NFL Nation: Justin Blackmon

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t planning on releasing suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon, because it’s much more advantageous to maintain their rights to the former first-round pick.

On the surface, cutting Blackmon seems like the logical move. He has already violated the league’s substance-abuse policy three times and is another failed test away from possibly losing his career. He has maintained minimal contact with the organization, and GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley know very little of Blackmon’s progress.

Blackmon
Blackmon
Several teammates, including receiver Cecil Shorts, have tried to reach out to Blackmon to no avail.

It seems best to just cut bait, wish him well, and go in another direction.

But the Jaguars won’t do it, even though it’s possible Blackmon might not play at all this season, because there is not much benefit -- financially or on the field --- to doing so.

Blackmon is not taking up a roster spot, and the team doesn’t have to pay his salary while he is suspended. He doesn’t count against the salary cap, either, so there is no monetary reason to let him go. Plus, if the Jaguars release him they might not be able to recoup some of the $11.9 million in bonus money they paid Blackmon when he signed his contract after being the fifth overall selection in 2012.

The clock has stopped on Blackmon’s contract. It will start again if he is reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, meaning the Jaguars will have him under contract for three more seasons at a pretty reasonable salary. He was to make $289,745 in 2013, and though his salary jumps to $2.07 million and $2.91 million in the last two years, thatis still economical for a player with his ability.

That is another reason the Jaguars don’t want to part with the former Oklahoma State standout. When he has been on the field he has been pretty darn good. He has 93 receptions for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in just 20 games, including 29 catches for 415 yards and one touchdown in four games last season.

The Jaguars would rather not see that kind of talent end up with a division rival, which would be a risk if they cut him.

If Blackmon returns to the field to join Shorts and Ace Sanders and the two rookie receivers the team drafted in the second round last month (Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson) develop as hoped, the Jaguars would have a deep and productive group of receivers. Possibly even one of the better units in the AFC.

Despite his off-field problems, Blackmon is not a bad teammate or a problem in the locker room. He works hard in practice and the weight room. Those things have never been an issue with Blackmon, and management doesn’t anticipate them becoming a problem if he were ever to return.

Keeping Blackmon is a low-risk move that could end up with a high payoff. They could get one of the game’s better young receiver back, but if they don’t, it’s not taking a financial toll on the franchise.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars already were not planning on having suspended receiver Justin Blackmon in 2014.

What they did Friday night makes it pretty clear that they're not planning on having him -- period.

The Jaguars took a pair of receivers in the second round of the NFL draft -- Marqise Lee with the 39th pick and traded up to take Allen Robinson with the 61st selection -- and plan on both being in the starting lineup in the season opener alongside Cecil Shorts. They're also going to be the building blocks, along with No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles, of the Jaguars' offense for years to come.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports"We haven't heard much [from Justin Blackmon] and it doesn't sound like it's going in the right direction," coach Gus Bradley said.
Blackmon was once viewed in the same way, but three violations of the NFL's substance-abuse policy and an indefinite suspension has the fifth overall pick in 2012 clearly out of the Jaguars' future plans.

"There's some unknowns there," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said of Blackmon, who has 93 receptions for 1,280 yards in two seasons. "You don't know how it's working out. I just don't want to shut it off. I was hoping that it would be better than maybe where it's going, but we'll see.

"We haven't heard much [from Blackmon], and it doesn't sound like it's going in the right direction. Just like [general manger] Dave [Caldwell] said: 'We can't count on him.'"

Caldwell said he didn't want to address Blackmon's status again since he spoke about it during the Jaguars' pre-draft luncheon, but he did say the team cannot cut Blackmon while he's suspended. When asked if they would cut him when he was reinstated: "If that happens."

By taking Lee and Robinson, though, the message is pretty clear. Caldwell had the 6-foot, 192-pound Lee as the No. 1 receiver on their board and was surprised to see him still available when the second round began. He was worried Lee wouldn't make it to 39 and tried to work out a trade with Houston, which had the first pick.

But Lee kept sliding and the Jaguars quickly snatched him up. Lee has the playmaking ability that the Jaguars receiving corps has lacked on a consistent basis. He caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in three seasons with the Trojans, including 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012.

"He's explosive," Caldwell said. "He can make defenders miss. He's very instinctive. He's got a feel for zones. He can separate in and out of breaks very well. When he gets the ball in his hands, he's a threat to take it to the house.

"He's a playmaker, and we need playmakers."

