NFL Nation: Dwayne Gratz

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There are no surprises among the players that the Steelers have deactivated for their 1 p.m. ET game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant and nose tackle Daniel McCullers are among the seven players who won’t dress today, joining injured players such as linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) on the Steelers’ inactive list.

Also not dressing for the Steelers are guard Chris Hubbard, quarterback Landry Jones and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson.

Bryant, McCullers, Johnson and Jones have yet to dress for a game this season.

The Steelers will be wearing black today at EverBank Stadium as the Jaguars try to take advantage of the heat and wear their white jerseys.

It is a spectacular day here in north Florida and the Jaguars will try to collect their first win of the season without several starters.

Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) and cornerback Dwayne Gratz (concussion) won’t play for Jacksonville, which is trying to break a 16-game losing streak in September and October.
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. -- With quarterback Blake Bortles signing his contract Wednesday morning, the Jacksonville Jaguars need only to sign second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson to get all the pieces in place.

For the 2015 season.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
John Raoux/AP PhotoCoach Gus Bradley and Jaguars management have been working on a plan to fortify the team's depth for not only 2014, but also 2015 and beyond.
The Jaguars are clearly targeting 2015 as the season the team makes significant strides and competes for a playoff spot. It will be coach Gus Bradley's third season, the culture will be well established, and the talent level should be miles better than it was when Bradley and general manager David Caldwell took over in January 2013.

The offensive and defensive systems will be entrenched and Bradley, a former defensive coordinator, will have had three years to find players who fit his scheme.

This doesn’t mean the Jaguars view 2014 as a wasted season. That wouldn’t be accurate. The moves Caldwell made in free agency -- particularly signing guard Zane Beadles, defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, linebacker Dekoda Watson and running back Toby Gerhart -- immediately make the Jaguars a much better team in 2014.

The defense should be better and will keep the Jaguars in more games and quarterback Chad Henne should be more comfortable in the offense, which should yield more than four victories.

But everything points toward 2015.

Caldwell and Bradley have named Henne the starter for '14 and have said they don’t want Bortles to be on the field. They want him to learn and develop without having the pressure to win games so he'll be ready to take over as the starter, most likely in 2015.

Lee and Robinson will get extended playing time in 2014, but it’s rare for receivers to make any significant impact as rookies. Ace Sanders did in 2013, catching 51 passes, and Justin Blackmon did in 2012, but they are the exception rather than the rule. After a year of seasoning, Lee and Robinson should become major parts of the offense, along with Bortles, in 2015.

Caldwell’s selection of cornerback Aaron Colvin in the fourth round is clearly a move that was made with 2015 in mind. Colvin suffered a torn ACL during Senior Bowl week and will begin this season on the physically unable to perform list. It's unlikely he’ll get on the field in anything but a special-teams capacity and that won’t come until the final third of the season. Colvin was a high-round talent who fell because of his injury, and he could turn out to be one of the steals of the 2014 draft, especially if he becomes the starter opposite Dwayne Gratz -- but that shrewd move won’t pay off for another year.

Linebacker Telvin Smith, one of the Jaguars' fifth-round picks, is an intriguing player because of his length and speed. However, he weighs only 218 pounds and while that was OK as a player in the ACC, he has to add weight in order to hold up to the rigors of the NFL. He'll get playing time in 2014 but he’ll benefit from a year in the Jaguars’ weight program and should be ready for a much bigger role in 2015, possibly as a replacement for weakside linebacker Geno Hayes.

