“I don’t know.”
That’s what a sullen and despondent Jalen Ramsey murmured in front of his visitor’s locker Sunday afternoon following a heart-wrenching defeat against the Indianapolis Colts, dropping the Jacksonville Jaguars to 0-3 in the division.
The truth is, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know if this coaching staff, which was kept in tact following a successful 2017 campaign, will remain the same next year. Will coordinators Todd Wash and/or Nathaniel Hackett be on the sidelines when the 2019 season kicks off? That’s a topic for a different day.
What we do know is this Sunday’s loss was the pin that deflated the balloon that was the Jaguars’ hopes of contending for a potential wild card spot in the AFC. For all intents and purposes, the 2018 season is over, and the chances of a repeat postseason appearance have dwindled beyond the scope of statistical feasibility.
While Tom Coughlin will be reviewing the front office and coaching staff from a macroscopic lens, now is the time for Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone to evaluate other players on the roster to determine if they can be a viable component of the 2019 team and beyond. This doesn’t mean promoting every single player from the practice squad, taking away lions’ share of reps from starters, or giving up on trying to accrue wins, but there are a few tweaks that could put this roster into better focus as they enter the offseason.
Promote Allen Lazard and release Rashad Greene
Greene has had years and years of opportunities to contribute to this team, and not only has he not produced anything of value as a wide receiver, but he quite literally cost the Jaguars a chance to at least tie the game when he fumbled on a routine reception during a two minute drill. Greene has already become the yo-yo player that gets cut and re-signed based on injuries and player availability on game day, so the team moving on should be common sense at this point.
At 6’4” 227 pounds, Lazard gives the Jaguars the wide catch radius, big-bodied possession receiver that they don’t have on the roster currently. Lazard was quiet in the preseason (to the point that I almost felt they were hiding him) and didn’t show a tremendous ability to separate when I evaluated him at the Senior Bowl, but I liked what I saw from his college film in my work for Optimum Scouting.
Regardless, Lazard was a big-time player at Iowa State where he also contributed on special teams and now is the time to see if there is anything there worth continuing to invest in moving forward. Maybe Lazard is just a guy. Maybe he’s good enough to be a red zone specialist who can also moonlight as an auxiliary tight end in niche packages. Maybe he even becomes the next Allen Hurns as the surprising undrafted free agent that becomes a consistent, reliable receiver from this point on. While Lazard won’t deter the Jaguars from taking a wide receiver on day one or two in the draft, perhaps it affects the plans in free agency or taking a big-bodied target in the later rounds. There’s only one way to find out.
Bench Barry Church for Ronnie Harrison
Barry Church was one of the more reliable players in the Jaguars secondary last season in terms of being a leader and organizer in the back end, but things could not be more different this year. Whenever there is a bust in coverage (like the several that occurred in the Colts game), Church is almost always in the frame. That’s not to say he should get all the blame for this, as Telvin Smith has seemed lost off film review as well as a few others, but Church has also resorted to taking poor angles in run support and has honestly become a liability on the defensive unit.
Ronnie Harrison is a rookie, but now ten weeks and a preseason into his rookie year, he should be mentally ready to take over as the starting strong safety. In his “brute back” big nickel role, Harrison has been fairly consistent with several splash plays that jump off the screen. With the Jaguars cornerbacks getting healthier, now seems like a good time to see how Harrison fits into the secondary puzzle moving forward, as Church will no doubt be a cap casualty at the end of the season. The Jaguars can replace Harrison in the big nickel with Jarrad Wilson, who should also be under review moving forward.
Move Taven Bryan to 3-tech, give Dawuane Smoot strong side snaps
In just three quarters of football, Dawuane Smoot has almost made the same amount of impact plays as Taven Bryan has in nine games from the strong side end role when he showed maximum effort to run a player down on a crucial third down and long that could have deflated the momentum in the game. Smoot is still without a sack in his NFL career, but is stout against the run and at least seems to understand his run fits and gap integrity. Smoot basically will have a seven game audition to see if what he contributes as a run defender can merit a spot in 2019 camp. As for Bryan? My thoughts are well-documented.
If healthy, start Ereck Flowers at left tackle
I cringe as I type this, but Flowers was surprisingly solid in his Jaguars debut on Sunday before a knee injury knocked him out of the game. He did allow rushers to get their hands inside him on a few reps, but did well to maintain his anchor and showed good up field control as a run blocker.
Please do not misconstrue this – I am not advocating Flowers to be a future starting tackle for this football team. However, with Josh Wells’ contract expiring, the Jaguars will be in the market for a swing tackle that can step in and do a respectable job if Cam Robinson gets re-injured or even push Will Richardson Jr. to accelerate his development. Flowers may have had his issues in New York, but if the Jaguars can get a veteran tackle with his experience for a veteran minimum contract next year, that could be helpful and becomes one less priority in the draft to have to reach for a guy, and Flowers seems to be enjoying his change of scenery.
When healthy, give Quenton Meeks some rotational snaps
Meeks will be sidelined for a few more weeks with a knee sprain, but the former Stanford cornerback tagged as a second round prospect by some reputable evaluators showed some nice flashes in his start for A.J. Bouye before getting hurt. The Jaguars are likely financially committed to Bouye through at least 2019 (although there is an interesting out in his contract after this season that leaves only $6 million dead cap), and for as much as they are paying Bouye, he should get as many reps as possible to earn his paycheck.
With that said, if the Jaguars do find themselves in any blow out situations for the remainder of the season, Doug Marrone and Todd Wash should give Meeks some snaps and crucial game experience to continue his development. If Meeks can be cultivated into a starting caliber cornerback, that can become a home run in terms of cap relief for the future with his inexpensive undrafted free agent contract.
Welcome to the offseason, folks!