Jaguars Offensive Line Continues to Plague Jacksonville Offense, Gerhart

Rivers McCownNFL AnalystAugust 14, 2014

Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (69) tries to move around Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Luke Joeckel (76) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Chicago, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

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 StarterSnapsProjected 2014 StarterSnaps
LT Cameron Bradfield793LT Luke Joeckel272
LG William Rackley647LG Zane Beadles1198
C Brad Meester1056C Mike Brewster225
RG Uche Nwaneri1056RG Brandon Linder0
RT Austin Pasztor790RT Austin Pasztor790
Football Outsiders

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. 

Toby Gerhart struggled in his first action with the Jaguars with 6 carries for 19 yards
Toby Gerhart struggled in his first action with the Jaguars with 6 carries for 19 yardsJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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 Cardinals2.93
2013 Baltimore Ravens3.01
2002 Houston Texans3.04
2013 Jacksonville Jaguars3.13
2001 Cleveland Browns3.17
1999 Detroit Lions3.18
1998 New Orleans Saints3.25
2013 New York Giants3.27
1997 Oakland Raiders3.27
2005 Arizona Cardinals3.28
Football Outsiders

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.