NFL Nation: Luke Joeckel

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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 NFL Nation's Michael DiRocco examines the three biggest issues facing the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into training camp.

Offensive line: Only one of the five spots is settled heading into camp: Zane Beadles, whom the team signed in March, is the starting left guard. Almost every other spot is up for grabs. I use "almost" because Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, will start at left tackle, and the team drafted him to be the line's cornerstone. He spent the first four games last season at right tackle and played a quarter at left tackle before a season-ending injury. While the Jags believe he's going to be an elite player, he still has to prove it. Mike Brewster is the leader at center, but he has never snapped in his three-year career. Right guard will be a battle between Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder. Austin Pasztor started 12 games at right tackle last season but will be pushed by Cameron Bradfield, who started the final 11 games at left tackle after Joeckel's injury. Regardless of who wins the position battles, the line has to be better than it was last season. The Jaguars averaged a franchise-worst 78.8 yards per game rushing last season, and a big reason was the play of the interior of the offensive line.

Wide receivers: The Jaguars know what they have in fourth-year player Cecil Shorts (123 career catches). They believe they know what they've got in second-year player Ace Sanders, provided he continues to develop following his 51-catch rookie season. But who are Nos. 3-6? It would seem second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson would naturally be the next two, but both missed most organized team activities and all of minicamp with injuries. They're supposed to be fully cleared for camp, but they missed valuable time working with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, a technician of the finer points of routes, footwork and hand position. Rookie receivers are a crap shoot in the NFL, and there's no guarantee if both are healthy that they'll be able to contribute as much as Sanders did. Kerry Taylor and Mike Brown combined to catch 54 passes last season. Taylor is a bit bigger (6-foot, 200 pounds) than Brown (5-10, 200 pounds), but both can play in the slot or outside. Taylor might have a slight advantage because he was healthy throughout the offseason, while Brown was one of seven receivers who missed significant time because of an injury. A group of undrafted players, led by former Miami standout Allen Hurns, also will compete for the final two spots on the roster. It's important that this group stays healthy, too, because the injuries really affected the offense during minicamp. It was hard for any of the quarterbacks to move the ball consistently.

Pass rush: The Jaguars have had one of the worst pass rushes over the past five season and finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and 2012. Buffalo led the NFL with 57 sacks last season. The Jaguars have 51 in the past two seasons combined, including 20 in 2012. The team took steps to remedy that by signing defensive end Chris Clemons (58 career sacks) and linebacker Dekoda Watson, a young player whom the Jaguars plan on using in their new otto position and rushing the passer on third downs. However, he sat out OTAs and minicamp with a groin injury and former undrafted rookie LaRoy Reynolds got the reps there. Third-year defensive end Andre Branch came on late last season (five of his six sacks in the last seven games) and had a great offseason, and the coaching staff is counting on him rotating with Clemons. The Jaguars felt good enough about Branch and young players Ryan Davis and Gerald Rivers that they released Jason Babin (62.5 career sacks) on the last day of the minicamp. However, Davis and Rivers have played in a combined eight games and have a combined eight tackles and one sack, so that's making a leap of faith that they'll be able to produce in a reserve role.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Luke Joeckel has participated in hundreds of practices and workouts throughout his football career, yet he was pretty nervous on Monday night.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ left tackle was apprehensive about how his surgically repaired right ankle would handle the most strain it has been under since he injured it during the Oct. 6, 2013 game against St. Louis.

That anxiety ended once he did his first few reps in position drills.

"Once I was back out there on the field, everything was back to normal," Joeckel said.

[+] EnlargeLuke Joeckel
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceLuke Joeckel played left tackle briefly in 2013, and is excited to get back in the lineup for the Jags.
That was Joeckel’s goal ever since he was carted off the Edward Jones Dome turf in just the fifth game of his rookie season. After the surgery (which revealed more damage than originally thought), the nine weeks in which he had to stay off his right foot, and the countless hours of rehab and treatment, all Joeckel wanted was things the way they were before the injury.

Once he reached that point, he could resume his spot as the starting left tackle, which was a job he held for less than a quarter before the injury.

"I’ve really never been hurt in football," Joeckel said. "The last time I was hurt was sophomore year in high school. Never missed a game or a practice in college. You get kind of negative about it all, but once you get back and really once you’re able to start working out again, that’s when you start feeling good.

"When you’re just taking your pain meds and lying in bed and sitting on the recliner, that’s when you feel like a piece of crap. When you start working out again you’re ready to start getting back into football and feeling good."