The Jaguars aren't giving up on 2014, but they’re preparing to make big strides a year later.
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A wrap-up of the Jacksonville Jaguars' draft. Click here for a full list of Jaguars draftees.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonThe Jacksonville Jaguars added much-needed depth at the receiver position, drafting Marqise Lee in the second round.
Best move: Wide receiver is one of the Jaguars' biggest needs because of the uncertainty surrounding Justin Blackmon. They quickly snatched up Southern California's Marqise Lee when it came time for the Jaguars' first pick in the second round (39th overall). Lee is a first-round talent who slipped because his production dipped significantly in 2013 because of an early-season knee injury and inconsistent quarterback play. He's a big-play receiver (29 career touchdown catches) with good speed and elusiveness, but he also worked the middle of the field at USC. After Blackmon was lost for the second half of the season, the Jaguars had only Cecil Shorts as an outside playmaker and he was bothered by a sports hernia over the final month. Lee was one of the most dangerous players in the country as a sophomore in 2012, catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Riskiest move: Taking a quarterback high in the first round is always a risk unless you're able to nab a sure thing such as Andrew Luck, so the Jaguars' selection of Central Florida's Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick qualifies. He has ideal size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds), a strong arm and good athleticism and mobility, but he needs seasoning and time to develop. The Jaguars' plan isn't to put him on the field in 2014 but instead have him ready for 2015. There's no guarantee that he will be ready, however, or if he can be the elite quarterback the Jaguars desperately need. Missing on Blaine Gabbert in 2011 hurt the franchise for years. Bortles is the make-or-break pick for the David Caldwell/Gus Bradley regime.

Most surprising move: Considering the Jaguars are dealing with a player who has violated the league's substance-abuse policy multiple times (Blackmon), it was interesting that they drafted linebacker Telvin Smith in the fifth round (144th overall) because he failed a drug test at the NFL combine. Smith was forthcoming about the incident, calling it a dumb mistake and saying he told Bradley and Caldwell that he had learned his lesson and it won't happen again. Caldwell said they examined Smith's background pretty intensely and told him this is his opportunity to make up for his mistake. Smith is an intriguing prospect because he fit as a nickel linebacker as someone who can cover backs and tight ends. He needs to get bigger -- he's only 218 pounds at 6-foot-3 -- but he significantly upgrades the speed on defense.

File it away: Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin suffered a torn right ACL on the second day of Senior Bowl practices, but the little time he was on the field was enough to intrigue the Jaguars, who coached the South team, and they took him in the fourth round (114th overall). However, he's probably not going to be cleared for full contact until later in training camp and will begin the season on the PUP list. Caldwell said he's planning on Colvin getting on the field in the second half of the season, though how much depends on his grasp of the defense. He fits the Jaguars' profile for defensive backs (6-0, 192), although his arms are a bit shorter than they'd like (31 inches). He should be the eventual starter opposite Dwayne Gratz, most likely in 2015 because Alan Ball's contract expires following the 2014 season.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: If the Jaguars are going to get off to a good start in 2014, they’ll have to do it against some pretty tough competition. They play three of their first four games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including two on the road (Philadelphia to open the season on Sept. 7 and San Diego three weeks later). In fact, the Jaguars play five games against four teams (Indianapolis twice) that made the playoffs last season and four of those games come within the season’s first nine games. In addition to Philadelphia and San Diego, the Jaguars play host to Indianapolis on Sept. 21 (home opener) and play at Cincinnati on Nov. 2. If the Jaguars are going to challenge the .500 mark this season, they can’t afford to play like they did in the first half of the 2013 season when they lost all eight games by double digits.

Complaint department: The Jaguars have just one home game in the season’s first month and play four of their first six games on the road for the second consecutive season. It’s not as bad as it was in 2013, when they played at Oakland and Seattle in Weeks 2-3, but it still robs the team of gaining a little momentum from an attendance boost because of the new scoreboards and amenities at EverBank Field. There’s also a stretch in which the Jaguars don’t play a game at EverBank for nearly a month because of the annual Florida-Georgia game, the game against Dallas in London, a bye week and the Great Jacksonville Agricultural Fair.

Secondary concerns: We’ll quickly get a chance to see how much cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien have improved in their second season and whether the pass rush is any better. The Jaguars start the season by facing a run of pretty darn good quarterbacks in the season’s first five games: Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. The Jaguars finished the 2013 season tied for 25th in pass defense (247.6 yards per game) and tied for last in sacks (31). The addition of defensive end Chris Clemons and linebacker Dekoda Watson, plus a potential high draft pick, should improve the rush.