The 6-3, 220-pound Robinson is the big, physical receiver the Jaguars have lacked for years. He caught 177 passes for 2,479 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons at Penn State. He was the Jaguars' No. 2 receiver, and they traded their third-round pick (70th overall) and a fifth-round pick (150th overall) to San Francisco to get him.

"This is a big target, and big targets are good in this league," Caldwell said.

Especially when you can count on them.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The pick: The Jaguars got their first-round pick some help by taking USC receiver Marqise Lee with the seventh pick of the second round (39th).

My take: Lee was considered a first-round talent but slid into the second round because teams are concerned with the sprained left MCL that he suffered last season, according to multiple reports. Even so, this is a fantastic pick because it addresses the team's biggest need on offense after quarterback. He fits the qualities the Jaguars were searching for in a receiver: size and play-making ability. Lee (6 feet, 195 pounds) had a monster sophomore season (118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14 TDs) but he was hurt by his knee injury and poor QB play last season (57 catches, 791 yards). Lee also has experience as a kickoff returner.

The Blackmon factor: The Jaguars needed to make receiver a priority because of the uncertainty surrounding Justin Blackmon, the team's first-round pick in 2012. Blackmon is serving an indefinite suspension because of his third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy and general manager David Caldwell said last week that the team was not planning on having Blackmon in 2014.

What's next: The Jaguars should continue to address needs on offense in the third round, likely taking an offensive lineman in the third round with the 70th overall selection.
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.

Analyzing McShay mock: Jaguars 

April, 24, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, which is now two weeks away. Though the roster has improved since general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley took over in January 2013, there are still a lot of holes to fill.

The top needs remain a quarterback and a pass-rusher, but adding a big-play receiver or elite offensive lineman aren't ridiculous options for the Jaguars with their first pick.

ESPN Insider draft analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider lists the picks he would make if he were the GM of each team. It's not a projection of what teams will do. McShay makes an interesting choice for the Jaguars.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The next five days are not going to be easy for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.

At any moment, they may find out that the Cleveland Browns have decided to match the offer the Jaguars made to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. That news could come Friday night or they may not find out until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is the deadline for the Browns' decision.

Until then, all they can do is wait and hope that the potential contract is structured in a way that will deter the Browns from accepting despite having the significant cap room available (roughly $30 million). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for $42 million over five years, including $26 million guaranteed. The contract also allows Mack to void the deal after the first two years and includes clauses that prohibit him from being traded or tagged again.

That deal isn't exactly team friendly, but it's much worse for the Browns than it is the Jaguars -- and for that the fans can thank former general managers Shack Harris and Gene Smith. Caldwell can afford to pay Mack that much guaranteed money because he doesn't have to worry about having to pay big money to re-sign any current Jaguars players within the next three to four years.

None of the players from Harris' final two drafts (2008 and 2009) remain on the roster. Eight of the 26 players that Smith drafted from 2009-12 are still with the team, but none will deserve big contracts. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is gone and receiver Justin Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. A team would be foolish to sign Blackmon to anything but a minimum deal.

With the rookie salary structure keeping signing bonuses and contracts reasonable, the Jaguars will be able to handle Mack's front-loaded contract over the next three seasons. Even if players from the 2013 draft class like safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, left tackle Luke Joeckel or receiver Ace Sanders do become elite players, they are on four-year deals that won't expire until after the 2016 season.

The Jaguars added seven free agents (not counting Mack) but some of those contracts include bonuses tied to playing time and most are front-loaded, especially for older players such as defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant.

So the Jaguars can certainly afford Mack, and if the Browns decline to match the offer the Jaguars will have solidified the left side of their offensive line for at least the next three years until Joeckel' s rookie deal is up after 2016.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit if he can pull this off, and it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be last guy picked for the dodge ball game any longer. Caldwell has rapidly improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. This potential Mack signing shows he's not a na´ve, easy mark, either.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer, who is in his first season with the team, certainly didn't handle the Mack situation as deftly as Caldwell. Instead of giving Mack the franchise tag, which guaranteed Mack a salary of $11.6 million in 2014 and meant any team that signed him would have to part with two first-round picks, they used the transition tag. That saved the Browns about $1.5 million in salary in 2014 and they had the right to match any offer that Mack received, but it also meant they wouldn't get any compensation if they didn't.

It was a gamble, and regardless of their decision on Mack they've lost. They either lose one of the best offensive linemen in the game or they agree to a contract that they can afford now but will impact their ability to extend the contracts of some of their other stars, like cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Plus, they could get Mack for 2014 and 2015 and lose him with no compensation if he exercises the clause that allows him to void the deal after two seasons.