More important to the Jaguars is that Joeckel looks good. It has only been two days of OTAs, but coach Gus Bradley said the 6-foot-6, 306-pound Joeckel looks just like the player they saw dominating the Rams’ defensive front in his first action at left tackle.

"I can say this: What we saw on tape [against St. Louis] we really liked," Bradley said. "Now, in practice, seeing him in drill work and all the other offensive linemen, he’s special. He’s a special talent. He’s very athletic. He’s very smart. He’s mature for playing that position. Now he just needs game reps and that will be a learning process, but we just feel like he’s really got a really good upside to him."

That is why the Jaguars took him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. They envisioned him as the anchor to the offensive line at left tackle for years, but started him at right tackle because Eugene Monroe, the team's first-round pick in 2009, was at left tackle. General manager David Caldwell traded Monroe to Baltimore after Week 4 and Joeckel slid over to left tackle. It is his natural position and he was clearly more comfortable there, but that lasted less than a quarter because of his injury, which occurred when a player fell across his lower leg on a running play.

Tuesday was Joeckel's first time on the field with his teammates since then and he was somewhat limited, taking the first two reps during a drill before giving way to someone else for a rep or two. He said that is the plan for the foreseeable future. He’s not wearing a brace on the ankle, though he is wearing extra tape, and the medical staff doesn’t want to over-stress his ankle.

Joeckel still has a metal plate and two wire ties in his ankle. Those were needed because the injury was a little more severe than just a fracture. Joeckel said he also suffered cartilage damage and tore the deltoid ligament off the bone. A slow and steady approach for his return, especially in May, is the best approach, he said.

"My offseason was way too long," Joeckel said. "Looking back at it all, it was a terrible rookie year, but I’m excited about going into this year. A lot more excitement going into the year, and excited to be back and playing ball again."

And to be normal again.
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.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Taking an offensive tackle in the first round for the second year in a row is a real possibility for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

According to a league source, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews visited the Jaguars last week and he is one of the players who general manager David Caldwell may target with the No. 3 overall pick on May 8.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews -- the son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews -- spent last Thursday at the Jaguars’ facility. It was an under-the-radar visit by one of the draft’s top prospects, who at one point was regarded as the best offensive lineman in the draft.

Most draft analysts have Matthews rated behind Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who was among the 16 players who visited the Jaguars during the week of April 6-11, but he still is projected to be a top-10 selection.

"With Jake Matthews’ pedigree and his ability, he could be the best value in the draft that nobody’s talking about," the league source said.

If the Jaguars were to take Matthews, it would reunite him with his former college teammate Luke Joeckel, whom the Jaguars took with the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft. It also would give the Jaguars the chance to solidify the edges of the offensive line for years. Though Matthews played left tackle as a senior, he spent his first three seasons playing at right tackle while Joeckel started at left tackle.

The Jaguars certainly aren’t one player away from making a run at the playoffs, and while their needs at pass-rusher, quarterback and receiver are more pressing than right tackle, this is a draft deep on offensive talent. The Jaguars spent most of their 2013 draft picks on defense, and Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have said this year’s draft would be more focused on offense. There are no other elite offensive tackles outside of Robinson and Matthews but the Jaguars can find quality receivers and quarterbacks in the second and third round.

There is a precedent for building an offensive line with a pair of high draft picks at offensive tackle. The San Francisco 49ers took Joe Staley with the second of their two first-round picks in 2007 (28th overall) and he has started 98 games at left tackle. Three years later San Francisco took Anthony Davis with the 11th pick and he has started every game since at right tackle.

Adding Matthews also would allow the Jaguars to move Austin Pasztor, who started 12 games at right tackle in 2013, to right guard and shore up a spot that was a weakness last season. The team signed Zane Beadles in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, so the only position that would be questionable is center.

Bradley said last week that third-year player Mike Brewster is the No. 1 center but he’ll be pushed by several players -- including Patrick Lewis, another former Texas A&M player whom the Jaguars claimed off Cleveland’s practice squad last December.

The Jaguars have been transparent and open regarding their visits, so the secrecy surrounding Matthews’ visit is intriguing. If they are indeed interested in taking Matthews, keeping his visit quiet may have been an attempt to keep teams that also may be considering offensive tackles -- Buffalo, Atlanta and Oakland -- from making a move to trade up. If Houston were to take Robinson with the No. 1 overall pick -- unlikely, but not out of the question -- and those other teams knew the Jaguars were going to take Matthews at No. 3, they may try to work out a trade with St. Louis, which has the No. 2 pick.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell is close to putting together what could become a pretty good offensive line.