Strength of schedule: 29th, .453 | Vegas over/under : 4.5

Jaguars Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Dallas, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 18, Tennessee, 8:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Houston, 1 p.m.
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."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars re-signing cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year deal may fly under the radar nationally, but it’s a key move that the team needed to make.

The 29-year-old Blackmon had the best season of his career in 2013, playing in 15 games (eight starts) and making 40 tackles with one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery after signing a one-year contract with the Jaguars days before the final preseason game.

Blackmon
Blackmon
But it’s more than what he did on the field that makes him valuable. Coach Gus Bradley consistently praised Blackmon for his leadership in the meeting room and presence in the locker room. That’s important because seven of the 10 defensive backs on the roster have two or fewer years of experience.

Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray were rookies in 2013. So were safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien. Cornerbacks Mike Harris and Jamell Fleming and safety Winston Guy are entering their third seasons. Safety Chris Prosinski is entering his fourth.

Blackmon is entering his eighth season and cornerback Alan Ball, who signed last March, is entering his seventh.

Blackmon helped Gratz handle missing five games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener. Evans was forced to play much more than anticipated after a concussion to Dwight Lowery and Blackmon helped him learn on the fly.

Blackmon may end up not being on the field as much in 2014, especially if the Jaguars sign cornerback Walter Thurmond, but it’s still a valuable signing.
Here is the ninth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Cornerback

Blackmon
Who’s on the roster: Alan Ball, Will Blackmon, Jamell Fleming, Dwayne Gratz, Mike Harris and Demetrius McCray.

Analysis: The Jaguars are pretty solid at this spot, especially if the team re-signs Blackmon, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next week. Ball was signed as a free agent last year, and were it not for the play of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks would have been tabbed as GM David Caldwell’s best signing. Ball started 15 games, led the team with 14 pass breakups, and intercepted two passes. Gratz, the team’s third-round pick, missed six games with ankle injuries, but started eight games and showed development despite the injuries. Blackmon was signed just before the final preseason game and worked as a punt returner and started eight games. Harris worked as a fifth defensive back and provided solid depth. The group’s biggest issue was it didn’t make many big plays and had several instances, notably against Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, where it gave up game-changing plays.

NFL free agents of interest: Sam Shields, Walter Thurmond and Javier Arenas.

Need meter: 3. The Jaguars don’t have to address cornerback in free agency or in the draft because they have more pressing needs elsewhere on defense, notably pass-rusher and outside linebacker. If Gratz remains healthy and Blackmon is re-signed, the duo can combine with Ball to give the Jaguars three solid options. If one of the better corners remains unsigned later in free agency the Jaguars might get involved, especially if the price is reasonable.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan created a bit of a stir among fans when he said it’s no mystery that the team would draft a quarterback in May -- and possibly even two.

Notably absent from his comments, however, was the phrase "in the first round."

The Jaguars have the No. 3 overall selection and will have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles. For months I’ve been on the Bridgewater bandwagon. I believe he’s the most polished, NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Manziel wouldn’t be a bad option either because he’s such a dynamic player and will certainly make the Jaguars instantly relevant nationally.

The Jaguars, though, should pass on a quarterback with their first-round pick. They should do the same in the second round, too.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney, Dak Prescott
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesUsing the No. 3 overall pick on an elite defender like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, 7, could appeal to Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley.
That certainly won’t be a popular opinion among fans, who desperately want the team to move on from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. But it’s the best decision for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley as they continue their rebuild of the franchise. Fix and bolster the defense first, especially the pass rush and the secondary, then make quarterback a priority.

Two reasons:

Defense is more important to winning championships than most people realize.

Young, inexperienced quarterbacks, provided they have the pieces in place around them, can make it to and win Super Bowls.

Seattle won the Super Bowl last Sunday because of its stifling defense, which led the NFL in yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed and scoring, and finished tied for seventh in rushing yards allowed. The Seahawks absolutely throttled Denver’s record-setting offense and badgered Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in a 43-8 victory.

