NFL Nation: Jacksonville Jaguars

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There was one surprise in the last dash to use the franchise or transition tags before 4 p.m. ET Monday, and it’s one that’s potentially very good for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The New England Patriots tagged kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which means free safety Devin McCourty will become a free agent unless the sides work out a new contract between now and 4 p.m. ET March 10. If that doesn’t happen and McCourty does hit the open market, he should be the Jaguars’ No. 1 priority.

McCourty
There are other big-name players that will be available -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Randall Cobb, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga could top the list -- and the Jaguars likely will pursue some of them. However, the Jaguars can find other, admittedly somewhat lower-caliber options at those positions, either through free agency or the draft.

That’s not the case at free safety. It’s not a particularly good crop in free agency, and the draft pool isn’t considered very good, either. So if the Jaguars are going to fix the biggest issue on defense in 2015 they must go after McCourty.

For Gus Bradley’s defense to perform at its best it must have a physical strong safety who can play near the line of scrimmage and a free safety with the range and athleticism to cover the width of the entire field. Bradley likes to play single high safety a lot, and right now he doesn’t have one that can do that.

Josh Evans, a 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. The 6-foot, 205-pounder also has had issues with tackling, though he improved significantly in that area as the 2014 season progressed and was the Jaguars' third-leading tackler (90) in his second season.

McCourty is a perfect fit. He’s big enough (5-foot-10, 195 pounds), fast enough (he’s a converted cornerback), and smart enough to complete what is turning out to be, at worst, a very solid secondary. It would be a young secondary, too. McCourty is 27, which would make him tied for the oldest among players in the secondary that are under contract for 2015.

McCourty also has the trait that has been missing from the Jaguars’ secondary for a long time: he makes plays. He has 17 interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and 58 pass breakups in his first five seasons, which averages out to 3.4 interceptions, 1.6 forced fumbles, and 11.6 pass breakups per season. The Jaguars’ entire group of defensive backs had three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 26 pass breakups in 2014.

McCourty is unquestionably the top free safety on the market. He’s certainly not going to command Suh money, but the Jaguars might have to spend the kind of money that San Diego did on Eric Weddle (five years, $40 million) and Seattle did on Earl Thomas (four years, $40 million).

They should do it without hesitation.

Jaguars will be cautious with cap surplus

February, 25, 2015
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ESPN Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco discusses the team’s cap situation.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Shad Khan has just nine victories in his three seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner, yet he's confident that the franchise is headed in the right direction.

That's mainly because he believes general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley made the correct decision to draft quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in 2014.

"We owe you better results on game day. I know that," Khan said. "Dave knows that. Gus knows that. I do believe that we’re on the verge of turning the corner with a number of our young players, especially Blake Bortles as quarterback. This is really the first season coming up for me where we enter a new season with stability at quarterback.

"No pressure, Blake, but we’re counting on you."

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackRookie quarterback Blake Bortles was the Jaguars' second-leading rusher in 2014.
Caldwell and Bradley wanted Bortles to sit out his rookie season to work on fundamentals and learn from veteran Chad Henne, but that plan quickly was ditched. After a surprising first half in the season opener against Philadelphia, the Jaguars’ offense was nonfunctional during the next six quarters (15 nonscoring or half-ending drives of three or fewer plays) and Bortles was inserted into the lineup at halftime of a Week 3 loss to Indianapolis.

Bortles looked good early, struggled for a stretch when he led the league in interceptions, and then significantly reduced his mistakes, throwing two interceptions in the final five games. He finished with 2,908 passing yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and was the Jaguars’ second-leading rusher (419 yards).

That came while being sacked a league-high 55 times (the Jaguars gave up a league-high 71 sacks overall) and having to rely on three rookie receivers and a running back who was a converted college quarterback in his first full season in Denard Robinson. Plus, the Jaguars’ best tight end (Marcedes Lewis) missed eight games with a high ankle sprain.

Bortles needs to be better in 2015 if the Jaguars are to indeed produce better results, but it’s not all on the former Central Florida standout. The Jaguars have the most salary-cap room of any team (approximately $65 million) and are planning to use free agency to upgrade the offensive line, add a pass-catching tight end and find a productive veteran receiver.

