Jacksonville Jaguars: What to Watch for at OTAs
With the craziness of free agency and the draft growing distant in the rearview mirror, the Jacksonville Jaguars can get their offseason workouts underway.
Although the team has already held several organized team activities, the majority of the workouts still lie ahead. Jacksonville has offseason workouts in two of the next three weeks, per ESPN's Paul Kuharsky.
OTAs will play a vital role for the Jaguars this season. Not only will veterans shake off rust while rookies get acclimated to life in the NFL, but the players also have to get accustomed to the new culture instilled by new head coach Gus Bradley.
The players will also get their first chances to impress the coaching staff. With Bradley preaching competition, per Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country, positive first impressions could help players make the final roster.
Here is what to watch for during the Jaguars OTAs.
Neither Blaine Gabbert nor Chad Henne were able to secure the Jaguars' starting quarterback role last season, which forced general manager David Caldwell to add competition before the offseason workouts.
GM Caldwell signed Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers in undrafted free agency in hopes of lighting a fire under Gabbert and Henne, but it has yet to happen.
With Rodgers out until training camp after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com, the other three quarterbacks will have the opportunity to redeem themselves and earn the starting job.
The quarterback battle may be the most exciting one to watch, there is no doubt it's the most important. The team's success rides on the quarterback, and it will be another long season if one of them fails to step up.
The quarterback situation is something to keep an eye on throughout the offseason; it will determine the fate of the Jaguars' season.
Denard Robinson's Role
The Jaguars added a versatile playmaker when they drafted Denard Robinson in the fifth round of the draft.
The Jaguars are going to take advantage of Robinson's speed and versatility by getting him the ball 10 to 15 times a game, according to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, while he lines up at a variety of positions, per AP's Mark Long.
Although the plan was to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner, Robinson even saw snaps at quarterback during last week's OTAs, according to The Detroit News.
Although he won't be anything more than a Wildcat quarterback if he does see more time at the position, Robinson's versatility could be a giant asset to Jacksonville's offense. He has the chance to be a dangerous playmaker and add the spark the Jaguars offense has been missing for years.
It's going to be fun watching the Jaguars come up with creative ways to utilize Robinson's skills, and we'll get our first look at those plans during the offseason workouts.
Justin Blackmon's Road to Redemption
Justin Blackmon was poised to continue building upon his great rookie season by continuing to develop his game during this summer's workouts.
But he was instead answering questions about his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
For the second straight offseason, Blackmon has off-the-field issues he must answer for.
Per John Oehser of Jaguars.com:
“I just have to make better decisions,” Blackmon said Monday following the first of 10 organized team activities practices scheduled in May and June at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields adjacent to EverBank Field.
“My problem is I made selfish decisions. I apologize for that. I apologize to my teammates and apologize to my family. It’s something I did and I take full responsibility for it.”
Although he has made major mistakes in each of his first two years in the league, Blackmon still has Coach Bradley's trust, according to Oehser.
Blackmon is at a crossroads in his career, and this summer's OTAs will determine which path his career takes. If he responds positively, he could still be the star the Jaguars wanted him to be when they made him the No. 5 pick in last year's draft.
Still, it's hard to shake the feeling that we're looking at the next Jimmy Smith, who was sentenced to six years in prison for drug possession and weapons charges, per USA Today.
Blackmon will get the opportunity to get his life on the right track, and that begins this offseason.
New Faces on Defensive Line
Jacksonville's defensive line will look almost completely different from last year's unit. The shakeup was a much-needed one after the line was responsible for the fewest sacks (20) and allowing the third-most rushing yards per game (141).
The team focused on adding talent to the interior of the defensive line through most of the offseason. It signed Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks during free agency, who are expected to be the team's starting defensive tackles.
Miller is a big body at defensive tackle who will use his size (6'2", 310 lbs) to clog the interior of the line. He won't show up much on the stat sheet, but he won't have to be too effective. By holding the point of attack, he will allow other players to run free and make the tackles.
Marks is one of those players Miller will free up. Marks is a penetrating defensive tackle who will be asked to make plays in the opponent's backfield.
The Jaguars weren't finished acquiring defensive linemen as they claimed a pair of former Patriots last week off waivers.
The first was Brandon Deaderick, who was active for 14 games last year and played about 40 percent of New England's defensive snaps, according to Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country. He also brings discipline as he's never been penalized, per Jaguars senior vice president of football technology and Analytics Tony Khan.
The second player signed was Kyle Love, who was cut by the Patriots after being told he has Type-2 diabetes, Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports reports.
The Patriots gave him one of two decisions to make: Either retire for a year or be cut, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. Love obviously chose the latter, which allowed the Jaguars to claim him off waivers.
