Last season was disappointing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But this is a new season, and there’s once again plenty to be excited about at EverBank Field.
With organized team activities over, we creep closer to the opening of the new NFL year. Let’s pick out one player from each section of the field to keep under close watch for the upcoming season.
Quarterbacks: Blake Bortles
This one’s a no brainer.
The general feeling about Blake Bortles in northeast Florida is that the fourth-year quarterback is entering a make-or-break season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and fair enough.
The (relatively) local quarterback had his option picked up by the team this offseason, and a good amount of the Jaguars’ wheeling and dealing of the past few months have been geared towards aiding the signal caller in re-finding his sophomore form.
Importantly for Bortles, if he does not produce this season, the Jaguars are able to release him and dodge a mammoth $19.053 million cap hit, giving him even more incentive to get it right this year.
Three of the team’s first four draft picks this Draft were offensive picks, including No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette, No. 34 overall Cam Robinson and No. 110 wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
This should take some of the pressure off Bortles’ broad shoulders, but will it be enough? Look specifically to the former Central Florida product’s completion percentage and turnovers column, and we may find an answer.
Running backs: T.J. Yeldon
You were expecting to see Leonard Fournette’ name here, weren’t you?
As exciting as watching the big man from LSU will be this year, head coach Doug Marrone is expected to ease him and Cam Robinson into their roles over the course of the season, rather than drop them into the cauldron to begin with.
“Early on, I tend to stay away from that,” Marrone said, of going gung-ho with his rookies from the outset. Just from a fact of, you really haven’t earned anything, and it is really about protecting them a little more and protecting how they acclimate themselves into the team.”
“I think it is always better if they keep their mouths shout and work extremely hard and start making some plays before they get up there with the first group.”
With that in mind, the clock is ticking for third-year Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon to either put up or shut up.
General Manager Dave Caldwell and former head coach Gus Bradley drafted Yeldon with the vision that he could become the bell cow back in the seaport city, but despite some nice moments, that has not looked close to transpiring.
Yeldon has underwhelmed so much so that Mike Kaye of First Coast News mooted him as a surprise cut from the Jacksonville roster altogether, if they opt for the speed and versatility of undrafted second-year man Corey Grant.
Although he’s been spared the embarrassment for now, Yeldon’s tap on the shoulder could come in one month, six months, or tomorrow. We’re not quite sure yet.
The only thing that’s certain is that Yeldon better get producing before Fournette’s 235 pound frame take his spot for good.
Wide receivers: Dede Westbrook
Usually, a Bilentnikoff Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist will make a bit of noise when he arrives in the NFL, but when he has two domestic violence arrests, he just makes that much more.
Whenever a team drafts a player with a history like Westbrook’s, it’s usually for one key reason — he’s simply too talented to pass up on, and in the fourth round you feel like the Jaguars got a steal here.
There’s so much to love about the Texas native’s game. Westbrook possess elite speed (he ran a sub 4.4 40 at the University of Oklahoma’s pro day), and is a certified deep field threat.
As pointed out by CrimsonAndCreamMachine.com’s Jack Shields, Westbrook also possess great short area quickness and ability to get open, which Blake Bortles will no doubt appreciate.
Whilst he likely won’t line up in the offense immediately given the Jaguars’ plethora of options, Westbrook could contribute straight away on special teams, where he will have a chance to showcase his skill set.
While I don’t like pro comparisons, Westbrook being likened to DeSean Jackson are certainly mouthwatering. Let’s hope he’s left his troubles in the past.
Tight ends: Mychal Rivera
Despite a lack of wins, Jacksonville have made some nice free agent signings in the last few years, and they’re hoping former Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera will slip into that same category.
Rivera put up respectable numbers in Oakland until he became expendable, after the additions of Clive Warford and Jared Cook. He came to the Jaguars looking for opportunity, and with Julius Thomas leaving town, opportunity he has found.
Rivera is durable, he is versatile, he’s exactly what the Jaguars are after in a tight end. The Thomas trade signaled a moving away from a heavy offensive reliance on the position, and a moving towards the ground game.
With the receiving corps open to them, Rivera will likely not find himself as a key pass catching target and likely more of a blocker, which should be fine by the adaptable Tennessee product.
In his career thus far, Rivera has played “out wide, three point stance, slot receiver, fullback” as he calls it. For Marrone, Coughlin, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, this is perfect. They’ve made the decision to devalue the tight end as an pass catching weapon, and Rivera offers them all the flexibility imaginable to create interesting sets and help complement and open up the field for a talent laden roster.
Offensive linemen: Cam Robinson
Along with Fournette, Robinson will be eased into his role with the first team over the course of the season.
But if early indicators are anything, that shouldn’t be too long for the 21 year old out of Alabama.
With Branden Albert going walkabout during the voluntary organized team activities, it has given Robinson the chance to practice at starting left tackle for the team — the position he will be battling against Albert for this season.
This in itself makes it all the more peculiar that Albert was a no show during OTAs, but it is what it is, and the rookie has thus far impressed his teammates.
“Cam’s been doing a good job. All he wants to do is get better,” Brandon Linder said of Jacksonville’s new recruit during mini camp last month. “He’s coming out every day, listening to the older guys and stuff like that. He’s been showing good strides.
It would certainly be a surprise to see Robinson lining up at left tackle for the first snaps of the season, but anything’s possible.
Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country speculated that one of Robinson or Albert could even play guard, even if neither want to, if Robinson is simply too good to leave out of the team. Either way, keep your eye on number 74.
Up tomorrow? The defense.