Jacksonville Jaguars OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
It’s here! Football season is right around the corner, and organized team activities (OTAs) mark the beginning of another exciting season.
Despite rebuilding, there are plenty of headlines to follow as the team comes together. Let’s take a look at what’s trending in Jacksonville.
Toby Gerhart Will Be a Workhorse
The Jaguars signed Toby Gerhart this offseason, and running backs coach Terry Richardson believes he’s an impact player, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com):
He’s a horse, he’s a big guy, and I talked to one of his former (position) coaches and he was saying Toby had the strongest legs he’s been around in terms of his leg drive and leg power. We’re excited about that.
Gerhart will be the workhorse for this team and will likely see over 200 touches this season. Considering his career 4.7 yards-per-rush average, it’s not hard to believe that Gerhart will find success in Jacksonville.
Gerhart is a guy to watch as OTAs begin. There’s no questioning his power, but I’ll be curious to see how he handles a full load after spelling Adrian Peterson for his whole career.
Cecil Shorts Returns from Sports Hernia
Cecil Shorts missed three games last season after suffering a sports hernia. Coming into 2014, all eyes will be on his recovery. Shorts is a focal point on this team after breaking out in 2012 with 55 receptions, 979 yards and seven touchdowns, with Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert at the helm.
As OTAs begin, the Jaguars will need him now more than ever. After adding two rookie receivers, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, Shorts will be the veteran responsible for helping the rookies learn the offense.
More importantly, the Jaguars are hoping Shorts can establish himself as a legitimate playmaker. To do that, his health will have to be 100 percent. Shorts recently told Jeff Lageman on Jaguars Thursday on 1010XL (h/t Alfie Crow of SB Nation's Big Cat Country):
I’m coming back real strong, probably about 95, very close to 100 percent. I’m running without pain, which is the biggest thing. I was struggling with that all year last year, probably from this time last year all the way through surgery I was struggling with pain to get through it.
Jags fans will be hoping that Shorts comes back better than ever.
Jaguars Will Implement the "Bear" Defense
Maybe the most exciting news coming from the Jaguars' coaching staff is that head coach Gus Bradley will continue his transformation of the team's defense by implementing the “Bear” or "46 front."
While this figures to be more of a sub-package, the defensive alignment brings four linemen and two linebackers onto the line of scrimmage as a way to combat the run. This alignment also brings the strong safety into the box and leaves the free safety to play in single-high coverage.
As the team gets together for OTAs, it’ll be interesting to see how the team begins to implement the new scheme. Players who will likely play crucial roles in that defense are Johnathan Cyprien, who will play the high safety, Chris Clemons, who will play the “Leo” linebacker, and Dekoda Watson, who will play the new “Otto” or “Jack” linebacker.
The Bear defense will be the perfect complement to the aggressive 4-3 defense that Bradley already runs. As they work to perfect it, the Jaguars could field one of the most complex and dangerous defenses in the league.
The Team Is Serious About Sitting Blake Bortles for Rookie Season
I know that the team has said since the beginning that Blake Bortles will likely redshirt his rookie season, but I think there was belief amongst many that the team would go back on its word.
A few weeks removed from the draft, the organization holds strong in its position.
Bradley was recently on NFL Network's NFL Total Access commenting on Bortles’ future:
“And we do feel good about where Blake’s at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good in the end result.”
In the age of rookie quarterbacks who immediately contribute (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson), it’s hard to imagine that the team would be willing to wait for its No. 1 overall pick. However, given the climate of the rebuilding franchise, giving Bortles time to adjust is definitely a best-case scenario.
Right away Bortles will get to learn from Chad Henne, which should benefit him in the future.
Where in the World Is Justin Blackmon?
The biggest storyline in this year’s OTAs will be the absence of Justin Blackmon, whom GM Dave Caldwell doesn’t expect to return after serving an indefinite suspension for substance abuse according to Mark Long of the Associated Press (h/t Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports) .
In fact, Blackmon is absent even to his teammates.
Recently, Shorts tried to reach out to his suspended teammate in hopes of finding out how the receiver was doing but received no response, he told Jaguars Thursday (via Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country).
Blackmon’s absence both from the team and his teammates is bad news for a team that thought he could become an elite receiver in the league. Now, it seems the team will have to move on from Blackmon altogether.
How will the Jaguars replace Blackmon’s production? Will the rookie receivers establish themselves as playmakers? All these are questions that need to be answered, and it all starts during OTAs.
*All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.