NFL Nation: Ace Sanders

Examining the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
General manager David Caldwell has said he likes to keep three quarterbacks, which means all three will have to be on the active roster, because Stanzi is ineligible for the practice squad. Stanzi should start the season as the No. 2 because he’s more ready to play than Bortles, but that will likely flip-flop at some point. Stephen Morris is a practice squad candidate.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

If the Jags elect to keep only four backs, Todman and Johnson likely would battle for the final spot. That is assuming Robinson continues to be very good in camp. He might end up getting more playing time than any of the other backs after Gerhart if he shows he can be a reliable pass-catcher. Johnson has to prove he can pass block and doesn’t have problems with ball security.

RECEVIERS (6)

The first four players should be locks, but it will be an interesting competition for the final two spots among Brown, Taylor, free-agent signee Tandon Doss, undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, and former practice-squad player Chad Bumphis. Doss missed most of the organized team activities and minicamp because of a calf injury, allowing Taylor, Bumphis and Hurns to get valuable reps. Doss was not a consistent receiver in his three seasons in Baltimore and has more value as a returner, but Sanders’ strength is as a punt returner and the Jags have other options at kickoff returner. I have Taylor narrowly beating out Hurns because of his experience, but I can easily see that being flipped if the Jags want to add more size. Hurns is 6-foot-3; Taylor is 6-0.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Jensen flashed during OTAs and gets the edge over three other players. He’s a big kid (6-6, 270) who is a raw version of Lewis, one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Jensen will need a year or two to develop and likely will be used as an extra blocker more than a pass-catcher.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Some of the battles for starting jobs along the line are going to be intriguing during camp. Joeckel and Beadles are safe, but every other spot is up for grabs. Even Pasztor, who started 12 games last season, is uncertain because we don’t know how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up during camp. If it’s fine, then he will win the starting job at right tackle. McClendon and Linder are battling for the right guard spot, and Brewster is going to have to hold off Bowanko and two others to be the starter at center. Bradfield has value because he can play both tackle spots.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

This should be the biggest upgraded position on the roster thanks to the additions of Clemons, Bryant and Hood. Despite public perception, Alualu isn’t on the bubble for two reasons: He played solidly last season, and there really isn’t anyone else on the roster as talented as he is to back up Bryant. The Jags are excited about Smith, who could end up playing more than Davis as the No. 3 LEO (hybrid end/linebacker) by the time the season is over.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Either John Lotulelei or J.T. Thomas, two key special teams players last season, could stick if the Jaguars decide to keep an extra linebacker instead of five cornerbacks, or if Hayes’ surgically repaired knee doesn’t respond well. Reynolds did a solid job subbing for Watson (groin) during OTAs and minicamp at the new OTTO position (replaces strongside linebacker).

CORNERBACKS (5)

The Jags will have to decide whether to keep fourth-year player Mike Harris or Jeremy Harris, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a back injury. The 6-2, 185-pound Jeremy Harris is a better fit for what coach Gus Bradley wants in his cornerbacks than the 5-10, 188-pound Mike Harris, who was a member of former GM Gene Smith’s final draft class. Blackmon has been working inside as well, which also makes Mike Harris expendable. Fourth-round draft pick Aaron Colvin will begin the season on the PUP list and doesn't count against the roster limit.

SAFETIES (4)
Chris Prosinski has seemingly been a bubble player since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, but there is too much competition for him to survive this time. Martin started 36 games for Carolina in his first five seasons, and that experience gives him the edge. Evans seems to be the name everyone mentions when talking about the first Caldwell draft pick to get cut, but though he might lose his starting job to Guy, he’s likely to stick around at least another year.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These guys should have little or no competition to make the roster.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- One of the expected battles of training camp has already started to play out for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first week of OTAs.

Seven players are fighting for two remaining spots at receiver behind Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. There are guys who were on the team last season, some practice squad guys, a veteran free-agent signing, and some undrafted free agents all trying to make the 53-man roster.

"That’s going to be a fierce competition throughout [the summer]," coach Gus Bradley said after Thursday’s OTA.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/John RaouxThe Jaguars' receivers, including Marqise Lee, have been competing hard during OTAs this week, coach Gus Bradley said.
Since this is the first week of OTAs, it’s still a pretty wide open race. It would be logical to assume that Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor and Tandon Doss have a bit of an advantage since Brown and Taylor were on the team last season and the Jaguars signed Doss to a two-year, $1.5 million contract in March.

Brown caught 32 passes for 446 yards and two touchdowns and Taylor caught 19 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown playing mainly near the end of the season because of the suspension of Justin Blackmon and Shorts’ season-ending sports hernia injury. Doss has only 26 receptions in his first three seasons with Baltimore but did lead the NFL in punt return average in 2013.