The Browns may very well decide to match the Jaguars' offer, at which point the Jaguars will be no worse off than they were before Mack signed his offer sheet on Friday. But credit Caldwell for taking a calculated shot, one that could play a significant role in changing the franchise's direction.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would like to be able to sit down with suspended receiver Justin Blackmon and have a conversation the way they did during Blackmon's early-season suspension in 2013.

But the two have had only minimal contact via text messages because NFL rules prohibit Blackmon from visiting the team's facility while serving an indefinite suspension for his third violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Blackmon
Blackmon
"I wish I could have a more extended conversation with him," Bradley said Tuesday. "My feelings toward him haven't changed. I still care about him.

"To be able to sit down and visit with him, that part I miss."

That used to be a regular occurrence. They would sit down each week during the season and have conversations that sometimes lasted more than an hour. Most of those talks had nothing to do with football. But Bradley hasn't had any contact with Blackmon for several weeks.

Bradley had heard that Blackmon was back in Jacksonville and that was confirmed when he heard about Blackmon's early-morning, one-car accident on March 15.

The Jaguars are still unsure of Blackmon's availability for the 2014 season -- he will be able to petition NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement before the season begins -- and the team is planning on being without him.

The Jaguars already added receiver Tandon Doss in free agency and Bradley said the team will likely draft at least one more receiver.

"It's something that we will address," Bradley said. "We looked at [Emmanuel] Sanders and didn't get him. Somewhere in those 11 picks, yeah, you'll probably see us take a wide receiver. We'll see. We've got to take best available."
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes the popular decision isn't the correct decision, and that's the case with the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Chad Henne.

The team needs a franchise quarterback and fans are clamoring for the team to draft Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles and hand over the keys to the offense. The last thing fans want is the status quo at quarterback.

However, that's likely what they're going to get now that Henne and the team have agreed to a two-year extension. General manager David Caldwell has been hinting at it over the past two months. Even if the Jaguars do draft a quarterback, Caldwell said it's unlikely he'll be ready to play right away. Caldwell also said that with another year in the offense, some additional playmakers, and better offensive-line play, Henne could keep the team afloat.

That's a pretty good indication Henne will take the first snap in the 2014 season opener and for a significant length of time after, as well. Possibly even the entire season.

If Caldwell is correct and whichever quarterback the team drafts is not ready to play for the first part of the season or longer -- whether it's one of the big three in the first round or someone else in the second or third round -- then sticking with Henne is the correct decision. He gives the team the best chance to win games in that scenario.

Henne did a solid job under less-than-ideal circumstances last season: He started 13 games and threw for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, becoming the first Jaguars quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season since David Garrard in 2009. The 28-year-old Henne led the Jaguars to a 4-4 record in the second half of the season after an 0-8 start, and he had nine TD passes and five interceptions in the final five games.

He did it with a depleted cast, too. He lost his best receiver (Justin Blackmon) to an indefinite suspension, didn't get much from tight end Marcedes Lewis because of a calf injury, and then lost his second-best receiver (Cecil Shorts) for the final three weeks because of a sports hernia.

Henne's signing doesn't guarantee the Jaguars won't take a quarterback in the first round, but the team could choose to address a similarly pressing need by taking a pass-rusher, whether it's Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack.

If the Jaguars do take a quarterback in the second or third round -- which seems a near certainty if they draft a pass-rusher in the first round -- Henne can serve as a mentor to the young quarterback, a role that wouldn't be suited for Blaine Gabbert.

Henne isn't the long-term answer, but he is the team's top option heading into the 2014 season -- popular or not.

Free-agency series: Wide receivers

February, 26, 2014
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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.
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars, like every team in the NFL, have their share of trash-talkers.

Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and suspended receiver Justin Blackmon probably top the list, but neither has taken it to the level that Richard Sherman did last Sunday. They yip at opponents during games but leave it on the field.

And that’s just the way Jaguars coach Gus Bradley wants it. A little dialogue on the field is fine during the game, but nothing dramatic or outrageous that puts someone in the spotlight because of what he said. No public feuds, bulletin board material or boasts allowed.

"I think that generally we talk about really focus on the team and try to keep the attention on the team, but we understand things like that can happen," Bradley said. "It’s a heated moment and sometimes it can happen. As quickly as possible we want to bring it back to the team."

The Jaguars haven’t had any instances of out-in-the-open trash talking under Bradley, which isn’t surprising considering the team lost its first eight games by double digits and finished 4-12 in 2013. The closest thing you could find is defensive end Jason Babin tackling Arizona running back Andre Ellington by his dreadlocks and ending up with a handful of hair from Ellington’s head.

