Breaking Down the Jacksonville Jaguars Likely Opening Game Starting Lineup
Most notable? The starting lineup.
This training camp has been full of position battles, as the rebuilding franchise tries to identify players who could play big roles in the future.
Like there is in any other NFL camp, there have been big surprises (Blake Bortles) and major disappointments (Mike Brewster), but overall this team is starting to really come into focus.
While the Jaguars don’t necessarily promise to be a real threat to the league in 2014, getting the starting lineup established now should go a long way toward making them relevant in the future. The rebuilding process means giving players an opportunity to develop into roles that will allow this team to be long-term contenders. I think the team is doing everything they can to maximize that opportunity.
With that said, let’s take a look at what I project to be the Jaguars’ starting lineup Week 1.
Projected Starter: Chad Henne
While Blake Bortles stands to get first-team reps with the Jaguars this preseason, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll be the Week 1 starter with this franchise.
Bortles may be the future, but Henne is the present.
Henne looked strong leading the offense in the team’s second preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Aside from putting together a stat line of 12-of-17, 130 yards and one touchdown, Henne displayed confidence and excellent pocket awareness while orchestrating the offense.
The Jaguars would be wise to allow Bortles time to develop behind Henne while the rest of the offense, especially the offensive line, comes together. As of right now, the risk of Bortles getting hurt outweighs the reward of him playing.
It’s Henne’s show until further notice.
Projected Starter: Toby Gerhart
Toby Gerhart was brought in as a free agent to be the workhorse for the Jaguars. He is far and away the most complete back on the roster and isn’t close to being challenged for the starting spot.
I would envision Gerhart getting between 250 and 300 carries this season. As a downhill-running power back, Gerhart will be the player who sets the tone for this team. If his running consistently puts the Jaguars in favorable down-and-distance situations, then this offense has the potential to be among the most efficient in the league.
One thing to watch for is how the Jaguars spell Gerhart during games. Running back Denard Robinson has flashed some skills during the preseason and could be an explosive option as a change-of-pace back.
Projected Starters: Cecil Shorts III, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee
For the Jaguars, wide receiver has the most intrigue of any of the team's positions. After bringing in two rookies, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, Jacksonville is stocked with exciting young talent.
Receiver Cecil Shorts is the veteran of the group and the most established playmaker. Solidly built, the 6'0", 202-pound Shorts is an agile player who runs excellent routes and has outstanding hands. With consistent quarterback play, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Shorts could catch close to 100 passes this season.
The fun part will be watching how Robinson and Lee work together. Robinson is a bigger, outside receiver, and his size (6'3", 210 pounds) and athleticism allow him to work well on the perimeter against bigger defensive backs.
Robinson’s ability to play the “X”-receiver allows Marqise Lee to move into the slot. Lee is a fluid athlete who can be an absolute playmaker after the catch. It will be interesting to see how the Jaguar coaches exploit matchups with such a diverse set of receivers.
Projected Starter: Marcedes Lewis
Marcedes Lewis is coming off a down year when he accumulated only 359 receiving yards and four touchdowns—the lowest totals of his career since his rookie campaign.
That being said, Lewis still remains a dangerous weapon for this overhauled offense.
The most underrated aspect of Lewis’ game is his ability to block. Lewis has the size and strength to be a valuable extra offensive lineman in run-heavy formations.
Lewis is the quintessential all-purpose tight end. Sure, he lacks elite athleticism but he makes up for it with excellent fundamentals as a receiver and blocker. With an improved offense, Lewis has to the potential to be a productive security blanket for quarterback Chad Henne.
Projected Starters: Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, Luke Bowanko, Brandon Linder, Austin Pasztor
Easily the most concerning unit among Jacksonville's positional groups, the offensive line is a relative uncertainty heading into the season.
The team brought in Zane Beadles and drafted Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko, and they also get last year's first-round draft pick Luke Joeckel back from a broken ankle. Because of all these moves, the unit is very unproven.
But with as they gain experience playing alongside one another, I believe these offensive linemen could develop into a very cohesive group. Joeckel is a top-tier talent, and Beadles brings veteran leadership and playoff experience. Moreover, the additions of Bowanko and Linder are proving to be smart moves, as both rookies have performed well in preseason action and could easily be considered starting-caliber players.
The development of this group may be the most important driver of any future success for this franchise. If the line can mature and play consistently, there will be a good foundation in place when the team decides to insert Blake Bortles into the mix.
Projected Starters: Red Bryant, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Chris Clemons
The Jaguars overhauled their defensive line this offseason and now field a group that could be very dangerous in 2014.
Newly acquired defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons bring a Seattle-like flavor to this defense. Clemons is a pass-rushing specialist who fits perfectly in head coach Gus Bradley’s “Leo” position. On the other side, Bryant is a run-stopping specialist who is excellent at containment and swallows up incoming ball-carriers.
The leader of this group could be Sen’Derrick Marks, who could emerge as one of the best defensive tackles in the league this year. Marks has already shown up quite a bit in preseason tallying one quarterback hit and two quarterback hurries in 29 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
It will be fun to see what this unit can do. I project that they could be responsible for around 25 sacks and three forced fumbles over the course of the season.
Projected Starters: Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny, Dekoda Watson
For the Jaguars the linebacker position might not be the strongest group, but it should be the most fun to watch.
Veteran Paul Posluszny is the clear-cut leader of this defense. He’s an absolute beast in pursuit and his ability to recognize plays ranks him amongst the best interior linebackers in the league.
Posluszny should be the rock that keeps the other two starters grounded. Rookie Telvin Smith is an absolute firecracker on the field. The intensity and speed he plays with puts him around the ball every play, and in the preseason he’s already helped create two turnovers—a Winston Guy interception forced by Smith’s quarterback pressure and a Josh Evans interception forced by Smith tipping a pass.
Dekoda Watson projects as the team’s new “Otto” backer, a player who plays up towards the line of scrimmage to enhance run defense and the pass rush. Watson is an athletic player who should get a lot of opportunities to make plays.
Overall, this unit is raw, but I believe Smith and Watson give the team the best chance to succeed. Smith will face competition from veteran linebacker Geno Hayes, but his performance in the offseason will solidify his role as a starter.
Projected Starters: Johnathan Cyprien, Winston Guy, Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray
This secondary may very well be the key to the Jaguars defense this year. While it showcases some very young players, those players wield a lot of talent.
Most exciting to watch this year will be Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray. While Gratz was a starter last year, I project that McCray will beat out Alan Ball this year for the position opposite Gratz.
What I like about Gratz and McCray is that they both remind me the cornerbacks who play for the Seattle Seahawks. They both have decent size, are aggressive and aren’t afraid to stick their heads in on a tackle. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the tandem has allowed only 43 yards on 11 targets and has combined for nine tackles so far in the preseason.
At the safety position Johnathan Cyprien comes in as the headliner. He’s a physical player who can be effective at the line of scrimmage or in deep coverage. Winston Guy is a player who is trying to define himself. Together this duo could emerge as a dangerous, playmaking defensive backfield.
Projected Starters: Josh Scobee, Bryan Anger
Additionally, Bryan Anger is a young punter who has all the potential in the world. I haven’t seen the Jaguars bring in anyone who could legitimately challenge Anger as the team's punter.
For all the questions throughout the roster, it’s nice to know that the team can depend on their special teams. Both Scobee and Anger play huge roles for the Jaguars and should have big seasons in 2014.
*All stats courtesy Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.