Special-teams play could be the deciding factor on which receivers the Jaguars keep, Bradley said.

"My challenge to our guys is -- especially like the fourth, fifth and sixth spots -- those guys have got to be really good special-teams players," Bradley said. "The competition you’re seeing really even takes place on special teams because they know how valuable that is, so there’s a number of guys in there that are really battling. A guy like Tandon Doss had a really good day [Wednesday], so you’re seeing each one of them really try to maximize their reps."

Bradley really lit up when talking about Brown, praising his work ethic and leadership. The former quarterback at Liberty missed four games after suffering a fractured vertebra in his back in the 2013 season opener but was impressive in his return. He was on the field for all but five of the Jaguars’ offensive snaps against Denver despite only having practiced minimally because of his injury. The following week he caught five passes for 120 yards, including a career-high 43-yarder.

"Mike Brown is really, really solid," Bradley said. "That’s what I would have said last year, but I feel like he’s stepped up his game because of the competition. He’s really taking command and you’re seeing him lead other guys at that position. That in itself tells me he has a better command of things, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Brown doesn’t worry about whether that gives him an edge over Doss and Taylor or any of the other players competing for the final two spots: 2013 practice squad players Chad Bumphis and Lamaar Thomas (who also played in two games) and undrafted rookie free- agents Allen Hurns and Damian Copeland.

"It’s the same thing every year," Brown said. "That’s one thing I love about this game. It’s all about competition. We’re all in here competing together, helping each other get better. Our focus is on being the best that we can be personally. Ultimately we don’t control the outcome of who’s here or who’s not, so there’s no use in even really thinking about it.

"You just go out there and you put your best foot forward and you get yourself to be the best that you can be and you kind of live with how it plays out. That’s the mindset you’ve got to take."

Brown, Taylor and Doss have gotten a lot of work during the first week of OTAs. The Jaguars have created what Bradley is calling an "opportunity period" specifically for the younger, less-experienced players to gain additional reps at the end of each workout. Hurns, Copeland and Bumphis have benefited from that extra work. Thomas had limited participation this week because of a knee injury.

There’s a long way to go before any kind of final decision and it will undoubtedly heat up during training camp, but the battle for those final receiver spots will be interesting to watch.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars begin organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday. While the players are only allowed to wear helmets and are restricted to six hours of work per day it marks the first time the veterans and rookies will be together, so it’s the first chance to get a glimpse at how the team may look in September.

Here are five things to ponder during the 10 OTAs and mandatory minicamp over the next four weeks:

Gerhart
The running back depth chart: Despite the Jaguars' confidence in Toby Gerhart, there is still some doubt among those outside the team over his ability to be a feature back. He has not done it since his days at Stanford, spending the past four seasons backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. The plan is around 20 touches per game, but if he’s not able to handle that workload or be productive, there are not a whole lot of options behind him. Second-year player Jordan Todman, who backed up Maurice Jones-Drew last season and ran for 109 yards in his only start of the season, is the only proven ball carrier behind Gerhart. Denard Robinson has to fix his ball security issues. Seventh-round pick Storm Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite, but he was taken that late for a reason. Moments after drafting him, coach Gus Bradley said Johnson really struggles in pass protection and he also has trouble holding onto the football. After Johnson, it’s undrafted rookies Beau Blankenship and Terrance Cobb.

Who’s No. 5-6? There are four locks to make the team at receiver: Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. After that, there’s a wide-open competition for the fifth and sixth spots between Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Chad Bumphis, Damian Copeland, Tandon Doss, Allen Hurns and Lamaar Thomas. Doss has more career catches (26) than any of the others, plus he’s got good size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds). However, his issue in Baltimore the past three seasons was running routes consistently and drops. He is a solid kick returner and that gives him an advantage over the others. Brown and Taylor were on the roster last season and have valuable experience in offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s system, but so does Hurns, a former Miami standout who played two seasons under Fisch as the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator.

Henne
Bortles vs. Henne: It’s not really a competition between first-round pick Blake Bortles and veteran Chad Henne at this point, but it will be interesting to see them throwing together. The thing to watch will be the 11-on-11, in which Henne should have a significant advantage. He is completely comfortable in the offense and therefore his throws should be quicker and more decisive. If Bortles looks comparable, that may be a clue the competition in training camp may start off closer than most anticipated.

