muscle memory. He got little instruction in that area in high school and college, so he’s behind a bit and it’s not going to be easy, but it’s simply a matter of committing enough time to make it second nature.

When Bortles uses the proper footwork -- when his feet are in the correct position, he’s balanced, and the drop-backs are consistent -- he’s a more accurate thrower. There are times when, because of an effective pass-rush, Bortles won’t be able to remain fundamentally sound, but he must be sound when he's in the pocket.

That’s something that the Jaguars had planned to fix in 2014 while he was riding the bench, but Bradley and Fisch had no choice but to put him on the field because the offense was nonfunctional under Chad Henne.

"It’s hard to work on during the season," Bortles said. "There’s not a whole lot of time for fundamentals to be worked on, but it’s the thing that you say, ‘Let’s make sure that it doesn’t get any worse, and in the offseason we can try and fix as much as possible.’"

The offense’s success in 2015 depends on it.

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

December, 28, 2014

A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 23-17 loss to Houston at NRG Stadium.

What it means: What happened against the Texans perfectly encapsulates the entire 2014 season: The defense played solidly and chipped in with an interception return for a touchdown, but the offense just couldn’t get anything going. The Jaguars finished with 233 yards and went 0-for-11 on third down and quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked five times, including once for a safety. Bortles did make a few plays late in the game -- converting a fourth-and-10 with a 34-yard run -- but as it has been all season, it wasn’t enough. The Jaguars finished the season 3-13, which marked the third year in a row in which they’ve finished with four or fewer victories.

Stock watch: It wasn’t a particularly good day for rookie receiver Marqise Lee. He had played well since the bye week, catching 22 passes for 273 yards in the last five games, but he struggled against the Texans. He dropped two passes that would have been normal catches and ended up with two catches for 8 yards, plus he suffered what appeared to be a knee injury late in the game. Had he had five catches, it would have made the Jaguars the first team in NFL history to have three rookie receivers catch at least 40 passes in a season. Allen Robinson has 48 and Allen Hurns has 51.

Incentive lost: Imagine finding $250,000 and then losing it immediately. That’s what defensive end Chris Clemons went through on Sunday. He needed one sack to reach eight for the season, which would have triggered a $250,000 bonus, and he got it in the third quarter when he dropped Case Keenum for a 5-yard loss. However, cornerback Aaron Colvin was penalized for defensive holding, which wiped out the play and Clemons’ bonus.

Game ball: Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has been the Jaguars’ best and most consistent player all season. He led the team with 8.5 sacks (a high number for an interior lineman), 15 tackles for loss and 16 QB hurries to go along with 44 tackles and a fumble recovery. It’s unfortunate he left the game in the first half with a knee injury and wasn’t able to finish the season. He’s the one player on the team who deserved to go to the Pro Bowl, and it’s unknown how his injury will affect his status as an alternate.

What’s next: The Jaguars begin preparations for the NFL draft and free agency with trips to the Senior Bowl in late January and the scouting combine in February.