Jaguars looking for faster starts, beginning against Jets
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Of all the things on Jacksonville's lengthy to-improve list, starting faster is near the top of the list.
The Jaguars were among the NFL's worst first-quarter teams in 2015. They scored just 35 points in the opening period, second worst in the league behind San Francisco.
There were a number of persistent issues, including turnovers, sacks and penalties. Jacksonville also ranked 31st in three-and-outs, failing to move the chains on 38.3 percent of its drives. Throw in a mediocre running game, and the team's sluggish offense early in games was as big a problem as its porous defense.
General manager Dave Caldwell did everything he could to fix the defense this offseason. He spent big in free agency and drafted several youngsters to fill holes on that side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterback Blake Bortles, meanwhile, are still working to find a permanent fix to the slow starts.
They will get their first chance to show progress Thursday night in the team's preseason opener at the New York Jets.
''You want to get in a groove and get moving,'' Bortles said Tuesday. ''It would be nice to not have to deal with a third down on the first drive. ... It's not a good feeling to go out there for the first possession and everybody's amped up and ready and you go three-and-out, and then you go and repeat and go three-and-out again.
''That's what we're trying to eliminate. How do we become consistent in moving the chains and being more efficient on third down and staying on the field?''
Olson talks about it daily and treats each of the 12 practice periods in training camp like the beginning of a new game. So the Jaguars are getting plenty of chances to work on faster starts, but the first real test comes against the Jets.
''We have to make the layups,'' tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ''That's one of the things that were missing last year. We had way too many silly things put us in holes. And when we're faced with adversity, we've got to be able to punch it in the mouth and keep going. That was our issue, too, last year. If something bad happened, the air was just out of the whole sideline and out of the ball. We can't be like that this year.''
It should help that the Jaguars have the majority of their offensive starters going into their second season in the same offense. There is no learning curve or transition period like during Olson's first season in Jacksonville.
Bortles knows the plays as well as anyone. Tight end Julius Thomas is healthy after playing last season with a broken bone in the back of his right hand. The addition of Chris Ivory should bolster the running game. And with center Brandon Linder back from injury and Kelvin Beachum expected to step in at left tackle, the Jaguars should be better up front.
All those factors could help the Jags get out of the gates quicker.
Of course, then they will be concerned with sustaining it.
''It's not just about whether we start super-fast,'' Lewis said. ''We just need to play ball. In years past, if we didn't start fast, we'd be behind and have no momentum and no idea how to get it back. Now, we have players. Let's just go out there and play ball and not worry about starting fast. If we do start fast, great, but you can't get too high or too low about it. You've got to stay in that zone and be consistent, and I think we'll finally be able to do that.''
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