Joeckel’s return: Luke Joeckel spent only about a quarter at left tackle before suffering a fractured ankle that kept him out for the rest of the 2013 season. He spent all of training camp and the first four weeks at right tackle, so this will essentially be his rookie season at left tackle. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich will at times put four leos on the field on third down, so it’ll be interesting to watch Joeckel match up against some of the pass-rushers. One matchup I’d like to see is Joeckel vs. rookie Chris Smith, who doesn't have prototypical leo size (he’s 6-1) but has long arms and is very quick off the line. The Jaguars want to see Joeckel play the way he did before getting injured against St. Louis when he pretty much stoned Robert Quinn, who went on to record 19 sacks last season.

Safety dance: Johnathan Cyprien is the starting strong safety. That’s set in stone. But the situation at free safety is less certain. Josh Evans (sixth round) and Winston Guy (waiver wire) shared the spot last season, but the Jaguars signed a pair of undrafted rookies -- Craig Loston and Jerome Junior -- to compete with Evans and Guy along with Chris Prosinski, Joe Young and Sherrod Martin. Evans really shouldn’t have been on the field as much as he was last season but was forced into action because of an injury to Dwight Lowery in Week 3. That experience should give him an advantage going into OTAs. This position battle will be one of the more interesting ones to watch throughout training camp and preseason.
Watkins/MackUSA TODAY SportsKhalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are two of the top prospects in next month's draft.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As the NFL draft draws closer, it appears that Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley aren’t going to get a shot at defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Whether Houston takes Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick or trades with Atlanta -- which seems to be the hot rumor this week -- the former South Carolina standout isn't going to be around when it's time for the Jaguars to make the third overall selection.

So the Jaguars could be left with a pretty tough choice: linebacker Khalil Mack or receiver Sammy Watkins.

A player with 28.5 career sacks and an NCAA-record 16 forced fumbles (Mack) or the most explosive offensive player in the draft who had nearly 1,500 yards receiving last season (Watkins).

For ESPN Insider and draft analyst Todd McShay, it’s not an easy choice. He went with Mack in his latest mock draft , but McShay can make just as strong an argument for Watkins.

"It's a coin flip," McShay said. "It really could go either way.

"I think you've got to have your defensive front and your offensive front taken care of and I think [taking Mack] would [do that]. To me, with two guys of equal grades that would be the difference-maker for me. I would want to have my fronts taken care of, but I would have no problem with Watkins."

What about quarterback? The Jaguars do have a need there because Chad Henne is not the long-term answer. But the consensus among NFL draft experts is that there are four elite players at the top of the draft and none of them are quarterbacks: Clowney, Mack, Watkins and offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Caldwell and Bradley have been adamant that whichever quarterback they draft will not play immediately so it makes little sense to take a quarterback with the No. 3 pick and put him on the bench.

The Jaguars need an immediate impact player and they're guaranteed to get one of the four elite players in the draft. They can add a quarterback in the second round, or later if they choose -- or even next season.

"If you go back to the way Seattle was built -- and I'm not saying that that's what they're necessarily trying to do specifically -- but when Russell Wilson came in they had the vast majority of the pieces of the puzzle figured out," McShay said. "In San Francisco when they brought in Colin Kaepernick they got all the fans pissed off and everyone was booing them when they took two first-round picks and spent them on offensive linemen, but they grinded through drafts and did the right things."

In McShay's view, taking Mack or Watkins is the right thing.

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Mack fits right into Bradley’s defense as a "leo," a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer. The Jaguars certainly need help there after finishing last in the league the past two seasons in sacks (20 in 2012 and 31 last season). But Mack also is athletic enough to drop into coverage and even play in the middle if needed.

"The versatility that he brings, the ability to play on the line, off the line, inside, outside, it makes them a lot more flexible," McShay said. "It would instantly upgrade their pass rush."

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Watkins, who caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, gives the Jaguars a big, physical outside target who also happens to be perhaps the most dangerous player in college football since Peter Warrick. He also runs a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.

The Jaguars certainly need a playmaker on offense, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Justin Blackmon's situation.

"You think you're going to have a young quarterback that you're trying to develop," McShay said. "Whether he’s going to be playing this year or not remains to be seen, depending on where they take him and what happens in training camp and all that, but regardless you think that next year this time we’ll be talking about a young quarterback for Jacksonville moving forward. To bring in a young receiver like Sammy Watkins, you’d like to have that, to grow old together, if you will.

"I like Cecil Shorts. I like what Ace Sanders did last year, the versatility with Denard Robinson and all that, but Sammy Watkins ends the debate or the concern."

We’ll find out what Caldwell and Bradley think on May 8.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It would be hard for the Jacksonville Jaguars to blow their first-round draft pick.

General manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have so much talent from which to choose at No. 3 that it would be hard to find fault with whatever decision they made. Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, or any of the three quarterbacks are all good options.

