It is kind of hard to believe, but we are less than a week away from the start of Jacksonville Jaguars training camp!
To help us prepare for the upcoming season, let’s take a look at players, storylines, coaches and more that you need to know in an A through Z-style list. These are things to pay attention to during training camp and as the season starts. Hat tip to Windy City Gridiron for the idea.
A: A.J. Bouye. Bouye put together a second team All-Pro season in his first year in Jacksonville. playing alongside Jalen Ramsey and the rest of the Jaguars defense. He should pick up right where he left off in 2018. Bouye will look to earn first team All-Pro honors this year.
B: Blake Bortles. Entering his fifth season, and coming off of the most efficient season of his career, Bortles remains the looming question mark on the team. He is coming off of a great playoff performance and strong offseason program. I have more faith in Bortles than I have in years’ past.
C: Calais Campbell. Campbell led the AFC in sacks in 2017 with 14.5 and was the driving force behind the vaunted Jacksonville defense last season. He turns 32 in September, but has shown no signs of slowing down. Campbell will continue to be a leader for this club.
D: Marcell Dareus. Dareus helped the defense shore things up against the run last season, and is a valuable player in the interior. But how will his off-the-field troubles be handled by the Jaguars or the NFL, and if he misses time, will it be a big blow for the Jaguars?
E: Eli Ankou. Ankou, whom the Jaguars claimed off of waivers last September, has his work cut out for him in an extremely deep group of defensive linemen. Will he surprise us in training camp and not only make the 53-man roster, but find his way into the rotation?
F: Dante Fowler Jr. The Jaguars declined to pick up Fowler’s fifth-year option. He is playing for a contract this season, be that with the Jaguars or another franchise. Will he improve on a solid 2017 performance and work his way onto the field more often? Will the Jaguars trade him to get a return on his value? We shall see. We also now know that Fowler will be suspended for the first game of the regular season, but will be eligible to participate in training camp and preseason games. He is also dealing with an undisclosed injury that will keep him out of the start of training camp.
G: Rashad Greene Sr. and Cory Grant. It will be interesting to see how things pan out for both of these players. The oft-injured Greene was a favorite to be cut early this season, but after a strong offseason performance, and with his punt-returning prowess, is now the favorite to earn a roster spot at wide receiver — if he can stay healthy. Grant was minimally used last season, but he showed what he can do on special teams and at halfback in the playoffs. With Chris Ivory now in Buffalo, Grant should have a much larger role in 2018.
H: Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett enters his second full season as offensive coordinator and led the Jaguars to the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL in 2017. He did a great job of limiting Bortles’ inefficiencies last season, but there were times (like toward the end of the AFC Championship game) where fans wanted to see a little bit more creativity in his play-calling. With new field-stretching weapons like Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark, and a pass-catching tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Hackett should do just that in 2018.
I: Injuries. The Jaguars stayed remarkably healthy last season, which was a big reason for their success. Will that be the case this year? Entering training camp, Jacksonville is pretty much fully intact. The only notable question mark is Dante Fowler, who missed extensive time in the offseason program with an undisclosed injury. The injury is thought to be of the upper body variety, and 1010 XL Radio reported that it looks like Fowler lost a lot of muscle mass. Update: The Jaguars have placed Fowler on the physically unable to perform list to start training camp.
J: Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is, in my opinion, the best cornerback in the NFL. While he missed some OTAs, he put himself through a physically-demanding training regimen and expects to be even better this year than he was in his first team All-Pro campaign in 2017. His trash-talking game will remain strong as well. Not much else needs to be said.
K: Keelan Cole. Cole burst onto the scene last year at training camp as a small school undrafted free agent, and went on to lead the Jaguars in receiving yards. He is the favorite to start in the slot, with Marqise Lee and Moncrief on the outside. Can Cole take the next step and ascend his game even further? Time will tell.
L: Leonard Fournette. Fournette missed three games last season due to hampering injuries and for disciplinary reasons, but he still managed to gain over 1,000 yards and score nine touchdowns in the regular season. He followed that up with a strong playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he struggled a bit with 3.9 yards per carry and often faced eight-man boxes. With an improved offensive line, a leaner Fournette should be in for a stronger season in 2018.
M: Doug Marrone. Marrone enters his second full year at the helm. After changing the culture in Jacksonville and winning over his team, Marrone has one of the most talented rosters in the league to work with. Ever since the clock hit triple zeros in New England, he has preached to his team to forget about 2017’s success and focus on 2018. By all accounts, the team has followed Marrone’s lead there, and his players are focused on this year.
N: Andrew Norwell. Norwell earned himself a fat new contract with Jacksonville after a first team All-Pro season in Carolina last year. He is an immediate upgrade at left guard and didn’t allow a single quarterback hit in 2017, let alone a sack. The best part? Norwell is a mauling road grader on a team that focuses on running the football. Jaguar fans should be very excited about him.
