Jacksonville Jaguars Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
Three starters might not feel the effects immediately. But the trio has been put on notice, and their status as starters now looks short-lived.
The fates of three other roster members will likely be decided more swiftly. Offseason moves have ensured they risk losing more than just a starting berth.
Here are the six endangered players on the Jacksonville roster ahead of the new season.
Tyson Alualu, DL
Tyson Alualu received a clear message about his status when the team signed a pair of free agents along the defensive front. Red Bryant's arrival told Alualu he would no longer be required as the starting 5-technique end in head coach Gus Bradley's hybrid scheme.
That makes sense considering the 6'4", 323-pound Bryant offers greater size and is more adept at occupying multiple blockers. One of the reasons the Jags ranked 29th against the run in 2013 was Alualu's inability to collapse the edge.
But if 2010's first-round pick hoped a move back inside to D-tackle beckoned, the arrival of Ziggy Hood would have made him think twice. The ex-Pittsburgh Steelers starter is an adept pass-rusher with some two-gap skills.
That means Hood should provide cover behind both Bryant and 3-technique pass-rusher Sen'Derrick Marks. For Alualu, the result will likely be a season-long place on the bench.
Will Ta'ufo'ou, FB
It's difficult to imagine Will Ta'ufo'ou being the starting fullback once the new season begins. After all, the Jags did go to the trouble of claiming former Atlanta Falcons blocking back Bradie Ewing off waivers.
At 5'11" and 243 pounds, Ewing has the size to help knock open holes for new lead runner Toby Gerhart. He should be seen as an upgrade over Ta'ufo'ou, who contributed to a pitiful ground game last season.
The Jaguars averaged a woeful 78.8 yards per game and ranked 31st overall. Ewing will get his chance to add something more to a new-look rushing attack.
Geno Hayes, OLB
Geno Hayes was adequate during his first season in the AFC South. He gave the Jacksonville defense more speed at linebacker, something the new regime coveted.
But Bradley and general manager David Caldwell could already be thinking about upgrading the 26-year-old pro. A hint came when the pair used one of two fifth-round picks to select Telvin Smith.
Like Hayes, Smith is short on imposing size. But the 6'3", 218-pounder does bring safety-like quickness to the position. That's a major asset on a fast-flowing defense like the one Bradley operates.
In 2011, the Jaguars head coach was part of the Seattle Seahawks staff that drafted 6'0", 226-pounder Malcolm Smith in Round 7. Smith became a starter and Super Bowl MVP last season in a version of the scheme Bradley helped craft.
Bradley may have found his next undersized linebacker who will prove a steal. Telvin Smith has already impressed defensive coordinator Bob Babich during rookie minicamp, per Hays Carlyon of The Florida Times-Union (subscription required).
Andre Branch, DE
Andre Branch is a capable pass-rusher with some potential. However, the 2012 second-rounder may not get many chances to showcase his skills in a suddenly very crowded rotation.
Not only did the Jags sign ex-Seattle Seahawks veteran Chris Clemons, they also brought back Jason Babin. But Branch has really been put on notice by the decision to select Chris Smith in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Smith is a classic 'tweener. He will never be confused for a prototypical 4-3 defensive end, and he perhaps carries too much mass to play regular outside linebacker in a 3-4.
But the 6'1", 266-pounder fits perfectly in the "Leo" role that is the focal point of Bradley's defensive front. As someone who can both put his hand down and stand up and rush, Smith will be a valuable part of the sub-package defense.
His presence means that Branch must make the most of any opportunities he gets in 2014. If he doesn't, then coaches are unlikely to believe he can join Smith as young successors to Clemons and Babin.
Justin Blackmon, WR
Bradley and Caldwell knew they would have to plan without indefinitely suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Caldwell confirmed as much when he said the team wasn't "counting on" Blackmon being available for the new season, per Associated Press reporter Mark Long.
But the extent of Jacksonville's efforts to compensate for life without Blackmon should have put 2012's fifth overall pick on notice.
Caldwell used consecutive second-round picks to select wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Both are close to steals where they were drafted. They will certainly push to start from year one.
The Jags also already possess some intriguing talent at the position in the form of Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders. So even if only one of Lee or Robinson makes the grade, the Jags will have done enough not to need Blackmon.
Chad Henne, QB
Chad Henne likely would have known a rookie quarterback would be coming to town this offseason. After all, owner Shad Khan made no secret of his team's desire to add to the position, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
But the fact they did it so early, using the draft's third pick to keep Blake Bortles in Florida, lets Henne know the clock is ticking on his time as starter.
For now, the job is his. Bradley confirmed that when the franchise handed Henne a new deal prior to free agency, per Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser.
Bradley has even indicated Bortles is likely to experience his first pro season from the sidelines, according to NFL.com writer Dan Hanzus, citing Bradley's interview with NFL Network's NFL Total Access.
In truth, Bradley and the Jaguars will be keeping all options open at arguably football's most important position. But that won't stop Henne knowing that the moment he falters the calls for Bortles will be heard far and wide.
All statistics and team rankings courtesy of NFL.com.
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