Jaguars making steady progress in overhaul
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There's a lot of buzz surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars.
None of it involves being a playoff contender.
As the Jaguars begin their second year under coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell, there's optimism the small-market team is headed in the right direction.
Jacksonville has rebuilt both lines, has a potential franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles and has several young playmakers.
Indications are, though, that the Jaguars are still at least a year away from being a factor in the AFC South. Bortles is expected to start the season on the bench, playing behind veteran Chad Henne, and Bradley and Caldwell insist the third overall pick in May's NFL draft could sit out all of 2014 while making the transition to a pro-style system.
"He has some things he has to work through, and he will," said Bradley, whose team lost its first eight games by double digits last season.
The Jaguars are trying to build a better team around Bortles, with the belief that he will be better served by being inserted into an already-cohesive offense. Jacksonville drafted left tackle Luke Joeckel in 2013, signed veteran guard Zane Beadles to play next to him and then chose guard Brandon Linder in May to round out the revamped offensive line.
They also drafted receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round. The duo should complement -- and eventually replace -- No. 1 receiver Cecil Shorts III. Throw in running back Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson's former backup who now gets a chance to start, and there's hope Jacksonville won't end up near the bottom of the league in total offense for a fourth consecutive season.
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars focused on rebuilding one of the league's worst pass rushes. They brought in former Seattle defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant as well as former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, and are counting on young ends Andre Branch, Ryan Davis and Chris Smith to take a step forward.
Caldwell and Bradley have received rave reviews for their ongoing roster rebuild, but the construction that's getting more attention is what's happening inside EverBank Stadium.
The Jaguars have completed a $63 million renovation, which includes the world's largest scoreboards, a pair of wading pools, a two-story party deck with 20 all-inclusive cabanas.
Aside from that, here are some things to know about the Jaguars heading into training camp:
NO BLACKMON: Receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth pick in the 2012 draft, is a long shot to play for the Jaguars this season. He was suspended without pay for at least a year last October for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, and coaches and teammates have had little contact with the troubled college star since.
HEALTHY RECEIVERS? Jacksonville was down seven receivers because of injuries for a big part of organized team activities. The Jaguars practiced without both starters, two second-round draft picks and several others. The injuries forced them to sign two receivers off the street just to have enough bodies to get through practice, so the health of that position is a huge question heading into camp.
COMFORTABLE CHAD: QB Chad Henne hasn't been in the same offense for consecutive seasons since 2010, so to say he's comfortable for the first time in years might be an understatement. Henne, who's working in Jedd Fisch's offense again, could be the key to Jacksonville's improvement. "It's just a comfort level where you're not constantly learning the offense. You can really pay attention to the defense and understand where to go with the football."
REPLACING MEESTER: Longtime C Brad Meester retired in January after 14 seasons in Jacksonville, leaving a huge hole in the middle of the team's offensive line. The Jaguars tried to land standout Alex Mack in free agency, signing the Pro Bowler to a five-year, $42 million offer sheet. But Cleveland matched the offer almost immediately. Jacksonville was left with former Ohio State standout Mike Brewster, who spent the past two seasons watching and waiting behind Meester.
CANCER-STRICKEN COACH: Offensive line coach George Yarno, who was diagnosed with cancer in May, likely won't be around for training camp. Yarno traveled home last month to be with his family in Spokane, Washington, while he undergoes treatment. The Jaguars are keeping Yarno's position open for now, asking O-line assistant Luke Butkus to fill in during Yarno's absence.
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