Like most offensive lines, the front five for the Jacksonville Jaguars' was panned and criticized for much of 2019. The Jaguars scored an NFL-worst three rushing scores in 16 games, three fewer than the next team (New York Jets). As a result, the Jaguars' blockers caught flack from every angle.
This has created an offseason storyline in which fans and media analysts alike question how the Jaguars can enter the 2020 season without making any significant upgrades to the line. But to get a feel for which spots along the offensive line, if any, the Jaguars may make an addition to, it is helpful to know how the Jaguars' brass actually feels about the group.
In a video conference with local media earlier this week, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, an offensive line coach by trade, broke down each of the six linemen who started games for the team in 2019. In doing so, he revealed which areas of the line may concern the Jaguars, and which areas Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell are comfortable with.
"I just think that, a lot of times when you're getting in there you're just playing, you're trying to figure things out," Marrone said to begin. "Jawaan [Taylor] learned a lot, we feel like he's gonna make a big increase - which most players do, they make the biggest increase from their first year to their second year -, so we feel really [good] there."
The Jaguars traded up in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Taylor, and the move paid off in a big way last season. Taylor started 16 games at right tackle and played every single offensive snap -- the only rookie to do so in 2019. While Taylor had issues with holding penalties in 2019, he is a building block of the Jaguars' roster moving forward, and it is reasonable for Marrone to expect big things in 2020.
Marrone also touched on Will Richardson and A.J. Cann, each of whom split time at right guard throughout the season. Richardson, a fourth-round selection in 2018, also started two games at left tackle, displaying a lot of versatility and earning favor with Marrone.
"With A.J. [Cann] at the right guard position and Will Richardson is a guy that really showed he can play guard, play tackle, we just need to put him in one position," Marrone said. "There were times where he played better than he has in the past, and there were sometimes where he didn't do as well as he wanted to. So, he understands exactly specifically what he has to work on, what he has to do better."
The glue which holds the Jaguars' offensive line together is center Brandon Linder, who has started for the team since being drafted in the third-round in 2014. While the Jaguars failed to produce wins in 2019, Linder had his first season in which he stayed healthy for all 16 games, and Marrone thinks his 2019 performance was one of the best he has had overall.
"I think Linder probably, Brandon had one of his best years last year even though we had a poor season," Marrone said. "I think you look at him - he was one of the top centers in the league."
When it came to the left side of the Jaguars' offensive line, Marrone was less positive about his team's outlook. Last year, high-priced 2018 free agent Andrew Norwell started all 16 games at left guard in his second season with the team.
Meanwhile, third-year offensive tackle and 2017 second-round pick Cam Robinson started 14 games at left tackle a year after sustaining a season-ending ACL injury in 2018,
"I think Andrew [Norwell] gets beat up pretty good, and there are times when he misses the pass block - his bad plays are bad - and he gets upset with that," Marrone said.
"And then Cam's the one that, you know, didn't play as well as his first year with us, he was injured and missed a lot of practice time."
Despite some pessimism about the left side of the Jaguars' offensive line, Marrone is still optimistic about the group moving forward. A big reason why, he explained, is the fact they will be in their second year of tutelage under veteran offensive line coach George Warhop.
"But I really think that this group could take a big jump. It's their first year with coach Warhop. I have a ton of respect for him as a football coach," Marrone said. "Obviously he's someone that coached me. I know what he wants, I know how he teaches. I think those players have a better understanding [of] what they want, what's expected of them and I think you're going to see that 'jump'. When you're going through different coaches it's hard to make a jump cause you're just looking to please or do everything that coach wants you the first year.
"And then I think that second year you have a better understanding of things and I think it's gonna show on the field, and that's what we told that group, I really believe that. Now, does it say that 'hey, we're content with that group and those five'? I'm not saying that I think we can always get better, we can always add competition, and we can always add starters you know depending on where these guys are and where we take them. Again, I expect that group to take a big jump with coach Warhop being their coach for the second year."