The same applies for the second round as well, especially if the Jaguars are going offense because Caldwell said this is a deep draft for offensive talent.

It's on the third day of the draft, however, where it gets a lot tougher. How the Jaguars perform in Rounds 4-7 will be the key to the success of the draft, Bradley said.

"I think that's where we really have to do well," Bradley said. "The first round, obviously, and the second round you have to do some things there. But this draft will be determined by how well we do in those rounds.

"Example: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, guys like that can make a big difference there. We focus on all areas, but that's an area that we've got to concentrate on, too."

Sherman (2011) and Chancellor (2010) were both fifth-round picks who developed into key members of the Seattle secondary. That's the kind of result for which the Jaguars are hoping for this year.

They've set themselves up with enough ammunition. Because of trades with Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco, the Jaguars have eight picks in rounds 4-7, including three in fifth round. That should increase their odds of finding at least one player who could develop into a starter.

In reality, though, they're fighting against tradition. Looking back over the past 10 years of fifth-round picks by every NFL team doesn't exactly reveal a lot of success. There are some familiar names -- Sherman, Chancellor, Riley Cooper, Chris Clemons (the defensive back), Rob Ninkovich, and Brent Celek, for example -- but the majority of the picks turned into marginal players at best or were out of the league within a year or two.

The Jaguars haven't had much success with players selected in rounds 4-7 over the past decade, either. They hit on three in 2004 -- receiver Ernest Wilford (fourth), kicker Josh Scobee (fifth) and defensive end Bobby McCray (seventh) -- but since then only five players taken in those round became significant contributors: safety Gerald Sensabaugh (fifth round in 2005), guard Uche Nwaneri (fifth round in 2007), running back Rashad Jennings (seventh round in 2009), receiver Mike Thomas (fourth round in 2009) and receiver Cecil Shorts (fourth round in 2011).

It's too early to tell if any of the players taken in rounds 4-7 the past two seasons will become significant contributors, but it appears the team hit on receiver Ace Sanders (fourth round in 2013).

Bradley said the Jaguars will try to find players in those rounds that fit a specific role. Sanders, for example, was drafted to be the team's punt returner. It's the same approach they used in free agency with linebacker Dekoda Watson, a special teams standout who played situationally on defense with Tampa Bay. The Jaguars project him as a strongside linebacker on first and second downs and a leo on third down.

"For us he was intriguing. We have a spot for him," Bradley said. "We know exactly where we want to play him. That's what can happen [in] the fifth, sixth round. Hey, we really like this guy. We have a spot that he can come in and do some good things."

Find enough of those guys on the third day and Bradley will consider the draft a success.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With more than $50 million in salary-cap space at the beginning of the month, the Jacksonville Jaguars had plenty of ammunition to go on a spending spree.

Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett and Aqib Talib were available. So were Alex Mack, Eric Decker and Jared Veldheer. The Jaguars had enough money to sign three or four of those players, and they certainly would have made the team significantly better in 2014 -- maybe even a playoff team.

But the Jaguars didn’t pursue any of them. General manager David Caldwell resisted the lure and signed seven second-level free agents to responsible, team-friendly contracts. He and coach Gus Bradley are adamant about not taking a shortcut in the second year of the franchise’s rebuild.

"We all know there’s expectations and we get that," Bradley said. "But I think for me it’s more the city of Jacksonville deserves an opportunity to be a part of something really good. I think [owner] Shad [Khan] deserves that and so does Dave. In order to do that, I think we have to be really strict and disciplined to go on our journey this way."

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDespite a 4-12 record, coach Gus Bradley said the Jaguars made significant strides in 2013.
Sometimes it’s hard not to stray, but being patient and building the franchise through the draft is what sold Khan on Caldwell and Bradley. He learned that was the best approach pretty quickly after purchasing the team in November 2011.

Khan listened to then-general manager Gene Smith and opened up his considerable pockets and splurged in his first free agency. The Jaguars signed receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract and cornerback Aaron Ross to a three-year deal worth up to $15.3 million. They also signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey to a four-year extension worth $20 million, including $9 million guaranteed.

They signed several other players, too, and Khan sat back and eagerly awaited the playoff appearance that Smith said would come because of those signings.

The Jaguars went 2-14.

"Certainly, I’ve learned my lesson," Khan said. "If you look at the teams that are successful, they’re going to be built through the draft and some missing pieces are going to be filled in through free agency. I think that is the formula for success."

Khan fired Smith and then-head coach Mike Mularkey after the season and hired Caldwell away from the Atlanta Falcons. Caldwell in turn hired Bradley away from the Seattle Seahawks and the two put together their plan to rebuild the franchise.