Babin downplayed the incident after the game.

"Seems like everyone’s making a big deal about it," Babin said. "But it’s just one of the plays in the football game."

The Jaguars have done some in-house trash talking, though. Marks recovered a fumble against Cleveland and appeared headed for his first career touchdown when he was caught from behind by Browns guard John Greco. Marks’ teammates really let him have it for getting run down by an offensive lineman.

But Marks didn’t mind and even admitted he deserved it.

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."
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. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' offense hasn't had any trouble starting fast the last two weeks.

It's the rest of the game that has been the problem.

It happened in a 29-27 victory over Tennessee on Nov. 10 but the Jaguars were able to hang on and get their first victory over the season. They couldn't overcome it against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at EverBank Field, however, and lost 27-14.

[+] EnlargeDespite a strong first quarter, Chad Henne and the Jacksonville offense could not score for the rest of the game.
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesChad Henne
The Jaguars scored two touchdowns -- their first at EverBank this season -- and racked up 111 yards in the first quarter. But penalties, an injury to an already-depleted receiving corps, and the lack of a running game crushed the early momentum. The result was the ninth loss of the season and sixth consecutive loss at EverBank Field.

"After those scores we struggled," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We had quite a few three-and-outs. I know we had some second-and-longs, some penalties that showed up in the second half, a couple interceptions. We've got to overcome that. We've really got to continue to challenge our guys to step up and make plays."

The Jaguars (1-9) managed just two first downs in the second quarter and two more in the third. They managed just 163 yards in the final three quarters and 58 came after the Cardinals took a 24-14 lead. Why such a poor performance?

Penalties hurt. A false start on third-and-8 by receiver Ace Sanders in the second quarter. Early in the fourth, center Brad Meester and guard Uche Nwaneri had false starts on the same drive. A holding penalty on tackle Cameron Bradfield wiped out a 21-yard reception by Maurice Jones-Drew.

The running game was non-existent, too. That's not surprising considering the Cardinals entered the day with the NFL's third-ranked rush defense, but Jones-Drew and the offensive line really struggled. The Jaguars ran for just 32 yards on 16 carries and Jones-Drew ran 14 times for 23 yards, which is the second-lowest total of his career in games in which he's had double-digit carries.

The Jaguars were already short at receiver with the suspension of Justin Blackmon and Stephen Burton missing the game with a concussion, but Mike Brown left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. That meant the Jaguars had to use Kerry Taylor, whom the team claimed off waivers from Arizona on Nov. 4, in a bigger role.

Sanders, Brown, Taylor and tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor were pretty much quarterback Chad Henne's only options because No. 1 receiver Cecil Shorts was being shadowed by Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. Until the final four minutes of the game, Henne targeted Shorts just once. In those final four minutes, Henne threw to Shorts four times.

Shorts was clearly frustrated.

"There was opportunities throughout the game I should have been involved in," Shorts said. "But, you know, it is what it is. I can't control what the … We can do better as an offense."

Henne wasn't particularly effective, either. Though he completed 27 of 42 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown, he threw two interceptions and didn't challenge the Arizona secondary. As noted, he didn't look for Shorts until the game was well in hand and there were instances where he was open against Peterson.

He settled for shorter passes too often, too, especially on several third downs. It seemed as if he was overly concerned with Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It was tough," Henne said. "Patrick Peterson's a great corner and we knew we were going to have some problems with him. But Cecil, I thought, in some of his one-on-one routes did some really good things with it. They were playing a high safety. Their guys up front are good pass rushers, so we wanted to get the ball out quick, get it out on time, and I think we definitely accomplished some of that."

It was a typical Henne game. Several good throws, several bad, and a mixture of safe stuff. But he couldn't lead the offense to any points despite starting possessions at his own 40, the Arizona 42, midfield, and his own 42. Punt, punt, punt, interception.

"Field position was outstanding," Bradley said. "We had a couple times we started on the 50 and there in. Those we have to come away with some points. We have to. Even if it's a field goal, to get it down there inside the 35. We took a sack on one. We were on the 36 yard line, the 38-yard line, trying to get it to the 35, we take a sack. Throw it away and give it a chance. We'll continue to grow on those decisions."

It's not all on Henne, Shorts said.

"I felt like we had a lot of momentum at the beginning of the game," said Shorts, who caught just two passes for 22 yards. "We had penalties. When we're in their territory we need to at least get three points. We're on their side of the 50, we can't have a penalty, first-and-15, and we get a positive play, then another penalty, first-and-20. We can't have stuff like that. We need to at least get three every time we're in their territory. We've just got to do better. We need to execute."

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