What a far cry this team is from the times of Fred Taylor, Ernest Wifork, Byron Leftwich and company. No longer are these the “Cardiac Cats,” a sneaky Jacksonville Jaguars team that could win games late while trusting a stout defense to hold the fort down.
The team lost a valued piece in Maurice Jones-Drew, who is now with the Oakland Raiders. Now, the Jags have less talent on an offense that ranked 31st in the league this past year, and dead last in points per game. There is no reason to think that the offense will be exponentially better next year, even under the control of Chad Henne, who I feel is an upgrade in place of the now-departed Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert was absolutely abysmal during his time in Jacksonville, but was hampered by a lack of offensive weaponry.
Soon, both sides of the ball may be a bit more formidable. It seems that every year, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a myriad of directions they could justifiably go with their first round pick. Jadeveon Clowney would bolster the defensive line (which now has former Seahawk Red Bryant). Teamed with Justin Blackmon, Sammy Watkins could make a terrific receiving tandem for the Jaguars. Quarterback Chad Henne is not the team’s long term solution, and will need to be replaced with a man who has a bit of a higher ceiling.
The team’s progress is wholly contingent upon finding a quarterback who the team and the city can get behind. Perhaps that is Johnny Manziel.
Blake Bortles, who went to school two hours south of Jacksonville, has a prototypical QB build and may develop into a remarkably good quarterback at the NFL level.
However, the Jags may choose not to draft a quarterback with the intention of grooming a late-rounder into an eventual starter. I happen to think that would be wiser route.
At any rate, the Jacksonville defense will need to be equipped to deal with Andrew Luck and a powerful Texans’ offensive unit that could be lethal if and when they find a quarterback who can efficiently run the show – and the team has focused on that side of the ball during the offseason.
The signing of Red Bryant is a good one. Bryant is fresh off of a Super Bowl win this past January, and can be a vital part of turning the culture of the Jacksonville locker room around. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley is also formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, and he should be able to get a solid season out of his new defensive end. D-end Jason Babin is back as well, and Ziggy Hood will bolster the interior of the defensive line.
For the immediate future, this team will have to win by playing solid defense, controlling the offensive tempo, and scoring just enough points to keep them competitive – something like the Jaguars of old. There will be several more years of rebuilding for this team, but with some serendipity and viable player development programs, they could be a team to reckon with, and I mean sooner rather than later.