Provided the Cleveland Browns don't match whatever offer the Jaguars are expected to make to center Alex Mack on Friday, of course.

Mack
If the Jaguars are able to land the Pro Bowler, Caldwell will have put together a group of players that has a chance to become the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack is a significant upgrade from Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season, physically and has shown he's adept at handling the myriad of disguised fronts and looks defenses are using.

The Jaguars added Pro Bowler Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, lining up alongside second-year tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. Joeckel (6-6, 306) played in only five games, four at right tackle and less than a half at left tackle. He did show a lot of promise in the short time he was on the left side, keeping St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, at bay.

When Joeckel moved from right tackle to left tackle following Eugene Monroe's trade to Baltimore, first-year player Austin Pasztor stepped into the starting job at right tackle and held onto the job for the rest of the season. The coaching staff likes the 6-7, 308-pounder and is excited about his potential as a long-term starter.

The only question mark is what the team will do at right guard. The Jaguars released Uche Nwaneri last month and could move left guard Will Rackley, who started 12 games last season, into that spot. The Jaguars also could try Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Cameron Bradfield there as well, or draft a guard in the middle rounds.

Another possibility -- which seems unlikely at this point -- would be for the Jaguars to draft Greg Robinson or Luke Matthews at No. 3 and slide Pasztor to right guard.

Even taking the uncertainty at right guard into consideration, the Jaguars' new-look line has the potential to be pretty formidable over the next several seasons, as long as Joeckel continues to develop and Mack and Beadles continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Jaguars haven't had a truly dominant offensive line since the 1999 season. That group was anchored by left tackle Tony Boselli, generally recognized as the best left tackle in the game at the time, and right tackle Leon Searcy. Ben Coleman, Zach Wiegert and Rich Tylski were the guards and John Wade started every game at center.

The '99 team didn't set any rushing records but long-time Jaguars observers consider that the best offensive line in team history. The Jaguars did go 14-2 that season and lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.

The potential lineup in 2014 and beyond has a chance to be better than any group the Jaguars have had in the last decade. At the very least it's pretty much a guarantee that newly-acquired running back Toby Gerhart is going to be spending a large amount of time running behind the left side.
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 Jacksonville Jaguars were pretty active on the first day of free agency and first impressions of the moves general manager David Caldwell made are positive.

The Jaguars got the offensive lineman they wanted the most, added depth at running back with a low-mileage player and managed to secure a draft pick in exchange for one of the worst draft picks in franchise history. Not a bad first day at all.

Here are my initial thoughts on the moves the team made Tuesday:

Zane Beadles was the Jaguars' top target at guard and they were able to quickly reach an agreement on a five-year, $30 million contract. Beadles is a good fit because he played in Denver's zone-blocking scheme during his four-year career. The Jaguars' offensive line struggled in the transition to zone blocking last season and eventually mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed. But the plan is to return to more zone blocking in 2014. Beadles will line up at left guard next to Luke Joeckel.

An elite running back isn't mandatory to win in the NFL any longer and most teams are using a committee approach. With the likely loss of Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars needed to beef up an inexperienced group and the addition of former Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart will certainly help. He was a workhorse back at Stanford, rushing for 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns in four seasons -- including 1,871 yards and 28 TDs as a senior. Minnesota drafted him in the second round in 2010 and he had just 276 carries in his four seasons as Adrian Peterson's backup. It's not a sexy signing but it gives the Jaguars a young back (he'll be 27) whose body hasn't taken a load of punishment. Gerhart isn't a breakaway threat but he is a move-the-chains type of back. Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch consistently lamented the team's lack of success running the ball on first down last season because it didn't allow them to get into any kind of rhythm and forced them into too many third-and-long situations. Gerhart should certainly help there.

Blaine Gabbert was a bust in Jacksonville. There's no other way to view it. The Jaguars traded up to select him No. 10 overall in the 2011 draft and they got 22 touchdown passes, 24 interceptions, and a 5-22 record in games in which he started. He clearly wasn't in the Jaguars' plans for the future and was heading for the waiver wire, yet Caldwell was able to work a trade with San Francisco and got the 49ers to give up a sixth-round pick this year and potentially another draft pick in 2015. A sixth-round pick isn't much but it gives the Jaguars a chance to draft a player who could potentially help them on the field this season. Gabbert wasn't going to be able to do that.

