Report from Jacksonville
Site: The practice field adjacent to EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
What I Saw: Evening practice, Monday, Aug. 3. After canceling a fan-centric session at a local high school with threats of thunderstorms, the Jaguars tried practicing at home. It was damp, steamy and lasted just under 30 minutes until the skies opened and players scurried inside.
Three things you need to know about the Jaguars:
1. This the first year they've spent real money on free agency. Davon House (four-year, $24.5 million) was signed as a shutdown corner, Jared Odrick (five-year, $42.5 million) as a vaunted defensive end, Stefan Wisniewski (one-year, $2.5 million) as a steely center and tight end Julius Thomas (five-year, $46 million) as a red zone stud for second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. House is the lengthy, physical corner that Gus Bradley coached in Seattle. House’s production may depend on how effective the front seven, led by Odrick, can dial up pressure. Odrick, ferocious and spry veteran, hasn’t missed a game since 2010 but tallied just one sack last season (however that’s a misleading stat; with the Dolphins he had to two-gap quite a bit). Wisniewski has the pedigree and experience Jacksonville desires, but is coming off shoulder surgery. Thomas, now the NFL’s highest-paid tight end, thrived in Denver the last two seasons, but who doesn’t look good when Peyton Manning is throwing you the ball? Most of these players have “if’s” attached to their role, so we’ll see if the Jaguars spent money wisely.
2. Blake Bortles entered the offseason with a sore arm. It stems from poor mechanics at Central Florida and his rookie season with the Jaguars. In February, the 23-year-old went to Southern California to visit quarterback guru Tom House (yes, the “Tom Brady guy”). It was supposed to be a one-week session, but Bortles ended up staying most of the offseason. For three days a week, House tutored Bortles on a new throwing motion and warm up regimen. Through the early days of camp, Bortles reports no problems on his previously achey right arm. With new offensive coordinator, the venerable journeyman Greg Olsen calling the shots (Jedd Fisch was fired for “philosophical differences”), Bortles’ development and health are storylines to watch 2015.
3. The Jaguars are 9-39 in the last three years. The big question is, how patient is owner Shahid Khan? Nobody inside the organization has a true sense of what Khan wants. An international businessman (and billionaire) who bought the team in 2012, Khan isn’t around the franchise much. He hasn’t given much indication of what he considers progress. However, this much is clear: if the Jaguars, with a splashy free agent class and promising quarterback come out with another dud of a season, general manager Dave Caldwell and third-year coach Gus Bradley could be on the hot seat.
What will determine success for the Jaguars. Bortles. The Jaguars had all intentions of sitting their No. 3 pick for his rookie season. Plans changed. Jacksonville benched Chad Henne and Bortles wound up playing 14 games, showing some promise but spiraling as the season slogged on. If House cured all that ails Bortles, the Jaguars have a chance to overachieve.
But if Bortles still has growing (or literal) pains, the Jaguars will revert back to Henne, proving this truly is a franchise stuck in neutral.
Player I saw and really liked. I’m taking a cop-out here because I didn’t get to see practice.
Five dot-dot-dot observations about Jacksonville. The injury to top pick Dante Fowler Jr. in rookie mini camp is unfortunate, but not totally detrimental. Two reasons: At least it happened early on, and the Jaguars have had time to adjust their game plan, and how many rookie pass rushers thrive right away anyway? A redshirt season could benefit Fowler’s end game… Man do the Jaguars love Paul Posluszny. During my day at EverBank I heard Posluszny’s name mentioned at least five times — independently — as a model of consistency, including gushing words by the head trainer and Bradley… Jacksonville admitted mistake on their Toby Gerhart free agent signing by drafting running back T.J. Yeldon in the second round, hoping Yeldon can shoulder the load like Maurice Jones-Drew did for so many years…. The Jaguars locker room is ridiculous. By now you may have seen the video of Peter King playing ping pong there, and the rest of the room is tricked out with a wall-size flat screen TV, mood lighting and individual lock combination cubbies for cell phones, along with chargers (I’ve seen other teams with this, like the 49ers, but something about the Jags just felt swanky). No wonder they don’t have trouble signing free agents… Bradley is one of the most upbeat coaches I’ve ever been around. I see why guys rave about playing for him, and why they want to play hard for him. Get Bradley on a long tangent and he begins to sound like he’s giving a Ted Talk.
The one name on the roster I’d forgotten about. Nick Marshall, the former Auburn quarterback who signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent. He’s trying to make the team as a cornerback. I don’t know if he has a shot — looks like he’s competing with four other corners for two roster spots — but beat reporters said Marshall has impressed, at times early in camp. Marshall has the speed, length and size (210 pounds) Bradley prefers in the position, and he’s so gifted I hope the Jaguars can find a place for him on their roster.
The thing I will remember about Jacksonville: “Marquis Lee was held out of practice today because his GPS was too high,” Bradley told the local media contingent.
“What does that mean?” a reporter asked.
Welcome to football in 2015. The Jaguars were the first NFL team to institute GPS tracking on players — to answer the reporter’s question: it monitors how much, and at what intensity players are running, a potential indicator to prevent injury. Lee told me it’s because he also spends time returning kicks. “I don’t think I was doing too much,” Lee says. “But it’s what the coaches want and what this team does.”
Next up: drones that conduct scouting evaluations and breathalyzers that monitor hydration. I’m just kidding, but with the tech-savvy Jaguars, who knows?
Gut feeling as I left camp: I think the money shelled out will pay off. That’s not enough to surpass Indianapolis or Houston in the AFC South (or even come close) but Jacksonville’s trajectory is pointing up.