We’re just a little over halfway through the 2016 season, and my outlook on this team has completely changed. I used to think this team struggled because they were young and inexperienced. Then I thought they stuggled because they had the talent, but they were not properly coached. And while I still firmly believe coaching is an issue with this team, I no longer think it is the only one.
Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell were both hired in the offseason following the 2012 season. Since then, the Jaguars have amassed a whopping 14 wins. There’s a chance they could go down with 50 total losses and not even hit 15 wins. That is difficult to comprehend. While Bradley has been the main target, and deservedly so, it’s time to start evaluating other areas of this team to identify weaknesses to correct moving forward. I now believe Dave Caldwell is one of those weaknesses.
And before you start with the “you’re just a hater, you’re giving up with half of the season left” crap, just hear me out for a minute. You used to not be able to find a bigger defender of Dave Caldwell or his quarterback Blake Bortles than me. I was absolutely convinced last season, and especially this one, that the Jaguars had the talent to win but not the coaching necessary to pull it off. “They’re a 9-7 team with 4-12 coaching”, or some iteration of that, was a popular phrase that I commonly referenced. Given how many players have struggled this season though, it’s hard to say that they all have had troubles because of coaching; maybe they are just bad players. I thought Blake Bortles was the franchise quarterback this team has been searching for. I thought Dave Caldwell was a good GM who made a bad coaching hire, and would have the Jags in the playoffs once a new coach was put in place. I now believe that I was wrong.
Dave Caldwell's 3rd overall picks: a QB who's not a natural passer, and an EDGE who's not a natural pass rusher.— Matt Hoffman (@JaxMatt) November 14, 2016
It's not just coaching.
Dave Caldwell is certainly better than his predecessor, Gene Smith, but that’s not really a high bar to get over. In fact, one could make the argument that Gene’s first draft was better than Caldwell’s.
Smith’s first draft class - 2009:
- Eugene Monroe
- Eben Britton
- Terrance Knighton
- Derek Cox
- Mike Thomas
- Jarrett Dillard
- Zach Miller
- Rashad Jennings
- Tiquan Underwood
Not exactly the A-Team, but there were some decent picks there. Monroe was a solid tackle. Knighton has bounced around the league for years. Miller is doing a really nice job at tight end for the Bears. Jennings has been the Giants starting running back for a few years. Now, compare this to Caldwell’s first draft class, 2013.
- Luke Joeckel
- Jonathan Cyprien
- Dwayne Gratz
- Ace Sanders
- Denard Robinson
- Josh Evans
- Jeremy Harris
- Demetrius McCray
Yeah, it’s not great. I’m well aware that the 2013 class was not very good at all, but I don’t believe in that being a firm excuse for the general manager. There were still some good players to be had in the draft. Not to mention that right now you could make the argument that outside of Jalen Ramsey, who was a gift-wrapped no-brainer, Luke Joeckel has been Caldwell’s best 1st round pick.
@JaxMatt and a bad LT turned decent LG. Just because he did well at LG doesn't mean he was a good pick.— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) November 14, 2016
He was an awful pick, and yet somehow not his worst 1st rounder https://t.co/FPqg6HrXwJ— Matt Hoffman (@JaxMatt) November 14, 2016
Caldwell’s saving grace last year when the coals started to heat up for Bradley was that he had hit on the quarterback. A brief review of NFL history will show that GM’s are usually tied to the quarterback they select high in the draft. Last year, it looked like Caldwell had gotten the Bortles pick correct, and found the franchise signal-caller. Obviously, this year tells a different story. Blake Bortles had gotten a pass earlier in the season for his struggles, as the blame was directed at Greg Olson for running a bad offense, and not catering to his quarterback’s strengths. That excuse went out the window two weeks ago when Olson was fired and Nathaniel Hackett was promoted to offensive coordinator.
Despite the change, Bortles is still having major struggles. A lot of people held out hope that he would be improved next season, once he got another offseason to work on his mechanics, since he didn’t work on that as much this year as he should have. I’m sure we’ll cover this in much more detail later, but Bortles’ mechanics are not the only reason he is struggling. Bad reads, inaccurate throws, regressed pocket presence, etc. are all contributing to his poor play, and unfortunately, those aren’t things that are easily fixed.
Looking beyond the first two Dave Caldwell 1st round picks, we have now gotten a decent look at Dante Fowler. The early results aren’t good. After looking like the next Von Miller in the offseason, going up against scrub offensive lineman with no pads on, Fowler has almost completely fallen off the map. I say almost, because he has managed to become very noticeable in one way: he is very consistent at racking up boneheaded penalties. Other than that, Fowler hasn't really made much of a difference. The book on Fowler coming out of the University of Florida was that he was a violent player; you could line him up all over the defense, and just let him wreak havoc. Unfortunately, that is not the role the Jaguars envisioned for him, as they have pretty much solely used him as an EDGE rusher. The problem is, Fowler just isn't a very good pass rusher. He can contain the run, he can blitz from the A gap, he can do some different things...but rushing the quarterback by bending the edge just isn't one of them. I mean, just look at this:
Yikes. I am willing to acknowledge that Fowler is essentially a rookie, and he could very well improve. But so far, he hasn't really shown too much to give me much faith in that regard. All he has shown me is that, right now, he is a bad mix of Andre Branch and Chris Clemons: he can only get pressure on stunts like Branch, and he racks up yellow flags like Clemons. Hopefully, for the sake of the Jaguars going forward, that all changes. But right now, Fowler just simply doesn't look like a good football player, and looks like another miss for Dave Caldwell.
Is there hope for the future? Can these players improve and save Dave Caldwell, assuming Khan is willing to fire him after the season? It’s always possible. I just have my doubts. I’ve known that Gus Bradley wasnt the answer at head coach for a while now. But, begrudgingly, I have to now realize that Blake Bortles is probably not the answer at quarterback, and that means Dave Caldwell is probably not the answer at general manager.
The Jacksonville Jaguars just need a complete culture change, one that isn’t steeped in losing.