In addition, new offensive coordinator Greg Olson helped Raiders quarterback Derek Carr have the best season of all the rookie quarterbacks in 2014: 3,270 yards, 21 TDs, 12 interceptions, 24 sacks.

Though Bortles didn't exactly have an Andrew Luck-type rookie season, he still gives the Jaguars stability at the position that the franchise hasn't had since signing David Garrard to a seven-year, $60 million contract in April 2008. That came after a season in which he threw for 2,509 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions and had the NFL's third-highest passer rating. He also led the Jaguars to a playoff victory in Pittsburgh in which he scrambled for 32 yards on fourth-and-2 to set up a game-winning field goal.

Garrard never lived up to his contract and was cut just before the 2011 season began, but he at least gave the Jaguars stability at the position from 2008-10 . The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert in 2011 and cut Garrard just before the season began. Gabbert struggled as a rookie and the team signed Henne before the 2012 season.

Gabbert went 5-22 as a starter and threw 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 28 career games before losing the starting job to Henne early in the 2013 season.

Though Khan did dump some extra pressure on Bortles’ shoulders with his light-hearted comment, Khan put the onus on himself to make sure the franchise starts to move beyond the past three seasons’ cumulative 9-39 record.

"I want to really make it clear it’s my responsibility and yours that we deliver a team and an organization to you that you can be proud of on game days and every other day of the year," he said.
ORANGE PARK, Fla. -- Jack Wilkening is a huge Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida State Seminoles fan, which is why he was a bit dazed on Wednesday morning when he saw who walked into his third-grade classroom at Paterson Elementary School.

First it was Jaguars mascot Jaxson De Ville followed by linebacker Telvin Smith, a former FSU standout who just finished his rookie season with the Jaguars. They were there to surprise 8-year-old Jack and his 7-year-old sister Kate, who had lost their home to a fire on Feb. 1.

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Michael DiRocco/ESPN.comJaguars linebacker Telvin Smith surprises Jack Wilkening, a third-grader at Paterson Elementary School in Orange Park, Florida.
Smith gave the two autographed hats and footballs and spent about 20 minutes with them and the rest of the students in the classroom, joking around, taking pictures, and getting and receiving hugs.

"I was a little nervous," Smith said. "I've never been in that situation, never had my whole house taken away, and you didn't know what to say. You want to be respectful and let them know you're praying for them."

Fortunately the Wilkening family wasn't home when their home caught fire on Super Bowl Sunday. Pam Wilkening, Jack and Kate's mom, said the house was a total loss.

"Luckily we weren't home," Pam Wilkening said. "They [the children] haven't been back to the house but they've seen pictures of it."

Among the items destroyed were two of Jack's favorite things: a Jaxson De Ville autographed football and a Florida State baseball hat. Jaxson signed a football and brought other gifts for the kids and the classroom. Smith delivered an autographed hat.

"He just said, 'Thank you. Thank you for everything,'" Smith said. "It was just a humbling experience."

Jaguars to get good look at pass-rushers

February, 18, 2015
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video ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco says Jacksonville, which will pick third in the NFL draft, is sure to evaluate touted pass-rushers such as Leonard Williams, Shane Ray and Randy Gregory this week at the scouting combine.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A closer look at the areas the Jaguars could address in the draft. We’ll look at the tight ends, who are scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Tight end has been a position that has underproduced the past two seasons. Since Marcedes Lewis caught 52 passes in 2012, all of the tight ends on the roster combined to catch 55 passes in 2013 and 47 in 2014. Eighteen tight ends caught more passes than the Jaguars tight ends did this past season. The Jaguars are committed to upgrading in free agency but they’ll also be exploring the position at the combine. It’s not a great draft class for tight ends but a mid- to late-round pick could be spent on a young player who still needs time to develop.

Three players the Jaguars could target in the draft:

Maxx Williams (TE), Minnesota: The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams is a move tight end (one who can play in the slot or split out) who was extremely productive the last two seasons, catching 61 passes for 926 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch and had nine catches of at least 25 yards in 2014. He has good hands and good straight-line speed but NFL.com’s draft profile notes that he’ll need work on refining his routes. NFL.com compares him to former standout Jeremy Shockey.

