Jacksonville's preseason has rightly been inundated in Blake Bortles coverage. The rookie quarterback has shown much better pocket poise than expected and the Jaguars have seen him complete a bevy of NFL-caliber throws. Even a comeback 20-19 win by the Bears couldn't overshadow Bortles, who received top billing on SportsCenter after the game.
But one area Jacksonville hasn't seen gel the same way is the offensive line. The Jaguars came into the preseason with practically a brand new offensive line. Luke Joeckel, Mike Brewster and Austin Pasztor played for the Jaguars last season, but due to injuries and ineffectiveness, they weren't full-time starters. With Uche Nwaneri, Brad Meester and William Rackley cut loose or retired, Jacksonville had to replace 2,759 snaps from last season's offensive line.
|Jacksonville Offensive Line Snaps in 2013, Projected in 2014|
|2013 Starter||Snaps||Projected 2014 Starter||Snaps|
|LT Cameron Bradfield||793||LT Luke Joeckel||272|
|LG William Rackley||647||LG Zane Beadles||1198|
|C Brad Meester||1056||C Mike Brewster||225|
|RG Uche Nwaneri||1056||RG Brandon Linder||0|
|RT Austin Pasztor||790||RT Austin Pasztor||790|
While Jacksonville was able to reel in Zane Beadles from Denver with a five-year, $30 million contract, the rest of the line has been left to a mish-mash of youth with either no experience or negative experience at the NFL level.
Now, this is how Jacksonville has to build its roster at this stage of where it is in the success cycle. It should be relying on second overall pick Luke Joeckel to make an impact. It should be giving players like Mike Brewster and Austin Pasztor snaps to see if they can develop into worthwhile players. Free agency often offers a steep markup to obtain offensive linemen of adequate or worse quality, and it's not hard to see that Jacksonville knew it needed to upgrade there because it still went ahead and signed Beadles.
And, after, all, they could hardly be worse than they were in 2013. Football Outsiders isolates offensive line contributions in the short running game with a stat called Adjusted Line Yards. By this metric, the Jaguars had one of the worst 10 seasons since Adjusted Line Yards started being tracked in 1996. (The Ravens, of course, were worse last year, which kept the heat off Jacksonville.)
|Worst Adjusted Line Yards, Season, 1996-2013|
|2012 Arizona Cardinals||2.93|
|2013 Baltimore Ravens||3.01|
|2002 Houston Texans||3.04|
|2013 Jacksonville Jaguars||3.13|
|2001 Cleveland Browns||3.17|
|1999 Detroit Lions||3.18|
|1998 New Orleans Saints||3.25|
|2013 New York Giants||3.27|
|1997 Oakland Raiders||3.27|
|2005 Arizona Cardinals||3.28|
It's early in preseason, but the Jacksonville starters haven't shown much improvement in their limited game action. Toby Gerhart rushed for 19 yards in his preseason debut, but 18 of those yards came on one carry. Jordan Todman managed 18 yards on eight carries. Combined, the two of them had six carries of one yard or less while Chad Henne and the nominal first-teamers were in the game. Todman and Storm Johnson added three more carries of one yard or less against the Bucs in the first preseason game.
And, right now, this is still on the offensive line. Brewster and Joeckel both stuggled against the Bears. Joeckel was pushed back by Jared Allen on multiple occasions, and he wasn't able to effectively block up the outside on zone plays. Brewster was a liability against both the run and the pass, as he was last year and the year before that, while the position change to center is going so well that the Jaguars came up with a plan to give each potential center on their roster a whole quarter of action in this game.
Worse yet, injuries have begun to set in. Pasztor broke his hand in Week 2, and sixth-round pick Luke Bwanako, who helped set the scene for Gerhart's long run in the first quarter, sprained his ankle.
It's impossible for Jacksonville to fix every hole on its roster right away. This was always going to be a multi-year rebuilding project. But it's hard to see Joeckel, a former No. 2 overall pick, continue to struggle like he has. Especially after trading left tackle Eugene Monroe to clear a space for him in the starting lineup. Any hopes Jacksonville has of a 2015 return to contention are going to rely heavily on the run game, as that is head coach Gus Bradley's preferred offense. It's going to be hard for him to push that if the offensive line doesn't take a big step forward.
So far, it hasn't.