O: James O’Shaughnessy. Can O’Shaughnessy carve out a role in a possible logjam at the tight end position? The team added both ASJ and Niles Paul, and Ben Koyack, arguably the best blocker of the group, is still hanging out as well. David Grinnage will also challenge for a roster spot. It’s very possible the Jags will keep four tight ends on the roster. Seferian-Jenkins is No. 1 option, but the No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Can O’Shaughnessy stand out in training camp?
P: Pat Flaherty. The offensive line coach did a great job in 2017 with an offensive line starting a rookie left tackle and lacking any big names outside of Brandon Linder. Pro Football Focus ranked the Jaguars offensive line in the middle of the pack heading into the season, but with Norwell in the fold and Cam Robinson entering his second season, and of course Linder, Flaherty’s unit is likely to perform much better than that.
Q: Quenton Meeks. A priority undrafted free agent out of Stanford, Meeks didn’t really stand out in the offseason program. However, while the Jaguars are amongst the strongest in the league at the top of the cornerback depth chart, depth behind that is questionable. Can Meeks impress Todd Wash and Perry Fewell and earn a roster spot? Competition will be tough.
R: Rookies. Will first-round draft pick Taven Bryan make an impact as a rotational pass rusher? Will D.J. Chark make an impact in a crowded receiver group? Will Leon Jacobs push for the starting SAM linebacker spot? Will Logan Cooke face any competition at punter? Can Will Richardson make a push a right guard or become the team’s swing tackle? Speaking of Meeks, will any undrafted free agents make the team? So many questions about this year’s group.
S: Telvin Smith. Smith is one of the best weak-side linebackers in the game, and earned second team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2017. With the retirement of Paul Posluszny, he is now the leader in the linebacker room and will use the tools he learned from Poz, his mentor, to make even more strides in 2018.
T: TIAA Bank Field. The stadium has a new name this year. While Everbank Field is out, we can still say “lock down the bank.” Other changes at the stadium include exclusively using mobile ticketing at the gate.
U: Unusual feelings in Jacksonville. For the first time in too many years to count, the Jaguars are an expected playoff team. This is new territory. Will the Jaguars let the hype get to them and disappoint us? As mentioned earlier, the Jaguars have looked focused all offseason. The talent is there. The coaching is there. The schedule is tougher, but not unbearable. The toughest opponent for the squad in 2018 is, well, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Though the New England Patriots are a close second.
V: Very Improved AFC South. Couldn’t think of anything better for “V,” but still the point stands. Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are expected to be back at full health for the Houston Texans, which makes them a much tougher challenge. Andrew Luck doesn’t appear to be a full health yet, but has made a lot of progress. An Indianapolis Colts team with Luck is a much better team than with Jacoby Brissett. The Titans won a playoff game last year and swept Jacksonville in the regular season. Still, though, the Jaguar should be the favorites for another AFC South crown.
W: Dede Westbrook and Todd Wash. Looking at both sides of the ball here, Westbrook came on strong in the latter half of the 2017 season and Wash did a fantastic job of managing several superstars on defense and getting them to play within his system. Westbrook has stiff competition at the wide receiver position, with Cole, Moncrief and Lee expected to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Still, he can make an impact from the slot or on the outside, as well as on special teams. Wash gets to work with essentially the same unit this season minus Poz and Aaron Colvin. His defense should rank near the top of the league one again.
X: X-Factor. Who is going to be the X-factor for this team? On both offense and defense it could be any number of players on a given week. Looking outside of the usual suspects, keep an eye on players like Grant, Cole, Westbrook and Chark on offense, while on defense Bryan, Fowler, Blair Brown or even Donald Payne could be players you don’t expect to impact the game, but very well may.
Y: T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon has the opportunity to be the third-down back due to his pass-protection prowess and pass-catching ability. He hasn’t been the player the Jaguars hoped when they drafted him in the second round in 2015, but with Ivory gone he will improve his touches this season and is a nice complement to Fournette. He flashed his ability late last season and in the playoffs. The Jaguars will now look for more consistency from Yeldon.
Z: Zero losses. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson thinks the Jaguars will go 16-0 this season. That is highly unlikely, but Jackson also predicted a Super Bowl appearance last offseason and Jacksonville came within minutes of that. Jacksonville plays the Steelers, Patriots, Kanas City Chiefs, and defensing Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, among other notable tough matchups. I don’t care if the Jaguars lose a few games, so long as they make another playoff run.
Of course there are several other storylines, players and coaches to pay attention to — most notably, Yannick Ngakoue — but this is your A-Z view. Hope you enjoyed this fun, but time-consuming, piece!