NFL Nation: Johnathan Cyprien

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.
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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.
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."
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.
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.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell held a news conference this afternoon at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Here are some highlights:

On what he looks for in meetings with players: "For us, a true sign of somebody that’s a real competitor is somebody that can identify his weaknesses. I think if they can identify their weaknesses and talk openly about them, that says a lot, because we know that they’re willing to work at what their weaknesses are."

On his patience level with Blaine Gabbert: "I think we’ll treat Blaine like any other player. We’re going to bring him in and have him just compete and develop until we feel like that it’s not in our best interest or until he gets beat out."

On quarterback Chad Henne: "Chad did a really admirable job. We went .500 our last eight games, and we feel like another year in our offense with some more playmakers maybe, and a better offensive line play, he could keep us afloat."

On whether marketability and ticket sales factor into draft decisions: "When Shad [Khan] hired Gus [Bradley] and I, he said it’s not our job to sell tickets. Those decisions are football decisions, and that’s why we promise to put the best 53 players on the field, and if we do that and we win, I think the marketability and the ticket sales will come."

On Justin Blackmon's future with the Jaguars: "We haven’t really thought much about it. If he can get things right and he’s right, we would welcome him back."

On safety Johnathan Cyprien's development: "That was the one thing about Cyp that we’re really encouraged about. We drafted him as kind of that in-the-box strong safety type that would be more of a run supporter, but what we found out throughout the year and when we got him is he’s just as equally good in the passing game and man-to-man against tight ends and in zones."

On players deciding not to work out at the combine: "I think it shows a level of competitiveness in somebody that wants to go out there and show the whole world, and this is the biggest stage you’re going to have for a workout. You’re on national TV, NFL Network, and you’ve got every NFL executive here, so why not do it here and save yourself a bunch of private workouts later on? Each individual situation is different, and a lot of people have a lot of different reasons as to why and why not, and when we sit down with those players we’ll find out what made them make those decisions."
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.

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, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 30-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

What it means: The Jaguars finished 4-12, doubling their victory total from last season and likely securing the No. 3 draft pick. The Houston Texans (2-14) and Washington Redskins (3-13) have the top two picks, but the Redskins traded their pick to St. Louis, so the Rams will pick in their spot.

Stock watch: Two young players stood out. Safety Johnathan Cyprien has steadily improved this season and broke up three passes to go along with six tackles. The team’s second-round draft pick out of Florida International also did a much better job of patrolling the seam and keeping Colts tight ends Coby Fleener and Weslye Saunders from doing a lot of damage. Fleener caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting between the teams but had just one catch for 25 yards on Sunday. The Jaguars have been limited at receiver since Justin Blackmon's suspension and Cecil Shorts' groin injury ended his season. However, Kerry Taylor has stepped up over the past three weeks. He caught a team-high eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Colts and has 16 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown over the past three games. Not bad for a guy who didn’t join the team until Nov. 4.

Farewell? This might have been the final game in a Jaguars uniform for running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and it wasn’t exactly a memorable one. He had averaged 100.9 yards per game rushing against the Colts in his career, but had just 39 yards on 13 carries Sunday. He also fumbled on the game’s third play a turnover the Colts turned into an early 7-0 lead. That was Jones-Drew’s first fumble lost in more than two years (against Baltimore on Oct. 24, 2011). It definitely was the final game for center Brad Meester, who is retiring after 14 seasons in the NFL.

What’s next: General manager David Caldwell will begin the process of evaluating the roster and making decisions on which players are worth re-signing, specifically quarterback Chad Henne and Jones-Drew. Both are unrestricted free agents.

Five things to watch: Jaguars-Titans

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
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Here are five things to watch in Sunday's Jacksonville Jaguars-Tennessee Titans game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.:

Stopping the run: The Jaguars’ improved rush defense in the second half of the season started against the Titans, who managed just 83 yards on the ground. Chris Johnson had 30 yards on 12 carries and fumbled early in the game. The Jaguars slipped a bit last week and gave up 198 yards on the ground to the Bills. Can they rebound against the Titans and corral Johnson, who is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball?

Fitzpatrick Part II: Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced into action in the last meeting when Jake Locker went down with a foot injury and he carved up the Jaguars’ secondary and nearly led the Titans to a comeback victory. He’s coming off a 400-yard, four-TD performance against Arizona and the Jaguars have given up an average of 301.8 yards passing in the last five games. It looks like safety Johnathan Cyprien will be able to play, so that should help some, but the Jaguars are going to have to get pressure to slow down Fitzpatrick.

MoJo’s health: Maurice Jones-Drew is questionable with a hamstring injury and is going to test it on Sunday morning to see if he can go. Even if he does play, it’s likely he won’t have a full load, which means we’ll see more Jordan Todman. He filled in pretty well for Jones-Drew last week (109 yards rushing).

TE play: From the Jaguars’ perspective, it’d be best to see more of Marcedes Lewis and less of Delanie Walker. Lewis has caught a touchdown pass in the last three games and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said he wants to see Lewis more involved in the passing game now that Cecil Shorts is done for the season. Tight ends have hurt the Jaguars all season and Walker caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting. Can they limit his damage in this game?

Goodbye Brad: This will be the last home game for center Brad Meester, who announced earlier in the week that this would be his final season. The 36-year-old Meester, who is in his 14th season, owns franchise records for games played (207) and game started (207) as well as the two longest steaks of consecutive starts (92 and 88). The Jaguars selected him in the second round of the 2000 draft out of Northern Iowa and started at left guard the first three seasons before moving to center to begin the 2003 season. The team is going to have a post-game ceremony to honor him.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but whether he can play against Tennessee on Sunday depends on how his injured right hamstring responds the next two days.

Jones-Drew
Coach Gus Bradley said Jones-Drew will be one of four starters who will be evaluated on Sunday morning before a final decision on their playing status is made.

"I feel better today [about Jones-Drew’s chances of playing]," Bradley said. "He took some actual reps, although the tempo was slowed down."

Jones-Drew is listed as questionable on the injury report, as is safety Johnathan Cyprien (thigh), defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder), and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee). Miller and Hayes did not practice on Friday. Cyprien practiced on a limited basis.

Bradley also said the team will put reserve receiver Jeremy Ebert (ankle, knee) on injured reserve and will fill two vacant roster spots with players on the practice squad.

Shorts, Brewster have surgery

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
2:45
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts and guard Mike Brewster both had surgery over the last two days for their season-ending injuries.

Coach Gus Bradley said Shorts had sports hernia surgery Thursday morning and Brewster had surgery Wednesday to repair the fractured left ankle he suffered in last Sunday's 27-20 loss to Buffalo.

"I guess it turned out pretty good," Bradley said. "I'll find out more from [trainer] Mike [Ryan] but it's good that we got those guys taken care of as soon as possible."

In other injury news, safety Johnathan Cyprien (thigh), running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring) and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) missed their second consecutive day of practice. Bradley said the plan remains for Jones-Drew to test his hamstring Friday.

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