Clive Walford (TE), Miami: The Jaguars had the 6-4, 258-pound Walford in the Senior Bowl and tight ends coach Ron Middleton loved him. He was hard for linebackers and safeties to handle, especially in the red zone. He’s athletic, runs well, and has good hands. He was another productive player in college, catching 121 passes for 1,753 yards and 14 touchdowns in four seasons. Middleton told me Walford is not a move tight end but needs work on his blocking to be more effective on the line of scrimmage.

Devin Funchess (TE), Michigan: The 6-5, 230-pound Funchess played wide receiver at Michigan but projects as a move tight end in the NFL. He caught 126 passes for 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons, including 62 for 733 yards and four scores in 2014. He presents the classic matchup problem in one-on-one coverage: too physical for most cornerbacks and too fast and elusive for most linebackers.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan first saw the desolate Jacksonville Shipyards shortly after he purchased the franchise in 2011.

Where others saw a barren and environmentally-compromised area along the St. Johns River several hundred yards southwest of EverBank Field, Khan saw immense potential. And on Tuesday he unveiled his vision for a business/residential/entertainment complex on the site that includes a covered practice facility.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville Shipyards
PopulousJaguars owner Shad Khan is aiming to develop the Jacksonville Shipyards near EverBank Field.
There is no timetable or cost estimate, though Khan said he would certainly commit some of his own money, but the project is impressive in scope and Khan said it would help stabilize his franchise even further.

"We first expressed interest in the Shipyards in June 2013 but really it piqued my interest from the very first day in 2011 I came here," Khan said during the team’s annual state of the franchise news conference. "Driving to the stadium for the first time here’s a beautiful stretch of Jacksonville riverfront, connecting and linking downtown to the sports complex and it’s sitting empty and neglected.

"The front door to downtown Jacksonville with no porch light, no welcome mat, really didn’t make sense."

The conceptual designs produced by Populous, a Kansas City-based architectural firm, show various glass skyscrapers, water features, pedestrian bridges, docks, business and living space, as well as a marina, a hotel, an amphitheater, and a significant amount of landscaping.

The two-level practice facility featured three fields. Two were on ground level, including one that was covered. The third field, for public use, is on top of the second level.

Iguana Investments, which is a group created by Khan specifically for the development of the Shipyards, will present a proposal to the Downtown Investment Authority next Monday. Khan said he hopes the DIA would be able to quickly review Iguana Investment’s proposal and then move forward with the project.

The city of Jacksonville owns the Shipyards and is currently conducting an environmental study of the 48-acre property and has set aside $13 million for its cleanup. The Shipyards served as a manufacturing and repair center for small ships, barges, ferry boats, and freightliners before closing in 1992.

Since then numerous public officials and real estate developers have put together proposals to turn the property into an entertainment and/or business area, including an aquarium, but the projects never got off the ground.

None of those projects, however, had the backing of someone like Khan, whose net worth is estimated at $4.5 billion. He has already used $31 million of his own money to pay for a renovated locker room, training room, and weight room and help fund the installation of two pools and the world’s largest video boards at EverBank Field.

"The Shipyards would give downtown Jacksonville the kind of iconic identity that many downtown districts in the United States enjoy and we currently lack," Khan said. "But it doesn’t work or make sense if it doesn’t provide jobs, boost our economy and self-confidence, stabilize the future of the Jaguars franchise, and improve our overall quality of life."

In addition to announcing Khan’s vision for the Shipyards, the Jaguars also unveiled renderings of proposed renovations to the club seat areas at EverBank Field. The Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville are competing for state funding to help pay for those renovations.

The state of Florida’s Joint Legislative Budget Commission is scheduled to meet this week to determine how much Jacksonville and the three other cities hoping for tax dollars -- Orlando, Miami and Daytona Beach -- will receive. The amount available is $7 million.

The renovations the city and team hope to make to the club seats area are an open deck area overlooking the field, glazing walls separating the indoor club space from the outdoor decks, canopies to provide shading over the outdoor decks, outdoor bar seating on the decks, and upgrading or replacing the existing concession areas.