In an under-the-radar move, the Jaguars also re-signed cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year contract. Blackmon had the best year of his career in 2013 but his real value is in the meeting room and locker room. The Jaguars have a young secondary and Blackmon quickly became the group's leader. Gus Bradley praised Blackmon's work with the young defensive backs and was an important part of keeping those players focused on Bradley's message of focusing on the process instead of victories.
Cameron Bradfield

Position: Offensive tackle

Type: Restricted

Summary: He played in a career-high 15 games and started 11 games at left tackle. He became the permanent starter after Luke Joeckel suffered a fractured ankle in Week 5 against St. Louis.

Why keep him: He’s an experienced player (38 games, 25 starts) who can play both right and left tackle so he provides good depth. Plus, he turns 27 in September.

Why let him go: Joeckel and Austin Pasztor project to be the starting tackles and the team may opt to find a younger, cheaper alternative to Bradfield. He has obviously proved he can start in the league and another team may give him a much better offer than the Jaguars are willing to match.

Best guess: He re-signs and gives the Jaguars quality depth.

Free-agency series: Offensive line

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Here is the fifth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Offensive line

Who is on the roster: OT Cameron Bradfield, G/C Mike Brewster, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, OT DeMarcus Love, G Jacques McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, G Drew Nowak, G Uche Nwaneri, OT Austin Pasztor, G Will Rackley, and OT Sam Young.

Joeckel
Analysis: Injuries hurt the unit early in the season and really impacted it late. The group struggled in the transition to a zone-blocking scheme early in the season as well, which is why the Jaguars finished the first eight games last in the NFL in rushing. Joeckel, whom the Jaguars took with the No. 2 overall pick, spent the first four weeks of the season at right tackle before moving to his natural spot at left tackle following the trade of Eugene Monroe. He played less than a quarter against St. Louis before suffering a fractured ankle, but he was handling Robert Quinn (who finished with 19.0 sacks) pretty well before he got hurt. His injury forced Bradfield and Pasztor into the lineup, and Pasztor played surprisingly well. The team is encouraged by his potential. The biggest issue is the interior of the line. Brad Meester retired, so the Jaguars need a center. Nwaneri was solid at right guard, but left guard was an issue because Rackley played hurt all season and the Jaguars could never generate much push in the middle of the line.

NFL free agents of interest: C Alex Mack, C Ryan Wendell, C Brian De La Puenta, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, and G Rich Ohrnberger.

Need meter: 9. After quarterback and leo, the interior of the offensive line is the Jaguars’ biggest need. GM David Caldwell has said the team would like to address that in free agency, and it would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t sign at least two starters, including a center, within the first few weeks of free agency. It’s unlikely the Jaguars would target the big names that are available, mainly because of cost, but if those players linger on the market and the price drops, the Jaguars would get involved. Even though Joeckel is talented and seemed to thrive in the very limited time he spent at left tackle, there are still questions about him, so the Jaguars might opt to add some experienced depth at tackle. Competition for roster spots on the line will be among the more interesting training camp battles.
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.
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a time a rookie offensive tackle would be eased into NFL action. He might even start out at guard and gradually move outside as he became more comfortable.

Of course, there was also a time a quarterback might sit for all or most of a season before becoming a starter.

That time, in the ever faster-moving NFL, is gone.

So it should be no surprise that Lane Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, played 1,103 of a possible 1,104 offensive snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles in his first season. Johnson was given one down off to catch his breath in the first game against the Giants in October.

It still takes more than a season to evaluate a draft class, but the process is being sped up all the time. Here’s a look at Johnson and the rest of the Eagles’ rookies -- or as first-year coach Chip Kelly puckishly dubbed them, “My favorite draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Johnson
First round: Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma. The fourth overall pick, Johnson was one of the three offensive tackles taken at the top of the draft. He arguably had a better overall rookie season than No. 1 pick Eric Fisher (Kansas City) and No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville).

Perhaps inevitably for a guy who had played quarterback and defensive end before being shifted to the offensive line in college, Johnson had some growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed seven sacks in the first eight games of the season but just three the rest of the way. He was solid in run blocking, as well.

It’s worth noting, too, that few rookie tackles (if any) are asked to line up split wide and block on bubble screens. Johnson took everything thrown his way with a smile and a shrug. He’s got a chance to be anchored at tackle for this franchise for a decade.

Also on board: Almost everyone.

Good pick or bad pick? Very good pick.

Ertz
Second round: Zach Ertz, tight end, Stanford. Taking Ertz here, 35th overall, was an expression of GM Howie Roseman’s commitment to taking the top-graded player regardless of need. The Eagles already had signed James Casey in free agency and and had Brent Celek on the roster.

