The Jaguars came into this season with high expectations from most outsiders. Many thought they could go .500, and a few even said they could win the division (you poor souls.) regardless, nearly everybody thought the Jaguars would improve in year 2 of the Caldwell/Bradley regime. The team ultimately finished with 1 less win than in 2013, despite having a more "talented" roster.
So how do you process this season? Do you look at the W/L's? Do you look at the young talent added to the roster?
Ultimately, I see the 2014 season from a few different viewpoints. I took the stance coming into the season that the Jaguars would finish with 4 wins, and they more or less met those expectations. I figured they'd be more competitive game in and game out than they were last year, and they were. But still, 3 wins is 3 wins, and 7 wins in 2 years is hard to get excited about. But nonetheless, this season was never about what many thought it would be (racking up W's.) And I understand that, leaving me with these thoughts;
1) Experience Matters. A lot. Like, a lot a lot.
There are a lot of reasons the Jaguars struggled this year, especially on Offense. The Jaguars frequently started up to 7-8 rookies, most of them coming on offense. Other rookies such as Aaron Colvin and Chris Smith saw extended playing time at the end of the year.
The rookies were not the only young players, as the roster is still populated with a ton of 2nd year players as well, including starters at LT, RB, both CB's, both S's.
This year you saw just why experience is important. It's hard enough for individual young players to transition to the NFL, but when practically your whole team is? Growing pains are gonna be pretty much every week. And it sucks. I know it does. But, when you inherit a roster with almost zero veteran talent that needs a complete overhaul, this is what you get.
The Jaguars young players show a ton of promise. But, they are still learning. The hope is that their playing time together will carry over into success next season, as every important young player will have at least some experience.
2) The Jaguars Have Some Exciting Skill Players.
The Jaguar who outdid my expectations more than anyone else this year was pretty easily Denard Robinson. I didn't think he was anything more than a change of pace back who gets a few touches a game. He showed this year he can lead a running game, as he showed the toughness to run in between the tackles and the speed to threaten to score any play. I think the combination of him and a (healthy) Toby Gerhart is a fine 1-2 punch going into next season.
Outside of Robinson, the Jaguars youthful trio of Rookie WR's (Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Allen Robinson) all flashed throughout the year. All 3 were the hot hand of the passing game at one time or another, and Lee especially finished the year on a strong note. If these 3 keep developing with Denard and Blake, this offense has dynamic potential.
3) Gus Bradley Can Coach a Defense.
Throughout the first 4 weeks of the season, the Jaguars had a historically bad pass defense. They gave up passing totals of 275, 258, 390, and 365 yards. Every player in the back 4 was struggling, specifically the (now cut) Winston Guy. I was shocked at this development because the Jaguars secondary was supposed to be the team's greatest strength.
But, as the year went on, the defense got better. They had dominant performances vs the Browns and Dolphins. They made Andrew Luck's life hell after the bye. They were almost solely responsible for the comeback victory vs the Giants.
Gus Bradley and the defensive staff looked awful to start the year. But it improved immensely by the end of the year, largely due to young players stepping up their game (Telvin Smith, Demetrius McCray, Aaron Colvin.) The Jags defense still needs to add a few pieces, such as "the guy" at LEO, a better FS, and a competent 3 down ILB. I am not sure if they will add these pieces this off season, or ever, but this defense has shown it can play lights out football. If they obtain the talent they need, they will be dangerous.
4) This OL is Bad. But there won't be much change.
The Jaguars gave up 70 sacks this year. That is absolutely horrendous. The blame can't be solely placed on the OL, as there a number of factors such as the QB, coverage, RB, etc, that led to sacks, but the OL was simply not consistent enough this year, one way or another.
Most people see the sack number and expect a ton of changes among the OL, but I think almost no change occurs. Not only is OL unity important, (and all of the Jaguars starting OL outside of Zane Beadles are young) but who exactly are you gonna replace?
LT: Luke Joeckel. #2 overall pick. Going nowhere.
LG: Zane Beadles. Their highest paid FA of 2013. Going nowhere.
C: Luke Bowanko. Young and promising. Struggled against stronger DT's, but worth keeping around.
RG: Brandon Linder. Played at a Pro Bowl Level.
RT: No idea. Maybe Austin Pasztor comes back, but he had a disappointing year. Sam Young isn't a capable starter. The team reportedly likes Josh Wells, but he's a giant unknown. This is the only starting spot I expect to change coming into next year.
The OL needs to get better. But that won't come with overhauling it.
5) Sen'Derrick Marks is the best player on the team.
This doesn't really need explanation. He is a dominant player and was a top 5 DT in the NFL this season. Prayers up he recovers from his ACL injury and comes back as strong as ever.
6) Toby Gerhart had a weird season.
Toby looked like a big whiff early in the season, but this was largely due to a week 1 injury and expectations that the Jags set that were unlikely to be met. But Toby finished the year strong, looking better every game in the last 4-5 games. He's a volume RB who needs to be fed to get going, but that's OK. He's a capable player and expect him to be a part of the O next year.
7) Cecil Shorts had an even weirder season.
Cecil broke my heart. I was 100% #TeamCecil coming into the year, but he had by far his worst season as a pro, despite having the most talent around him that he's ever had. Week after week it seemed like he struggled with drops and he never really bounced back from any of them. As the only veteran WR, it was expected for him to be a leader of the group and provide consistency. He failed to do that, and how his future with the team looks like it is in serious doubt.
8) Paul Posluszny has killed my spirit.
I think Poz is bad. I'm sorry, but that's just how it is. I don't think this defense can take a step forward until he is permanently upgraded, and this was pretty evident by the fact that the Jaguars defense looked vastly improved with a more athletic JT Thomas playing ILB.
9) The Jaguars 2014 Draft Class could be really, really good. But it all depends on #5.
Dave Caldwell may have absolutely killed the 2014 draft. Marqise Lee, Robinson, Linder, Colvin, and Telvin Smith all showed they could be foundations of the future. Luke Bowanko has a legit shot to be the teams answer at Center moving forward. Chris Smith looked good in pass rush situations to end the year. Even Storm Johnson flashed some. This class could be the class that sets this regime up for future success more than any other class, but ultimately it will all ride on Blake Bortles. Blake had a really up and down rookie year, showing both reasons why he went #3 and reasons many were shocked at the pick. For the Jags to succeed, he is their most important player, and he will ultimately determine the reputation of the 2014 class as a whole.
10) I have no idea what the future holds for this team.