Jacksonville Jaguars: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Training Camp
To say this is an important offseason for the Jaguars would be an understatement. As the team begins a legitimate rebuild, all eyes will be on the young talent as they receive their first snaps of the 2014-15 season.
The hope? That every young player will be able to exceed the already high expectations placed upon them.
Whether it’s scrutinizing every Blake Bortles movement or charting every Marqise Lee catch, the interest in this team is higher than it's been in quite some time. Everyone wants to know if the Jaguars can escape this nightmare trend of losing seasons.
With two weeks of training camp passed, we are now a little closer to knowing that answer.
While it doesn't figure to be an immediate transformation from bottom-dweller to contender, the Jaguars are showing signs of a team on the up-and-up. Sure, each day brings about new questions, but it also answers old ones—and for once, we finally seem to have a good pulse on this young franchise.
Let’s take a look at what training camp has taught us so far.
Injuries Are the Worst
Injuries stink, period.
This is probably the most obvious statement you’ve heard today, but the Jaguars are certainly experiencing this firsthand.
According to Mike DiRocco of ESPN, the Jaguars had nine players out with injuries as of August 1: receiver Tandon Doss, receiver Allen Robinson, receiver Cecil Shorts, receiver Damian Copeland, tight end Clay Harbor, guard Brandon Linder, defensive tackle Jordan Miller and linebackers J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei.
That’s a lot of injuries to deal with this early in camp, especially considering some of those guys are young players who need time on the field.
The worst of them is the Robinson injury, as he was getting extra time with the first-team offense in place of Cecil Shorts. Robinson needs as many looks as he can get and will be a big part of this offense moving forward. Missing time hurts the development of the entire offense.
Another big loss is rookie offensive guard Brandon Linder. Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country is reporting that Linder has been getting work with the starters. As a rookie, Linder’s presence is necessary for establishing continuity with his cohorts on the offensive line. It’s important that he gets all the work he can so that he doesn’t become a liability against NFL-level defenders.
Let’s hope this team can get healthy and get this rebuild project back on track.
Blake Bortles Can Play Quarterback
When the Jaguars drafted Blake Bortles with the third pick in the 2014 NFL draft, there was fear that Bortles might become the next Blaine Gabbert.
If the early news on Bortles is any indication, things are going to be just fine in Jacksonville, Fla.
Bortles has been coming on strong this second week of training camp and has made some really great progress. Sure, there are still things he has to work on, but Bortles seems to be throwing the ball with more confidence. Moreover, he seems to have improved his footwork, and the game is clearly slowing down for him.
In the team’s intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday, Bortles was easily the most productive quarterback on the field. Bortles even outpaced starter Chad Henne as he completed 9-of-13 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
Most impressive was a beautiful pass to receiver Mike Brown from the opponent’s end zone for a nice gain. Bortles was able to drop the ball over the defender and place it perfectly where only Brown could make a play for it.
Jordan Todman Is Turning Heads
I’m man enough to admit when I am wrong, and this is one of those cases. I thought that Denard Robinson would be the running back I was labeling as a surprise, but instead that player is Jordan Todman.
Todman is a change-of-pace back that has experience in the Jaguars offense. In camp, he’s showing that he’s ready to be more than just a name on the depth chart.
Todman is an explosive runner who has shown he can be an legitimate playmaker. On more than one occasion, Todman has turned on the jets and burned the defense. Although small (5’10”, 198 pounds), Todman has made plays through the gut of the defense and running around the edge.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco believes that Todman can be the team’s second running back and should see some work spelling Toby Gerhart.
If Todman can set out a niche on third-down and can prove to have reliable hands out of the backfield, he can be up for a huge role in the 2014-15 season.
Mike Brown Is an Underrated Receiver
Mike Brown is far from a finished product as a receiver, but this offseason is proving he’s not a guy to forget.
Brown has been seeing an increased role with the aforementioned injuries to Cecil Shorts and Allen Robinson. As a player who I thought needed to improve his route running from 2013, he is really starting to outshine some of the other young receivers on the team.
Brown has committed a few drops, but he was the most productive receiver in the intra-squad scrimmage as he grabbed five passes for 55 yards.
Brown seems to have put in work this offseason, which included being apart of Larry Fitzgerald’s annual offseason camp. The hard work seems to have paid off and Brown looks like a receiver who has committed to improving. Over the last two weeks of me watching Brown, he seems to have improved his hands and route running.
In my opinion, Brown is a roster lock after a great start to camp.
Marcedes Lewis Is Still Valuable
After a terrible 2013, I thought Marcedes Lewis might move on from Jacksonville in the offseason. As it happens, Lewis is still a member of the Jaguars, but he'll need to improve in 2014 to maintain that status.
Mike DiRocco of ESPN reported that Lewis is feeling better than ever. This is great news for Jaguars fans that are hoping their playmaking tight end can regain his true form.
Lewis is a rare tight end when you consider his exceptional value as a run-blocker and pass-catcher. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Lewis has only graded negatively in run-blocking three times in the past two years. Additionally, Lewis has amassed 297 receptions in his career for 3,583 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Lewis has looked great in passing drills, seemingly catching everything thrown his way. If the Jaguars are to surpass their 2013 win total of four games, Lewis will have to play a big, consistent role in the offense. So far, that looks probable.
The Jaguars Have the Right Leaders
Above all, the biggest beacon of hope springing from the Jaguars organization is their amazing leadership. Owner Shad Khan, general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are proving that they are committed to the city of Jacksonville and the loyal Jaguars fans.
Second, Khan and the Jaguars helped sponsor a pool party for the unofficial team fan club, the Bold City Brigade. This pool party featured the new pools in the stadium as well as visits from Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell. Khan has made it a point to improve relationships with the local fans and has arguably done that better than any owner in the NFL.
Lastly, Khan is working diligently to improve EverBank Field. The longstanding stadium now houses two of the largest video boards in the world (take that, Jerry!) amongst other great upgrades such as the new cabanas and fan zone.
The organizational leadership has quickly transformed the Jaguars into a respectable franchise that cares about its product on and off the field. The fans are excited, the team is acquiring great talents and the arrow is pointing up. It can’t get much better than that.