Would they have improved their overall team more by drafting cornerbacks Darius Slay or Johnthan Banks, or linebackers Manti Te’o or Kiko Alonso, or running back Giovani Bernard?

Maybe. But Ertz is going to be making plays in Kelly’s offense for years to come. He’s smart, driven and possesses excellent hands and good size (6-foot-5, 250). Like most young tight ends, he has to improve as a blocker and said he plans to spend time in the weight room in the offseason.

Also on board: Slay, Bernard, Te’o, Geno Smith and Tank Carradine were the next five players drafted. Alonso, who earned defensive rookie of the year consideration, went 11 picks later to Buffalo.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Logan
Third round: Bennie Logan, defensive tackle, LSU. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound Logan’s development allowed the Eagles to trade veteran Isaac Sopoaga at the deadline. Logan started at nose tackle the last eight games, which corresponded with the overall defense’s improvement.

Oddly, Logan had his only two sacks in the first half of the season, when he was playing limited snaps. It remains to be seen if he’s the true anchor/nose tackle of the future, but he has enough versatility to play in different fronts as needed.

Also on the board: Tyrann Mathieu, Mike Glennon, Terrance Williams, Terron Armstead, Keenan Allen.

Good pick or bad pick? Good. Best possible? A few of the guys taken right after Logan look pretty good, too.

Barkley
Fourth round: Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC. The Eagles traded up to take Barkley at the top of the fourth round. It seemed an odd move at the time -- everyone thought Kelly would prefer more mobile quarterbacks -- and is still easily debatable.

It wouldn’t be fair to read too much into Barkley’s limited playing time. He was pressed into service when Nick Foles and then Michael Vick were injured. Barkley had little practice time to draw upon. He threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in 49 attempts.

If he’s the No. 2 quarterback here or eventually flipped to another team looking for a potential starter, he was worth the 98th pick in the draft. If he winds up starting here some day, he was a steal.

Also on board: Nico Johnson, Akeem Spence, Ace Sanders, Josh Boyce, Ryan Nassib.

Good pick or bad pick? Curious pick.

Wolff
Fifth round: Earl Wolff, safety, NC State. By this point in the draft, there’s an element of luck involved. The Eagles desperately needed safety help and took a shot on Wolff with the 136th pick. It was a good shot.

Wolff took the starting job from veteran Patrick Chung early in the season. He had his growing pains, but was starting to settle into the job when he hurt his knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay. Wolff made one brief appearance after that, aggravated the knee and didn’t play again.

Also on board: Jesse Williams, Tharold Simon, Montori Hughes, Stepfan Taylor and Oday Aboushi were the next five players taken.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Seventh round: Joe Kruger, defensive end , Utah. He spent the season on injured reserve. Should be an interesting guy to watch in training camp.

Seventh round: Jordan Poyer, cornerback, Oregon State. Poyer made the team coming out of camp, but was released when the Eagles needed to clear roster space for a running back in October. Cleveland claimed Poyer off waivers and he finished the season with the Browns.

Seventh round: David King, defensive end, Oklahoma. Released in camp.

Also on board: A bunch of guys.

Good picks or bad picks? Oh, come on.
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. -- It has been an ugly first half of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

They’ve lost every game by double digits -- the average margin is 22 points -- and are riding a 13-game losing streak that dates back to a Nov. 25, 2012, when they beat Tennessee. They rank last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense, 31st in rush offense, and 27th in total defense.

They haven’t scored a touchdown at EverBank Field since the first quarter of the 2012 regular-season home finale.

Ugly, indeed.

There have been slivers of good work in parts of the team in the first eight games, but the overall body of work deserves an F.

In breaking that grade down, it's clear this midseason report card isn’t going to be pretty. In fact, it’s the kind of report card that gets you grounded for weeks:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said the surgery on left tackle Luke Joeckel’s fractured right ankle went well, but he’s not sure when the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft can begin his rehab.

Surgeons used a plate to stabilize the break. Joeckel had the surgery Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.

"I know it went very well for him," Bradley said. "There was talk of a plate, but I guess it’s pretty standard. But he felt really good about it. I didn’t get into when he’ll be ready or all of those things.

"He just felt really good, and I think he’s planning on coming back soon to Jacksonville."

The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Joeckel was hurt during the first quarter of Sunday’s 34-20 loss at St. Louis. He will miss the remainder of the season.

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