But don’t believe that what the Seahawks did signifies a changing philosophy or the start of a new trend in the NFL in which defense -- and not elite quarterbacks -- win championships. Defense has been winning Super Bowls for years, but people overlook that because of the elite quarterbacks.

Six of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had a defense that ranked in the top 11 in the NFL in three of the four major statistical categories (total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense): Seattle, Green Bay (2011), Pittsburgh (2009, 2006), New York Giants (2008), and New England (2005). Each of those teams -- with the exception of the Seahawks because it’s too early to tell how good Russell Wilson will be -- also had elite quarterbacks.

The Green Bay team that thrived on Aaron Rodgers' right arm? The Packers' defense ranked second in scoring and fifth in passing and total defense. Pittsburgh’s 2009 Super Bowl title team led the league in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

The last time New England won the Super Bowl was 2005. That was Tom Brady's third title in four years, but the Patriots' defense was one of the league’s best that season, ranking second in scoring, sixth in rushing and ninth in total defense.

The four other Super Bowl champs of the past decade won because of their quarterbacks (Baltimore in 2013, New York Giants in 2012, New Orleans in 2010 and Indianapolis in 2007), but the Giants wouldn't have won without their pass rush, and the Saints might not have won without cornerback Tracy Porter's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown.

The Jaguars’ defense has some solid building blocks -- tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, linebacker Paul Posluszny, safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz -- but Caldwell and Bradley need to bolster the pass rush, get more depth on the defensive line and add help at outside linebacker. They should address those areas in the first two rounds, especially if they can nab defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 3 pick.

Bradley is surely in favor of taking that approach. It’s the way Seattle did it during his four years as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, and we just saw how well it worked. The team was built around its defense, and everything was in place for a Super Bowl run once Wilson was added to the mix.

Wilson is clearly not an elite quarterback right now. He wasn’t even in the Seahawks’ plans two years ago when they drafted him in the third round, because Pete Carroll had traded for Matt Flynn in the offseason and gave Flynn the starting job. Wilson beat out Flynn and has played solid but not spectacular football, winning a Super Bowl ring in his second season.

More proof that young quarterbacks aren’t a hindrance to success: Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in his second season in the league; Andrew Luck has led Indianapolis to the playoffs in his first two seasons; Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie; and Brady won a Super Bowl in his first season as a starter, which was his second season in the NFL.

Taking a quarterback with the No. 3 pick won’t guarantee that the Jaguars will be ready for a playoff run in 2014 or 2015, especially if, as some inside the building believe, none of the quarterbacks available in this draft are ready to contribute right away. There is no guarantee that Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles will turn out to be a better quarterback than Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger or Jimmy Garoppolo, anyway, and those latter three are players the Jaguars could land in the third round or later.

The Jaguars need immediate impact players, which is why taking Clowney or another elite pass-rusher in the first two rounds is the better -- albeit not popular -- option.

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.

Jaguars' thin defense wears down

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
7:50
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were already banged up on defense before Sunday's meeting with the Tennessee Titans.

It got even worse during the game.

The Jaguars ended up being down five starters and it really showed up in the run defense. Tennessee ran for 182 yards and rallied from a 10-point deficit to down Jacksonville 20-16 at EverBank Field. It was the Jaguars’ third-worst performance of the season behind the 226 they allowed to Oakland in Week 2 and the 198 they allowed last week to Buffalo.

"We had some things we had to clean up, some things maybe that we counted on in the past due to some new personnel in there," coach Gus Bradley said. "We just had to tighten it up a little bit and it was hit and miss. There were some inconsistencies."

That’s to be expected with that many players playing different roles. The Jaguars didn’t have outside linebackers Russell Allen (concussion) and Geno Smith (knee) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder). That meant rookie John Lotulelei and third-year player J.T. Thomas -- mainly special teams players -- had to start at linebacker.

Brandon Deaderick, who had been inactive for the last two games, started for Miller. By the second half, Deaderick was out with an elbow injury and Jordan Miller, who was just activated from the practice squad this week, was getting snaps.

