As the 2015 season draws near, hopes are high for the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Gus Bradley entering his third season and Blake Bortles now firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, a much needed turnaround seems to be on the horizon.
Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell work well enough together to steer Jacksonville in the right direction, but the Jaguars seven wins in their first two seasons under Bradley, mean that the hard work hasn’t paid off just yet on the field.
The Jaguars have not hit the panic button yet by any stretch, but clearly a 3-13 season is not what anyone in the front office, or in the fan base wants to see. The three wins last year were a combination of young players and some tough luck. The Jaguars had some games that they led early, but couldn’t hold, losing a few of those games in the fourth quarter. Pair those games with the games that they were overmatched in and you have the common issues that a young team faces.
The offensive line, which last year gave up 55 sacks with Bortles behind center, is definitely going to have to improve, if the Jaguars are going to succeed. They allowed 10 sacks with Chad Henne at quarterback in week two and eight sacks in a game against Baltimore in December.
Not all of the blame lies with the offensive line. Bortles has to do himself a favor and get rid of the ball quicker, whether that means finding the open receiver in a timelier manner, or just throwing the ball away. His 17 interceptions were not surprising for a rookie, but cannot be repeated if the Jags are going to win consistently.
With Greg Olsen taking over for Jedd Fisch as the offensive coordinator, the Jaguars will now have a wealth of experience at that position, which should help Bortles improve immediately. Usually, a quarterback’s growth is stunted in the first year under a new position coach, but because Bortles showed improvement in many facets of his game during his rookie season, this may not be as much of a problem for him, as it would seem on the surface.
The biggest problem Bortles and the Jaguars face is that they don’t have much of a running game to help balance things out. Bortles was the team’s second leading rusher last season, behind Denard Robinson. Robinson had 582 yards, while Bortles finished with 419. Toby Gerhart finished third. T.J. Yeldon was drafted out of Alabama and should be a good addition, but to put him in a prominent role as a rookie, may not be something the Jaguars are comfortable with. Time will tell.
The receiving core was upgraded in the offseason, with the addition of Julius Thomas at tight end. He was a great option for Peyton Manning in Denver, but he was not the first option because Denver had depth at wide receiver. In Jacksonville, Thomas will be paired with fellow tight end Marcedes Lewis. Together, they may be the receivers Bortles counts on most.
Obviously, the Jaguars have Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, but outside of a few big plays here and there, those two receivers were not world-beaters on a regular basis.
There is no denying that the Jaguars will have to rely heavily on Bortles in 2015. His decision making skills will need to improve in a lot of different facets of the game on a weekly basis, which is a lot for a rookie to handle, especially in his second season. That said, judging by his courage under fire in 2014, Bortles has the mental makeup to handle everything thrown his way.
Jaguars veterans reported to training camp on Thursday. Camp officially opens on Saturday, August 1.
Statistical information used in this article from ESPN.com.