They signed 10 new free agents in March and April and hit big on four: linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, defensive tackle Roy Miller, and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks. None were in high demand and the most expensive was Miller, who signed a two-year deal worth $4.5 million. The four combined to start 59 of a possible 64 games.

Among the team’s eight draft picks were offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz and receiver Ace Sanders. All four started as rookies and showed they are foundation pieces moving forward.

Despite those additions, the Jaguars went 4-12 and started the season by losing their first eight games by double digits. Yet Bradley said the 2013 season was important because it helped establish the culture and the standards by which the team operates.

"We had valuable, valuable lessons that we could teach our team," Bradley said. "We talked about not getting consumed in defeats. We talked about not reveling in accomplishments. All these conversations came up -- celebrating victories, getting better for everybody, being unselfish, learning trust, all these things came up in our conversations last year, and I loved every aspect of that.

"If my sole focus was on winning or losing, I would have missed all that, and we would have missed all those lessons for our team."

It was evident the roster in 2013 was even less talented than anticipated, which produced the temptation to try and speed the process along by splurging in free agency this March. Caldwell and Bradley didn’t waver even though they know expectations are bigger in their second season and they’ll be bigger in 2015 and 2016, as well.

Short-term rewards are not more valuable than long-term success.

"We want to have a consistent winning team moving forward," Khan said. "I think with this rebuilding over and over again is brutal for the fans. I mean, it’s brutal if you have anything to do with it. Just think about it. There are maybe a dozen teams that are always in contention that always manage to be competitive.

"Our goal is we consistently we want to be there."
ORLANDO -- Fourteen Jacksonville Jaguars received performance-based incentives of more than $100,000, led by rookie safety Josh Evans.

Evans, a sixth-round pick out of Florida in 2013, was thrust into a starting role because Dwight Lowery sustained a concussion in a Week 3 loss to Seattle. Evans was expected to spend the season in a reserve role but instead ended up playing 653 of a possible 1,016 snaps (64.3 percent). That additional playing time earned him $181,381.06 to bring his total compensation for 2013 to $437,205.

Performance-based pay compensates players whose playing time was much higher than what their salary would have paid. Players whose base salaries are very low -- which is usually low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents –--stand to earn the most money under the program.

In addition to Evans, the following players earned more than $100,000: offensive tackle Austin Pasztor ($175,996.58), offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield ($155,588.53), receiver Mike Brown ($142,384.82), cornerback Will Blackmon ($134,617,61), cornerback Alan Ball ($129,120.82), receiver Ace Sanders ($127,592.32), safety Winston Guy ($112,796.88), cornerback Mike Harris ($110,352.63), fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou ($108,097.31), safety Johnathan Cyprien ($108,018.59), receiver Cecil Shorts ($104,795.99), cornerback Demetrius McCray ($104,681.44) and tight end Clay Harbor ($102,227.69).

On the other end of the spectrum was running back Delone Carter, who received $182.17.

Jaguars players received a total of $3.46 million in performance-based pay, which is the league limit for each team. However, the players will not be paid until April 1, 2016.

Free-agency series: Wide receivers

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
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Here is the third of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Wide receivers

Who’s on the roster: Justin Blackmon, Mike Brown, Chad Bumphis, Jeremy Ebert, Stephen Burton, Taylor Price, Denard Robinson, Jabin Sambrano, Ace Sanders, Cecil Shorts, Kerry Taylor, Lamaar Thomas and Stephen Williams.

Blackmon
Blackmon
Analysis: This position group is solid provided Blackmon is on the field. However, nobody knows when, or if, he’ll get back on the field. He is eligible to apply for reinstatement from his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy just before the 2014 season begins. Even if he’s reinstated, there’s no guarantee he’ll avoid another suspension. He is clearly the Jaguars’ best receiver, catching 29 passes for 415 yards in the four games in which he played in 2013. Shorts has played well the past two seasons (121 catches for 1,756 yards), though he has missed five games because of injuries and missed the final three games of this past season and went on IR with a sports hernia. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, though, and had some trouble when he was thrust into that role when Blackmon was suspended. Taylor came on at the end of the season and is intriguing as a No. 4/5 receiver. Brown and Sanders, who caught 51 passes last season as a rookie, are dependable slot receivers. In addition to Shorts, Burton, Ebert, Price and Williams finished the season on injured reserve. Bumphis and Sambrano are on the practice squad. Price’s contract expires next month and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

NFL free agents of interest: Hakeem Nicks, Eric Decker, Riley Cooper, Brandon Tate and Golden Tate.