Cornerback Dwayne Gratz had to leave the game with an ankle injury but the Jaguars are much better equipped to handle an injury in the secondary than in the front seven.

The lack of depth really showed in the second half. The Titans ran for 68 yards in the first half but ran for 58 on their second drive in the third quarter. They had 114 yards rushing in the second half. The Jaguars were especially hurt up the middle, which was a byproduct of a worn-down defensive front that had just three healthy defensive tackles: Miller, Deaderick and Sen'Derrick Marks.

"We had some new guys step in but those guys, they’ve been here and they’ve practiced with us so it’s no blame on them for giving up plays," defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said. "We gave up some plays and we weren’t as sound as we usually have been. Our thing is if a guy goes down we’ve got to have another guy to step in and make sure them we surround them and make sure he does what he’s supposed to do."

The Titans put together two long drives in the third quarter that lasted 11 and nine plays and resulted in touchdowns. The Titans ran the ball on 14 of those 20 plays, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 3-yard scramble on fourth-and-2.

By the time that second drive ended, the Titans had a 20-16 lead just 35 seconds into the fourth quarter. You could see the Jaguars’ defensive players were gassed.

"It always takes something out of you but it’s what we do," Marks said. "You’re supposed to be in shape. You’re a professional football player. We’ve just got to go out and get the stop and try to get off the field."

The Jaguars did that in the first meeting with the Titans. They held Tennessee to 83 yards rushing, including 30 yards by Chris Johnson. He had 90 and Shonn Green had 91 on Sunday.

Bradley understands the limitations he has with his roster, but even so he’s expecting more from the reserves when they do get on the field.

"Even though they got limited reps [in practice] when their number is called upon they have to perform," Bradley said. "I sure we will see some good things that they did on tape. It’s just the consistency. That’s what you have to battle through sometimes."

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.
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory against Cleveland:

[+] EnlargeDwayne Gratz
AP Photo/Tony DejakDwayne Gratz, right, and the Jacksonville secondary had its hands full with Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
Secondary issues: One week after holding Houston receiver Andre Johnson to just two catches for 36 yards, the Jaguars’ secondary was absolutely torched by Cleveland’s Josh Gordon: 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder in the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball each had their troubles with Gordon, and they got little safety help from Johnathan Cyprien and Winston Guy. Both seemed to be late getting over to help, and the one time Guy did get there in time he was penalized for hitting Gordon in the head. Guy also was the main guy to blame for the 95-yard TD because he went for the interception -- coming from behind Gordon -- instead of trying to hit Gordon and knock the ball that way or just make the tackle. Cyprien did get his first career interception on a pass thrown behind tight end Jordan Cameron.

Help needed: Rookie receiver Ace Sanders had his most productive day, and the Jaguars certainly needed it, with Cecil Shorts dealing with Browns cornerback Joe Haden (and two drops) and Mike Brown playing through a very sore shoulder. Sanders tied his season high with eight catches and set a season high with 67 yards receiving. He also carried the ball once for 4 yards on a misdirection pitch play. The biggest number, however, is six: Of his nine touches, six resulted in first downs. Shorts came up big late, but Brown had just one catch.

Improved pass rush: All the attention since the bye week has been on how much the run defense has improved, but the Jaguars’ pass rush also has been much more effective the past month. The Jaguars sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden three times on Sunday, including one by Jason Babin that resulted in a fumble that defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered to set up a field goal. The Jaguars now have 20 sacks, which matches their 2012 total. They have recorded nine sacks in the four games since the bye and eight in the past three games. One thing they’re doing differently is rushing middle linebacker Paul Posluszny more often. He had a half-sack (along with Babin) against Weeden.

A Marks man: Marks had another big day: a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Marks’ fumble recovery and 15-yard return set up Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Marks has three sacks this season after recording just three in his first four seasons in the NFL. Marks, who signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in April, has been the team’s best defensive lineman.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

What it means: It has been a while -- nearly three years, in fact -- but the Jaguars finally have a winning streak. Their victory over the Browns marks the first time they have won back-to-back games since Weeks 13-14 of the 2010 season. Jacksonville (3-9) has won three of its four games since the bye week. All of those victories have come on the road, which marks the first time since 2007 the Jaguars have won three consecutive road games.

