The trick in Jacksonville boils down to turning quarterback Blake Bortles into a reliably functional starter. Fans saw progress in the signal-caller over Marrone’s two-week coaching stint to close the season, but Bortles was a white-hot mess for much of the year.
As the team’s website points out, though, the Jaguars saw considerable improvement after Hackett replaced Olson, with the offense trending up in time of possession (30th to 13th), goal-to-go efficiency (15th to fourth) and red-zone efficiency (16th to fifth). During that span, Jacksonville also upped its ground game from 30th in yards to fifth and 26th to 13th in yards per rush.
Although Garrett is widely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns, the Jaguars aren’t far behind with the No. 4 overall selection. Whether the Jaguars might look to trade up for Garrett, or if he were to somehow fall to No. 4, the club is getting its homework done on the draft’s top player.
More realistically, the Jaguars could land any of three rushers coming to Jacksonville this week for visits, as well. LSU’s Leonard Fournette, FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon will head to the First Coast, as well, per the Florida Times-Union. Fournette and Cook are expected to be first-round selections, while it appears Mixon, whose draft stock has been hurt by character concerns, could fall to Round 2. The Jaguars’ second-round pick comes at No. 35 overall. They ranked 22nd in the NFL last year in rushing at 101.9 yards per game. Leading rushers T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory rushed for fewer than 500 yards each and scored just four touchdowns between them.
Getting Allen Robinson involved early was key for Bortles. In his previous five games, Robinson compiled 105 total yards. Saturday, A-Rob went for 147 yards on nine receptions (12 targets). Robinson corralled receptions of 37, 28, 21, 18 and 16 yards. When Robinson is making plays for Bortles, the Jags can be a potent offense. Games like Saturday leave you shaking your head, wondering how the duo could post so many woeful afternoons this season.
The Titans couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Jacksonville, posting just 58 total rushing yards. The Jags’ defense swarmed the line of scrimmage. Young players showed the promise on the Jags roster that will make Jacksonville a desirable destination for the next coach. Dante Fowler Jr. was in Mariota’s face early, notching a sack, three QB hits, two passes defended, and hit the quarterback’s arm on a pivotal third down play early in the second half. Rookie corner Jalen Ramsey continued his dynamic season, breaking up four passes and piled on the Titans with a pick-6 of Cassel.
This was not a difficult decision. During his breakout sophomore year, Bortles was one of the higher-ceilinged quarterbacks in the NFL before a regression in Year 3. Because the option is only guaranteed for injury, the Jaguars can quickly cut ties if Bortles’ slide continues. If he bounces back, they have another season with an affordable passer under center.
The Jaguars were an obvious candidate to select LSU running back Leonard Fournette from Day 1 given how the power back can aid Bortles and negate some of their trouble up front. However, the pre-draft rumor mill, which at times associated Jacksonville with a passer, clouded some opinions on the eventual move.
Linder moved to center in 2016, where he shined as one of the best young players at the position. Pro Football Focus rated Linder as their No. 5 center last season.
The 25-year-old excelled at guard as a rookie in 2014 before missing most of his second season due to injury. The switch to center went seamlessly last season, making it a no-brainer for the cap-space flush Jags to lock down their young blocker for the long-haul.
With all the pressure mounting on Jacksonville’s defense to be great, nipping any nagging injury in the bud during the summer break was the right move. Ramsey, who played up to lofty expectations last year with a pair of interceptions (one brought back for a touchdown), 14 pass breakups, a forced fumble and 55 solo tackles. The club spent lavishly this offseason atop the cornerback market, pairing Ramsey with former Texans standout A.J. Bouye in order to build on their strengths.
Most of the time, core muscle injuries simply need rest and time. With a month-and-a-half break coming up, Ramsey has just that.