INDIANAPOLIS — What a long, strange NFL offseason it’s been.
After the global COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the process of free agency and the draft, and relegated teams to conduct their usual in-person, on-field offseason workouts in virtual Zoom video conference meetings, training camp finally commenced.
Now this week, it’s finally time to play football again.
The Indianapolis Colts open with an AFC South Division road matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday (1 p.m., EST) at TIAA Bank Field.
The Colts have renewed energy after missing the playoffs in 2019, welcoming in a new quarterback, new offensive playmakers, and a bolstered defense that on paper looks as if it could be their best in quite some time.
However, that’s conjecture until games are played. There are bridges to cross first.
The Colts have struggled in the Jaguars’ backyard in recent years, having not won there since 2014 and losing in their last five visits. The Colts have also lost their last six season openers — a trend that they would love to kick in 2020.
This will be a unique version of the Quick Scouting Report — a series aimed at analyzing how the Colts’ weekly opponent has performed as of late. Because this is the first game of the year, let’s look at Jacksonville’s offseason.
The Jaguars have had some attention on them throughout the offseason, but probably not the type they wanted.
After off-loading several experienced, productive players through free agency and trades, some observers have accused the Jaguars of tanking in order to improve their placement in the 2021 draft. You can generally find a reason for most, if not all of Jacksonville’s moves, whether you agree with them or not.
In the last several months, Jacksonville has parted ways with several players who provided a face for the franchise, such as starters at running back in Leonard Fournette, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Ronnie Harrison, and pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who combined for 61 sacks the past three seasons.
While a few of the moves were perhaps ones made as a result of feather-ruffling, others were done in order to save money and acquire more draft picks.
Their imported players don’t quite carry the same luster as the exported, but there are some notable players among them.
Rookie undrafted free agent James Robinson has earned the top spot at running back after Fournette’s departure leaves behind more than 1,600 yards of offense last year, and free-agent acquisition Chris Thompson joins veterans Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo in providing depth.
Rookie receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson hope to mesh with an already young, talented receiver in D.J. Chark Jr..
Tight end Tyler Eifert looks to get things back on track in a new city after injuries hampered what he was able to do in seven years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Arguably Jacksonville’s best additions were on the defensive side of the ball, though, as linebacker Joe Schobert now teams up with Myles Jack after being a Cleveland Browns standout.
The Jaguars also spent a pair of first-round draft picks on cornerback C.J. Henderson and edge defender K’Lavon Chaisson, who form an incredibly intriguing young nucleus with fellow edge defender Josh Allen.
Veterans Adam Gotsis, Timmy Jernigan, and Cassius Marsh Sr. provide help in the front seven.
Looking at Both Sides of Ball
Second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II enters the season as the starter after starting 12 games as a rookie.
Minshew’s running back group is a little bit of a mystery, as Fournette was easily their primary back. Unless their first couple of games yield quality results on the ground, this might be Minshew’s offense to air it out.
Alongside Chark are veterans Chris Conley, Keelan Cole Sr., and Dede Westbrook, who are all reliable complementary pieces. As a result, Shenault and Johnson may not need to be forced into significant roles just yet.
Up front, Jacksonville has a talented group of young blockers in tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor. Interior starters Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, and A.J. Cann average 75 career starts between them, so they’re nothing to scoff at either.
The Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, who was formerly the Washington Football Team’s head coach for the past six years.
The defense will look much different because of everything they lost, but it may be a little faster when pairing together Allen and Chaisson. Henderson injects 4.39-second, 40-yard dash speed into the secondary.
Unlike the offense, the defense retains its same coordinator in Todd Wash. So, while many of the players you’re accustomed to seeing from Jacksonville’s defense are different, the same aggressive principles should remain.
Jaguars Depth Chart
QB — Gardner Minshew II, Mike Glennon, Jake Luton
RB — James Robinson, Devine Ozigbo, Chris Thompson
FB — Bruce Miller
WR — D.J. Chark Jr., Chris Conley, Keelan Cole Sr., Laviska Shenault Jr., Collin Johnson, Dede Westbrook
TE — James O’Shaughnessy, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Davis
OT — Cam Robinson, Jawaan Taylor, Will Richardson Jr.
G — Andrew Norwell, A.J. Cann, Ben Bartch
C — Brandon Linder, Tyler Shatley
DE — Josh Allen, Adam Gotsis, K’Lavon Chaisson, Dawuane Smoot
DT — Abry Jones, Taven Bryan, DaVon Hamilton, Timmy Jernigan, Doug Costin
LB — Myles Jack, Joe Schobert, Leon Jacobs, Dakota Allen, Shaquille Quarterman, Cassius Marsh Sr.
CB — Tre Herndon, C.J. Henderson, D.J. Hayden, Chris Claybrooks, Josiah Scott, Luq Barcoo
S — Jarrod Wilson, Josh Jones, Andrew Wingard, Daniel Thomas, Brandon Watson
K — Josh Lambo
P — Logan Cooke
H — Logan Cooke
LS — Ross Matiscik
PR — Dede Westbrook, Chris Claybrooks
KR — Keelan Cole Sr., Chris Claybrooks
Jaguars 2019 Key Stats
— Tied-2nd in two-point conversions (4)
— Tied-5th in interceptions (8)
— 20th in offense (341.8 YPG)
— 23rd in rush attempts (24.3 APG)
— 26th in scoring (18.8 PPG)
— 26th in third-down percentage (34.6%)
— 31st in red-zone scoring (40.4%)
— 31st in penalties (132)
— 32nd in rushing touchdowns (3)
— Tied-7th in sacks (47)
— 10th in red-zone scoring at home (52.2%)
— 21st in scoring (24.8)
— 24th in defense (375.4 YPG)
— 26th in pass plays of 20-plus yards (60)
— 27th in passing yards per attempt (7.9)
— 28th in rushing (139.3 YPG)
— Tied-28th in run plays of 20-plus yards (15)
— 31st in yards per carry (5.1)
— 31st in rushing touchdowns (23)
(Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade and is a contributor for the team's official website, Colts.com. He’s on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL, and his email is email@example.com.)