Stock watch: It had been a pretty miserable homecoming for Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts, who grew up in Cleveland and played collegiately at Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio -- until the Jaguars' final drive. Browns cornerback Joe Haden had pretty much shut Shorts down and Shorts hurt himself with two drops. But he came up big when it mattered most, beating Haden for a 20-yard game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds remaining. On the other end of the spectrum, the secondary really struggled. The Jaguars had little trouble with Houston's Andre Johnson last week, holding the All-Pro to just two catches. But they appeared to be playing a man short because Josh Gordon absolutely shredded them for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon's last touchdown was a 95-yard catch and run in which safety Winston Guy went for the interception instead of the tackle and rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz chased Gordon for 20-plus yards and never dove for Gordon's legs.

Ace in the hole: With Shorts a nonfactor for most of the game and Mike Brown playing with a very sore shoulder, the Jaguars needed somebody to step up at receiver, and Ace Sanders did, catching five passes for 38 yards and carrying it once for 4 yards in the first half. Those don't sound like big numbers, but Sanders converted four third downs. He finished with a team-high eight catches for 67 yards, including a 25-yarder on the Jaguars' game-winning touchdown drive.

Turnover binge: The Jaguars went from trailing 14-7 to leading 20-14 in less than a two-minute span at the end of the first half thanks to three turnovers. Two were interceptions, which double the amount the Jaguars' secondary had entering the game. Rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien picked off the first pass of his career, which led to Maurice Jones-Drew's touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis to tie the game with 1:24 remaining. Gratz intercepted Brandon Weeden's next pass, which led to Josh Scobee's 44-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead with 52 seconds remaining. The Browns tried to drive for a field goal but defensive end Jason Babin knocked the ball from Weeden's hand and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks recovered the ball and returned it to the Cleveland 18-yard line with five seconds remaining. Scobee hit a 36-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a six-point lead.

What's next: The Jaguars will play host to the Houston Texans on Thursday night.

Finally a fast start for the Jaguars

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
8:30
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sometimes it really is about how you start.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally got a good one on Sunday and it played a critical role in the team’s 29-27 victory against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.

Posluszny
Linebacker Paul Posluszny knocked the ball out of running back Chris Johnson's hands and recovered it at the Tennessee 19 on the game’s first offensive snap. Three plays later, the Jaguars had a 7-0 lead.

It was the first time the Jaguars were ahead in a game since they held a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter against St. Louis in Week 5.

"It was great, wasn’t it?" coach Gus Bradley said. "We talked about the importance of finishing and that’s critical. I told you last week it would be nice to start faster once in a while. To have that come into play this week was great. It was a great confidence-builder."

The Jaguars added a 32-yard Josh Scobee field goal later in the first quarter, and Scobee hit a 44-yarder early in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead. Like the touchdown, Scobee’s second field goal was set up by a turnover: rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz's interception and 17-yard return.

"To start the game off like that, it doesn’t get any better," Posluszny said. "It doesn’t get any better than that, so to come out, play fast from the start, [and get] three turnovers in the first half, to do that it, was an enormous jump for our defense."

The Jaguars had been pretty awful early in the first quarter through the first eight games, getting outscored 70-15. Until Sunday they hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter since the St. Louis game, and had been outscored 35-0 combined in the first quarter of the past three games.

The Jaguars desperately needed something good to happen early on Sunday, and they got it when Posluszny ripped the ball out of Johnson’s hands. The defense, which entered the game worst in the NFL against the run (161.8 yards per game allowed), held the Titans to just one first down and 46 total yards in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the offense churned out 93 yards, nearly half of its final total of 214.

"We needed a positive feeling," Posluszny said.

They got one, and it led to an even bigger one after the game.

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