Jaguars trying to create tougher team, improved ground game
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Doug Marrone has a clear agenda for his first training camp as Jacksonville's head coach.
Marrone wants to make the Jaguars tougher and more physical than they've been in years, a facelift he believes will lead to one of the most effective running games in the NFL.
He has five consecutive practices in full pads in Florida's sweltering heat and humidity scheduled next week, followed a few days later by joint workouts with the Super Bowl champion Patriots. And after the preseason opener at New England, the Jaguars will return home for another pair of padded practices with Tampa Bay.
''I want to make it tough,'' Marrone said. ''I want to create adversity. I want to create a competitive environment, but I also want to create a foundation of how we are going to win.''
Marrone's plan is simple: run the ball. And if that doesn't work, run it some more.
Marrone and football czar Tom Coughlin are confident an improved ground game will yield more victories, especially considering Blake Bortles has averaged a little more than 37 passes a game the last three years and won just 11 times in 45 starts.
So pretty much everything Marrone and Coughlin have done since they were hired in January has been centered on making ground gains.
They brought in well-respected offensive line coach Pat Flaherty; traded for two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert; selected LSU star running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft; took Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson early in the second round; signed two fullbacks; and then called significantly more runs than passes than in previous years during organized team activities. If that wasn't enough evidence of Jacksonville's plan of attack, the team made Brandon Linder one of the league's highest-paid centers by giving him a five-year contract extension worth $51.7 million earlier this week.
''Being physically tough will be an emphasis,'' veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ''Certain coaches, that's what they hang their hat on, and I know that's what coach Marrone hangs his hat on. ... Adapt, adjust or be out.''
The Jaguars could use an offensive adjustment.
Only two quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Joe Flacco) threw more passes than Bortles' 625 last year. Bortles' inaccuracy and turnovers were huge problems for Jacksonville, which ranked 23rd in total offense. Adding to the team's woes, the running game was inconsistent.
T.J. Yeldon, the 36th overall pick in the 2015 draft, finished with 465 yards and a touchdown. Chris Ivory, who signed a five-year, $32 million deal in free agency, had 439 yards and three scores.
The Jaguars showed some improvement on the ground late in the year - they topped 150 yards three times in their final six games - but expect Fournette to take it to another level.
''He's been really impressive,'' Bortles said. ''I think his hands are unbelievable, and I think for a young guy to come in and take to the system the way he has and figuring out protection - he definitely still has stuff to learn and stuff to work on - but I think he's been really impressive out of the backfield and doing stuff that I know myself didn't necessarily know he could do.''
Between Fournette, Yeldon and Ivory, the Jaguars will pay $26.4 million to the three main rushers in 2017. That's tops in the league, so expectations are high.
Marrone expects to have a good indication about his ground game next week, after the grueling stretch in full pads.
''It's going to be a tough deal,'' he said. ''During that time I think a lot of questions will be answered to see how we are. I don't think it will be the final exam to say where we're at, but I know where we'll be starting and how far we'll have to go.''
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