After another solid draft class and one of the more magnanimous free agency hauls in team history, the Jaguars find themselves with something they haven't had in seasons past.
The Jaguars finally have options to consider while defining the direction of the 2015 roster. Of course, most of the turnover within the depth chart will unfold naturally over the length of a competitive training camp. Several free agents were signed and paid to start, and they’ll do just that. A few others, along with some rookies, will battle with the Jaguars’ surplus of young talent for playing time.
Meanwhile, the hefty group of 2nd-year starters on offense will look to take a competitive step as a whole. A few new weapons should push this process along more fluidly, and interior depth within the O-line should bolster pass protection. There’s a few ways the starting lineup could shake out. Take a look:
Gold = 2014 starter. Teal = potential/new 2015 starter.
Offensive execution starts and ends with Blake Bortles. Everything else the Jaguars undertake on offense is in an effort to propel Bortles to success. 2nd round rookie T.J. Yeldon will most likely absorb the lion’s share of backfield touches in 2015, running behind an offensive line that is guaranteed to look a bit different than the fielded group in 2014.
Jermey Parnell and Stefen Wisniewski were both signed this offseason to reinforce this OL group. Parnell is a lock to start outside at right tackle, but Wiz will battle with 2nd-year center Luke Bowanko for his starting role in training camp. To the left of this battle, Zane Beadles will have to hold his ground against rookie A.J. Cann, who was drafted in the 3rd round to relieve Beadles of his left guard duties at some point in the near future.
Julius Thomas will undoubtedly steal the starting tight-end label from Marcedes Lewis, but Lewis will still contribute in several situations during the season. Rookie receiver Rashad Greene might just play his way into a slot position during the preseason, while 2nd year WRs Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee will do their best to stay healthy step up in their outside spots.
The defense welcomes a few new starters as well:
The release of Red Bryant this offseason opens up an opportunity for former Dolphin Jared Odrick to step in and shift the entire structure of Gus Bradley’s defense. Likewise, the addition of Dan Skuta provides Gus with a true OTTO linebacker, which should only increase the defense’s versatility moving forward.
The defensive line is a difficult group to confine to a still picture. The Jaguars’ rotational scheme will see many bodies swap in and out, giving guys like rookie Michael Bennett and veteran Ziggy Hood a chance to make an impact. Chris Clemons will most likely maintain his starting role at LEO after a season-ending injury to 1st round pick Dante Fowler. Ryan Davis and Abry Jones are a few more guys guys that might not start, but will contribute quite heavily in situational packages.
Telvin Smith is a potential breakout star at his weakside linebacker postion, and Paul Posluszny will look to solidify the middle of the field.
Johnathan Cyprien remains at strong safety, now entering his third season. Meanwhile, the door is propped open at free safety after an arm injury to rookie James Sample. Sample was transitioning from SS to FS at the time of his injury, which places free agent acquisition Sergio Brown as the favorite for the starting spot until Sample recovers and has an opportunity to fight for that position.
Outside, former Packer Davon House will start at cornerback. I pegged Demetrius McCray as the other outside corner, but the Jaguars haven’t shut the door on Dwayne Gratz just yet. Reports suggest that Gratz will also compete for time at nickel corner, which is essentially a starting position in today’s NFL. It is assumed, however, that Aaron Colvin will maintain most of the nickel snaps after a breakout rookie season last year. There's a chance that Colvin moves outside at some point, as well.
Somewhere within this wide-ranging group of players and characteristics sits the Jaguars’ most capable starting group. There is absolutely a plan in place, but there is no defined formula for implementation. Position battles will work themselves out naturally, injuries will lay ruin to predetermined blueprints, and UDFA rookies will steal the spotlight. What can happen will happen, and the starting group week one will fail to remain intact for an entire season.
Still, the projected group going into 2015 is one competitive step closer to what Caldwell envisioned when he arrived in Jacksonville. All that's left now is to see how the final roster shakes out.