Need meter: 5. The Jaguars could get by without adding a receiver in free agency, because it’s likely they’ll draft at least one. The position group needs an upgrade at the top end, but to get a big-time player the Jaguars will have to spend big-time money, and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll do that on a receiver. Regardless of whether it’s a free agent or a draft pick, it’s likely to be a bigger, more physical receiver, because that’s one thing the Jaguars lack. Burton (6-foot-1, 224 pounds) fits the description, but has just 15 catches in three seasons and battled a concussion much of last season.
With the NFL combine starting Wednesday, here's a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars' positions of need on offense and which prospects the team might be looking to take a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance. A look at the defense comes Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch and interview prospects at the NFL combine.

Here's a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on offense and some potential targets:

Quarterback: There's no question this is the Jaguars' top need, although pass-rusher is only slightly behind. Caldwell wants to re-sign Chad Henne before free agency begins next month, but Henne is a bridge player or someone who can mentor a young quarterback and begin the season as the starter if the rookie isn't ready. The Jaguars haven't completely given up on Blaine Gabbert, either, but he's entering the final year of his contract and it would be surprising if he were re-signed after 2014.

Potential targets: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray.

Interior offensive line: The Jaguars have to find a center to replace the retired Brad Meester and a left guard to upgrade from Will Rackley. The Jaguars will address this area in free agency as well but the team also wants to add some young talent. The Jaguars appear set at both tackles (Luke Joeckel and Austin Pasztor) and right guard Uche Nwaneri has two more years remaining on his contract. He's scheduled to make $4.775 million in each year, though, and could be a cap casualty after 2014. Mike Brewster and Jacques McClendon can play guard and center but neither appears, now anyway, to be the long-term answer. It wouldn't be surprising if the team took an interior offensive lineman in the third round, especially if the Jaguars took a quarterback earlier.

Potential targets: G Gabe Jackson, G David Yankey, G Brandon Thomas, C Marcus Martin, C Weston Richburg, C Russell Bodine.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Stephen Morton/AP PhotoThe Jaguars need to find a feature back in the event they do not re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew.
Running back: The Jaguars are more than likely going to lose Maurice Jones-Drew in free agency, which leaves them with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Delone Carter, and Justin Forsett on the roster. Forsett is likely going to be cut, but even if he's retained none of those players is a feature back. The Jaguars don't need to invest a high pick at this spot because good backs can be found in the later middle rounds.

Potential targets: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason, Lache Seastrunk, Dri Archer, Andre Williams.

Receiver: The Jaguars aren't planning on getting anything from Justin Blackmon in 2014 because they don't yet know his status, which is the correct way to approach his situation. Cecil Shorts is entering a contract year but has yet to stay healthy for a full season. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Lamar Thomas, and Stephen Burton are complementary players. The Jaguars need to find a bigger, physical receiver. If they do that in free agency, this area drops to the bottom of the offensive needs list.

Potential targets: Josh Huff, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams.

Tight end: Marcedes Lewis came on strong at the end of the season and he should be a 50-catch player in Jedd Fisch's offense if he stays healthy. After Lewis, though, there isn't much. Clay Harbor is a flex tight end but he's a free agent and the Jaguars will have to decide if they want to re-sign him. Danny Noble is raw and needs more work. The Jaguars want a bigger tight end who can line up next to Lewis in two-tight-end formations.

Potential targets: Marcel Jensen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Crockett Gilmore, Jake Murphy.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 29
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

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

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

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

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

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s obvious that the Jacksonville Jaguars made significant progress in the second half of the 2013 season.

But it is just as obvious that they still have a long way to go to be competitive in the AFC South.

It was painfully evident in Sunday’s 30-10 loss at Indianapolis. The Jaguars were not dominated as much as they were in a 37-3 loss to the Colts in Jacksonville in Week 4, but it was ugly, especially early. They were down 17-0 and the game was essentially over after the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/AJ MastMaurice Jones-Drew fumbled on the Jaguars' first drive, setting up Indianapolis for a touchdown.
"I just didn’t think that we executed very well today," coach Gus Bradley said. "We missed some opportunities, we missed some reads, we missed some wild combinations, we missed tackles, some assignments. I don’t want to make it sound like it was just a complete disaster. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t up to our standard. It wasn’t the consistency that we’re looking for."

It’s going to take a lot more than just another draft and a couple of free-agent signings before they can compete with the Colts, who are clearly the class of the division. Granted, the Jaguars have been banged-up in the final month -- especially on defense, where they were without four starters -- but so are the Colts. They were missing 15 players who were placed on IR this season, including receiver Reggie Wayne. That means injuries cannot be used to explain away Sunday’s rout.

Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and Bradley have gotten off to a good start in revamping the roster, but there are still major holes to fill. There are some building blocks in place on defense, especially in the secondary with safety Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz. Defensive tackles Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny give the Jaguars a solid foundation up the middle, too. But the Jaguars have to add a pass-rusher, find another cornerback and get help at outside linebacker.

It’s on offense where more work needs to be done, though. Rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel showed promise before he suffered a fractured ankle in Week 5 and was lost for the season, but he still has to prove himself capable of being an elite player. The staff likes right tackle Austin Pasztor, but is he the answer there?

The interior of the offensive line needs an upgrade, too, especially at center now that Brad Meester has retired.

But it’s at the skill positions where the Jaguars really need work, starting at quarterback. Chad Henne had a solid season as a starter, and his 331 yards passing against the Colts made him the first Jaguars quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards since David Garrard in 2009. Henne’s a caretaker, not a franchise quarterback, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back next year anyway because he’s an unrestricted free agent. Even if he re-signs, the Jaguars have to address that position in the draft.

The situation at running back also is unclear because of Maurice Jones-Drew’s situation. His contract is set to expire, and while he says he wants to return, it’s likely that he wants to test the free-agent market to see what kind of offers he can generate. Jordan Todman has proven capable of being a complementary back but not a feature back.

The Jaguars have a solid No. 2 receiver in Cecil Shorts, who missed the last three games because of a groin injury, but no No. 1 with Justin Blackmon suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Kerry Taylor (eight catches, 75 yards, one TD against the Colts) are complementary pieces.

The Jaguars need to find a big-play -- and big -- receiver. Only one receiver who has a catch this season is taller than 6-foot, and he’s now on IR (the 6-1 Stephen Burton).

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the task ahead shouldn’t overshadow the work that has already been done. The Jaguars (4-12) are a better team now than they were in September, especially when it comes to the culture in the locker room and around the facility.

"There was growth," Bradley said. "I feel like we competed the whole way through. Sometimes you have those days where it doesn’t go exactly how you had hoped, and we’ll learn from it. I asked the team to reflect on everything that we had done this year, and I think some tremendous growth has taken place. I give credit to our team and that our whole objective was to create a new standard, a new standard of excellence and they helped in that, what’s acceptable.

"We’ll take this season, we’ll grow from it and we’ll add to it."

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's next: The Jaguars end the 2013 season at Indianapolis on Sunday.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It appears that receiver Cecil Shorts has played his last snap this season.

Coach Gus Bradley said Monday afternoon that he and general manager David Caldwell are considering shutting down the third-year receiver for the final two weeks of the season because of a groin injury that isn’t healing.

Bradley said the three will meet to discuss the situation and it will be a day or two before a final determination is made, but all indications are that Shorts’ season is done.

"I think we have more concern with the injury now, and that’s what Dave and I and Cecil will talk about," Bradley said. "When he talks to us as coaches and really what he’s feeling, I think we’re starting to figure out he’s such a strong competitor, he wants to play and he wants to do it, but I think the longer we’re around him you can sense maybe when it’s really bothering him, and I think he’s at that point right now."

[+] EnlargeCecil Shorts
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCecil Shorts has battled a groin injury this season, and is expecting to have offseason surgery.
It’s clearly the right move. The Jaguars (4-10) aren’t in a playoff chase, and sitting Shorts will give the coaching staff a better chance to evaluate receivers Mike Brown, Ace Sanders, Jeremy Ebert, and Kerry Taylor. It also will give Shorts a head start on his recovery. He said last week that the injury would require offseason surgery, which he could have now instead of next month.

Shorts said he didn’t want to reveal too much about his condition or status, but admitted that not playing again this season is the wisest choice.

"We have an idea what we’re going to do," Shorts said. "I just don’t want to speak on it right now, but that’s probably the best thing for it, honestly."

Shorts has been battling a groin injury for much of the season, and has managed it by not practicing on Wednesdays and being limited on Thursdays. That schedule was thrown off when the Jaguars played Houston on Thursday, Dec. 5, and that wasn't sufficient time to rest his groin from the previous Sunday's game against Cleveland.

He practiced on a limited basis on Friday and said he knew then that he wouldn’t be able to play in Sunday’s game against Buffalo, which the Jaguars lost 27-20.

"It wasn’t good Friday," Shorts said. "I think I lasted four or five plays. I didn’t feel any power or explosiveness in there. It was very tough to do anything, and there was a lot of pain, a whole lot of pain."