 
A closer look at the areas the Jacksonville Jaguars could address in the draft. We continue Tuesday with a look at the safeties, who are scheduled to work out Monday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: One of the top priorities for Gus Bradley's defensive scheme to be successful is having a free safety who's athletic and fast enough to cover the entire field. The strong safety plays closer to the line of scrimmage to help in run support, but to do that effectively the defense needs a free safety who can play center field, pick up the tight ends and/or assist cornerbacks with deep coverage. Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick in 2013, has started 24 games at free safety but has no interceptions, no forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and just two pass breakups.

Three players the Jaguars could target in the draft:

Derron Smith (S), Fresno State: He doesn’t completely fit the physical prototype the Jaguars like in their safeties (he’s only 5-foot-10), but according to ESPN’s draft profile he has good instincts, recognition and anticipation. He also has good speed and the range to cover the width of the field. He’s a proven playmaker, too, with 15 interceptions in his five seasons (he played in only three games in 2011 after suffering a broken arm). He’s also durable, having started every game the past two seasons. Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Smith as the second-best safety on the board, so it’s likely he won’t be available past the second round.

Anthony Harris (S), Virginia: Harris has the ideal height (6-1), but he weighs only 188 pounds. There would be more concern there if he were a box safety, but he has more than enough speed to play center field. Harris has good recognition and instincts according to NFL.com’s draft profile, and ESPN.com’s draft profile says he needs to become more consistent with his angles when playing over the top. He was productive in college: 11 interceptions, two forced fumbles and 140 tackles in the last three seasons.

Jaquiski Tartt (S), Samford: He is a three-time All-American and also was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to the best defensive player in the FCS. He has ideal size (6-1, 218 pounds) and good speed. He played Cover 2 and as a single high safety in college, and he has enough speed to handle being a center fielder in the NFL. He participated in the Senior Bowl, and NFL.com’s Charles Davis said Tartt has SEC skills, which would seem to compare him favorably to Alabama’s Landon Collins, who is Kiper’s top-rated safety.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Monday is the first day that teams can use the franchise and transition tags on players. The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't expected to use either tag, but they will be closely monitoring the choices that several other teams make because it will impact their strategy in free agency.

Teams have until 4 p.m. ET on March 2 to apply the tags.

Here are some players to monitor over the next 14 days:

WR Dez Bryant (Dallas): The Cowboys should make him the No. 1 priority over running back DeMarco Murray and apply the franchise tag, which would ensure a one-year salary of approximately $13 million.

RT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay): If he hits the open market I'd expect him to be one of the Jaguars' top priorities. GM David Caldwell said he wants to upgrade at right tackle and Bulaga is one of the best at that spot. The Packers franchising him would mean having to pay him approximately $13 million in 2015, which is a lot of money for a right tackle.

[+] EnlargeRandle Cobb
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesWR Randle Cobb would be an attractive target for the Jaguars in free agency if the Packers do not re-sign him.
WR Randall Cobb (Green Bay): The Packers already have a good deal of money tied up with Jordy Nelson and the team really likes rookie Davante Adams. They will try to re-sign Cobb but he's a player I can see the Jaguars aggressively pursuing if he hits the open market.

LB Justin Houston (Kansas City): The Jaguars need an elite pass-rusher and Houston fits. He has 43 sacks in the last three seasons, including 22 in 2014, which is why the Chiefs likely will franchise him for approximately $13 million.

G Mike Iupati (San Francisco): Tagging Iupati would mean the 49ers would have to pay him approximately $13 million in 2015. That's way too much money so it's likely he'll be a free agent. I don't think he's someone the Jaguars would target unless they would be willing to move Brandon Linder, their best and most consistent lineman in 2014, to left guard and put Zane Beadles on the bench.

S Devin McCourty (New England): Free safety is another major need for the Jaguars but the Patriots are likely to franchise McCourty for a reasonable $10 million and then try to re-sign cornerback Darrelle Revis.

DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit): I don't think he's a player the Jaguars would target because of the huge salary he will demand. That money could be better spent on other high-need spots. The Lions have hinted that they could use the franchise tag on him, but his tag number would be $26.7 million, according to several reports.

WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver): The Broncos will likely have to choose between keeping Thomas or tight end Julius Thomas. Franchising Demaryius Thomas is the correct decision.

 
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A closer look at the areas the Jacksonville Jaguars could address in the draft. We’ll get started Monday with a look at the defensive ends, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The Jaguars dramatically improved their pass rush in 2014, recording 45 sacks -- which was just six sacks shy of the total the team posted in the 2012 and 2013 seasons combined. However, the Jaguars don’t have an elite rusher around which offenses must game plan. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks led the team with 8.5 sacks followed by DE Chris Clemons (8.0), but neither is a player that teams have to adjust protections for like teams do when facing Justin Houston and J.J. Watt.

Three players the Jaguars could target in the draft:

Leonard Williams (DE), USC: The Jaguars’ main pass-rushing spot is the Leo, which is essentially an end/linebacker hybrid. Williams (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) doesn’t fit that spot but he is a solid pass-rusher (20 sacks in three seasons at USC) and has very good athleticism, speed and quickness for someone his size. He also is versatile enough to play outside and inside and be equally effective. He’s very good against the run as well and setting the edge is a critical part of the outside spot he’d occupy with the Jags.

Randy Gregory (DE), Nebraska: Gregory is a fit at the Leo and has ideal size (6-6). He’s a bit raw but has great first-step quickness and good length and agility. He’s a bit light at 245 pounds and that could be a concern against NFL offensive tackles, but he more than held his own against the run in the Big Ten. He’s also one of those high-motor guys that never gives up on a play and will chase down plays from the backside and make the tackle. He had 17.5 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska.

Shane Ray (DE), Missouri: Ray is another fit at Leo, though his height (6-foot-2) is a bit of a concern. What isn’t, however, is his speed, quickness and athleticism. Analysts and scouts rave about his explosiveness off the ball and his quick feet and hands. He also runs plays down from the backside. He was a highly productive player in the SEC, recording 19 sacks, 16 quarterback pressures, five forced fumbles and 31.5 tackles for loss in the last two seasons.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s often impossible to know the long-term consequences of a decision at the moment it is made.

Bortles
 Sometimes, though, things work out. That’s what happened with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The team’s original plan was to keep Blake Bortles on the bench his entire rookie season while Chad Henne ran the offense. It would give Bortles time to fix some fundamental issues as well as learn what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. That plan fell apart in Week 3, when the offense was so putrid that coach Gus Bradley sent Bortles onto the field to begin the second half of what would turn out to be a 44-17 loss to Indianapolis.

Bortles never went back to the bench, and the experience turned out to be even more critical than anticipated after Bradley fired offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. Had Bortles not played in 14 games, then he would have been faced with going through the adjustment from a college quarterback to a pro quarterback while trying to learn a new offense for the second year in a row.

Bortles has already adjusted to the speed of the game, learned what he can and can’t get away with on the field, gone through the process of helping compile and edit a game plan and found out how much more physical the game is at this level. That puts him significantly ahead of where he would have been had the Jaguars kept him on the bench.

"Getting acclimated to the game, the speed of it and everything that goes into it on and off the field, it’s something that wasn’t so much of a surprise but was just a change," said Bortles, who threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. "It was different than in college, and that was something to get used to."

At the time Bradley made the decision to bench Henne, he was just trying to spark an offense that posted 18 drives of three or fewer plays (not counting the end of halves) in the first 10 quarters of the season. He had no idea he’d be firing Fisch and hiring a new offensive coordinator (Greg Olson) and quarterbacks coach (Nathaniel Hackett) roughly four months later.

"I thought it worked out really well for him," GM David Caldwell said. "… The experience that he’s going to draw from playing these 14 games is going to be great for him next year. He’s not going to be seeing things for the first time. Everything he sees is probably going to be for the second time, which is great."

That certainly doesn’t mean Bortles has everything figured out, but it does give him a slight advantage. Learning the new offense won’t be easy, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about going through all those other situations for the first time.

Senior Bowl wrap-up

January, 23, 2015
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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.
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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.

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