Love started 24 games for the Patriots over the last two seasons, including 11 last year. He brings experience and, if he gets back to 100 percent, will be a good rotational run stuffer.
The Jaguars have a lot of new faces on the defensive line, and all of them should help improve the defense.
Tyson Alualu's Move to Defensive End
New players won't be the only thing different about the defensive line this year, as a familiar face will play at a new position.
After three years of playing defensive tackle, 2010 first-round pick Tyson Alualu will move to defensive end, John Oehser of Jaguars.com reports.
He worked at the new position during last week's OTAs and will be asked to be a run-oriented defensive end in Bradley's scheme.
The move should work into Alualu's strengths, as he thrived as a 3-4 defensive end during his collegiate career. He will have a better opportunity to stop the run as he will face double-teams against tight ends, who he should be able to fight off to get after the ball-carrier.
The move to defensive end could help his health, too. Alualu has battled a knee injury despite starting 16 games in each of his three seasons in the league, and he said the transition to defensive end should mean "less wear and tear" on him, per AP's Mark Long.
The Jaguars are moving Alualu back to his more natural position, which will hopefully jump start his career. It's going to be interesting to watch him return to defensive end throughout OTAs.
The LEO position will be on the opposite side of the line from Alualu. The position is designed for a fast pass-rusher who uses his speed and quickness to pressure the quarterback.
Jason Babin is expected to be the player to take over the role, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com. Babin recorded two sacks in four games for Jacksonville last season after being claimed off waivers late in the season.
Babin's quickness should allow him to thrive at the position as he would be able to line up wide and use his speed to get by offensive tackles.
Jaguars defensive line coach Todd Wash said Babin won't be doing anything different than he did in Philadelphia, Big Cat Country's Alfi Crow reports. He was a dominant player for the Eagles as he recorded 23.5 sacks in less than two seasons and was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Babin isn't the only player who could play the position, as Andre Branch will also be given an opportunity to play the LEO, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
Branch was a major disappointment after being drafted in the second round of last year's draft. He recorded just one sack and 12 combined tackles during his rookie season, but the new role could be what he needs to become an impact player.
Branch is a good fit as a LEO; so much so that the Seattle Seahawks considered drafting him last year specifically for the position.
Per O'Halloran, Bradley said:
It would be awesome if we could have two. That’s the style we’re looking at. Branch has some qualities. We looked at him last year in the draft as a Leo.
Babin and Branch will compete to be the Jaguars' primary pass-rusher, and it should be an entertaining battle to watch play out during the OTAs.
While the quarterback competition may be the most important one for the Jaguars, the cornerback competition may be the fiercest.
The cornerback corps is completely overhauled from last year's group after the departures of Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross during the offseason.
Replacing them is a group of rookies and free agents. The new cornerbacks are led by third-round pick Dwayne Gratz, who will be given the opportunity to earn the starting job, according to Big Cat Country's Alfie Crow.
In addition to Gratz, the Jaguars also drafted Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray in the seventh round and added several undrafted free agents.
The rookies are joining a group of veterans who are being given a chance to compete.
Jacksonville signed Alan Ball early in free agency, while Mike Harris and Kevin Rutland are the only cornerbacks to return from last year's team. Ball is expected to be the start opposite Gratz, but Harris played well in a limited role last season and could earn significant playing time.
The Jaguars signed Marcus Trufant to add much-needed veteran leadership to the unit. He brings a familiarity to Bradley's defensive schemes, as he played for the Jaguars head coach as a member of the Seahawks. He won't just be a mentor to younger players, but Trufant will compete to be Jacksonville's nickelback, per AP's Mark Long.
There are nine cornerbacks competing for about five roster spots, which is going to make it an intense battle. Bradley preaches competition, and that will not ring truer more than it does at cornerback.
The New Identity
The Jaguars will have a new identity in 2013.
No, I'm not referring to the new logo. Or even the new uniforms.
I'm referring to the the schemes and energy coach Bradley is bringing to the organization. The on-the-field product will be completely different under Bradley, as the team will have a new identity.
Bradley revealed his mantra at his introductory press conference January. His philosophy? To get better every day, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
Bradley is ensuring the Jaguars are doing just that during the offseason workouts by stressing tempo and competition, according to O'Halloran.
By doing so, it guarantees the most passionate players will step up and make the team, which will only improve the team as a whole.
Bradley is an exciting and energetic coach, and it comes as no surprise that his practices will reflect that. It's going to be a lot of fun watching the Jaguars' new identity evolve in front of our eyes during the offseason workouts.
If the players buy into Bradley's ideas, the team could be poised for a surprising season.