Shorts leads the Jaguars in receptions (66) and receiving yards (777) but he’s not going to have a chance to reach the coveted 1,000-yard mark. He fell 21 yards shy last season. Not playing, though, is what’s bothering him the most, but he’s not going to dwell on that.

"It’s frustrating, but me being frustrated and down and everything is not going to change anything, so I might as well stay upbeat and just be there for the team however way I can," Shorts said. "If that’s competing on the sideline or whatever I have to do so I can stay in the game, that’s it. So it is frustrating, but you’re not going to see me down. Coach Gus talked to me last week about 'it’s okay to be frustrated, but you can’t be down about it. Eventually rise from it and get back positive,' and that’s what I’m trying to do, stay positive."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Speed and quickness are what got Ace Sanders drafted.

It's his intelligence that's getting him on the field.

The Jaguars have had Sanders line up outside, in the slot, and in the backfield. That's a tough spot for any receiver, but for a rookie to handle the multiple roles and become a key part of the offense is remarkable.

"He really did better early than I thought he would do for the type of situation he was in," receivers coach Jerry Sullivan said. "Then there was a lull in there where nothing much was happening for him and then all of a sudden we began incorporating him a little bit more and he began to respond. The game slowed down a little bit for him now."

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Ace Sanders
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesRookie receiver Ace Sanders has 23 catches for 215 yards in his past four games.
It's not easy for rookie receivers to make an impact in the NFL. But to do it at multiple spots is a testament to Sanders' football IQ. Rookies have to learn to read keys to identify coverages before the snap and adjust routes accordingly and learn the proper technique to run routes correctly and consistently. Now add shifts and motion, beating press coverage, and figuring out who to block if it's a running play or screen (which depends on the coverage).

That's just for, say, the slot receiver, which is Sanders' natural position and where he spent most of preseason. He also had to do that for playing outside, which he was forced to do because Justin Blackmon was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

That's a lot of work for someone who was only expected to return punts this season.

But Sanders handled it pretty well. He caught 14 passes for 162 yards in the first four weeks of the season, an average of 11.6 yards per catch.

When Blackmon returned, Sanders went back to the slot, but he has played inside and outside after Blackmon was suspended indefinitely for another violation of the substance abuse policy. Blackmon's return coincided with a mini-slump as Sanders adjusted to being back in the slot again. He caught just two passes for 20 yards in four games and missed a game with a concussion.

In his last four games, though, Sanders has 23 catches for 215 yards.

"I feel way more comfortable," Sanders said. "I'd be in my second season if this was still college, so definitely have had some time to get used to the game speed and I'm just finally starting to find my way."

That lull in which he wasn't doing much was actually beneficial, Sanders said. It helped him reflect and refocus after a hectic first half of the season.

"I actually hit my rookie wall a little earlier than most people just because with us being down players early in the season I had to do more stuff than expected," Sanders said. "I just had to realize that you're going to be a big part of this team. You're going to have to help. You've got to buckle down and really get in your playbook and just figure out a way to make it work."

He is a big part of the team. In addition to his 39 catches (second only to Cecil Shorts' 66) for 397 yards, Sanders has carried the ball twice after lining up in the backfield, and he threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Todman on a trick play against Houston last week.

Next year he may be an even bigger part, Sullivan said.

"Going into next year he'll be much more experience in terms of the multiplicity [of playing different positions]," Sullivan said. "The only thing that's not fast in the NFL is the commercials. Everything else is fast. Fast timeouts, and the speed of the game in pro football is fast. That's a transition not a lot of young guys [can handle]."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew knew he’d been topped, so he didn’t try to deny it.

Jones-Drew
His touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis against the Cleveland Browns was nice and a nifty little trick play, but it was topped by receiver Ace Sanders' 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman in Thursday night’s 27-20 victory over Houston.

"He threw a strike," Jones-Drew said. "It was unbelievable."

Sanders took a lateral from quarterback Chad Henne, took a few steps to his right, and lofted a pass to Todman, who had snuck out of the backfield and was wide open. The ball hung up in the air long enough for Texans safety D.J. Swearinger to make a run at Todman and hit him, but Todman made the catch just before contact and held on.

Sanders
What also impressed Jones-Drew was the fact Sanders threw a perfect spiral despite wearing gloves. His pass to Lewis against the Browns -- which traveled 8 yards -- was a lot more wobbly.

"Todman made a tremendous catch," Jones-Drew said. "I don't think Marcedes had to do too much because I tried to put it right on his facemask. It was a bad throw. It got there, but it wasn’t sharp.

"Ace had a nice, tight spiral to it and Todman made a great play."

The Jaguars now have two touchdown passes thrown by non-quarterbacks this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 31 other teams in the NFL have combined to throw three.

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