Well, that went quicker than anticipated. The offseason is over! As hard as it is believe, the official start to Jacksonville Jaguars training camp practices, as well as for many other NFL teams, is today.
There are many storylines, high-profile players, new coaches on staff and more to keep tabs on heading into the season. Similar to what we did last year, let’s take a look at an A-to-Z style guide for all things Jaguars training camp.
A: Josh Allen. Considered a top-three talent by many NFL Draft analysts, Allen fell to the Jaguars at No. 7 overall, and he now has the advantage of not having to start right away. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash has stated that Allen was drafted to play defensive end in the 4-3 system, and doesn’t want him dropping into coverage often, but he does have that ability. Either way the Jaguars pass rush and defense is stronger with Allen in the fold.
B: A.j. Bouye. While Bouye’s play may have dipped slightly in 2018 while he was dealing with injuries, he is still a top-tier NFL cornerback and makes up arguably the league’s most feared cornerback tandem alongside Jalen Ramsey. Bouye recorded just one interception last year, and missed three games. I would expect a sharper version of the cornerback this season, as he has already stated that practicing against Nick Foles is making him better.
C: Calais Campbell. After leading the AFC in sacks in 2017, Campbell continued to play at a high level in 2018 with 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He turns 33 in September, but seems to get better with age. An easy choice to remain a team captain in 2019, the Mayor of Sacksonville will lead a talented defense both on and off the field.
D: John DeFilippo. Nathaniel Hackett, Jacksonville’s 2018 offensive coordinator, was fired late last season. DeFilippo, who was similarly fired from Minnesota last year, was brought in to help correct one of the league’s worst offensive units. The Jaguars reunited DeFilippo and quarterback Nick Foles in hopes of having an offense that can move the ball and not waste away an elite defense. We will soon find out how this marriage works out.
E: Expectations. Based on comments and social media, it seems most fans are feeling cautiously optimistic about this year’s team, mostly due to the addition of Nick Foles and a defense that should remain as a top-10 unit. Several national analysts predict the Jaguars will get back to the playoffs. Still, there are plenty of question marks for a team coming off of a 5-11 season. Expectations shouldn’t be too high, but there’s a lot of reasons to be positive.
F: Front office. If another disappointing season ensues, this is likely the final season for the Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell power structure, as well as for head coach Doug Marrone. The execs have mostly made headlines this offseason for not getting a new deal done with Yannick Ngakoue, but they also quietly put together a strong draft and finally made a necessary change at quarterback. They feel the team is in position to win now. We will see about that.
G: Gardner Minshew II. The sixth round rookie is in the driver’s seat to land the backup quarterback role. An important position if Nick Foles were to go down (knock on wood), because the Jaguars generally only carry two active quarterbacks on the roster. Minshew will have competition from Tanner Lee and Alex McGough, but he is highly regarded for his football IQ, and expected to be the second-string quarterback come September.
H: D.J. Hayden/Tre Herndon. While A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey dominate the cornerback talk for the Jaguars, D.J. Hayden put together a solid campaign as the nickelback before injuries slowed him down. The former first-round pick thinks the Jaguars have the best defense in the NFL. Meanwhile, Tre Herndon, and fellow undrafted free agent Quenton Meeks, will be relied upon if any of the three aforementioned players miss time. Herndon gained experience playing in 11 games as a rookie last year.
I: Improved health. Part of Jacksonville’s 2017 success had to do with keeping the majority of the team healthy for the duration of the season. That luck changed in 2018 when the Jaguars lost their No. 1 receiver before the season even started, sent four offensive line starters to the IR, sent two tight ends to IR and even lost backup players to long term injuries. Heading into camp, nearly the whole team is healthy, so let’s hope it stays that way.
J: Jalen Ramsey. Expectations are always high for Ramsey. For example, many believed his play dipped in 2018 compared to 2017, despite the fact that he was voted as a Pro Bowl starter. Ramsey plans to spend less time talking trash to quarterbacks this year, but his headstrong personality isn’t going anywhere, evidenced by the fact that he showed to training camp in an armored truck. Ramsey remains, at the very least, a top-three cornerback in the NFL, and probably the league’s best.
K: Keelan Cole. After a breakout campaign in 2017, Cole had a highly disappointing season in 2018 (outside of the game against the Patriots, wow!). Cole’s numbers dipped across the board, including in receptions, yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. He did actually have a higher catch percentage, although he still had seven recorded drops. How much of that was on quarterback play, though? Will Cole ascend in a receivers group without a clear leader? Time will tell.
L: Leonard Fournette. Fournette is in a make or break year. After a promising rookie year, Fournette missed eight games either due to injury or suspensions in 2018. The talent has always been there for him, but the on-field production hasn’t always matched. The front office was so fed up with Fournette’s antics last season, that the team’s brass voided the remaining guarantees in his contract. With a healthier offensive line, and a better quarterback, Fournette should be in for a bounce-back season.
M: Doug Marrone. Marrone likely needs to guide Jacksonville to a winning record to ensure his job security. While he was able to lead the Jaguars to a 10-6 record and AFC South championship in his first full year at the helm, the Jaguars crumbled in his second year. There was a combination of things that lead to regression, but how much of the blame falls on Marrone’s shoulders is debatable. Still, the team must improve under his leadership.
N: Nick Foles. With Blake Bortles officially out of Jacksonville, it is up to Foles to right the ship at the quarterback position. We’ve heard the same questions all offseason long: “Will we get Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles or St. Louis Rams Nick Foles?” “Will reuniting Foles and DeFilippo bring 2017 Philadelphia Eagles success to Jacksonville, or will it fail?” Those questions, and more, will soon be answered by the new signal caller.
O: Offensive Line. The offensive line was in shambles last season, with tackles Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell, guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder all winding up on the IR. The Jaguars started 12 different players there in 2018. Norwell has vowed to play better this season, and if the the unit remains healthy, it should be much better. With Parnell gone, right tackle is the question mark with rookie Jawaan Taylor battling it out with Cedric Ogbuehi and Will Richardson.
P: Physically Unable to Play List. The Jaguars recently placed rookie running back Ryquell Armstead, wide receiver Marqise Lee and OT Cam Robinson on the PUP list. Lee and Robinson are both coming off of ACL tears, while Armstead has been nursing a hamstring injury since OTAs. Any of the three players can practice as soon as they are cleared. Meanwhile linebacker Jake Ryan (also coming off an ACL tear) and offensive lineman Donnell Greene are on the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
Update: Armstead has already been taken off of the PUP list.
Q: Quincy Williams. The surprise third-round pick out of Murray State may have to deal with trial by fire. With Telvin Smith sitting out in 2019, Williams is the favorite to start at weak-side linebacker. There is already a huge learning curve from college to the NFL, but Williams played even lower competition at the FCS level. Still, he was a human hit stick and showed pass coverage skills in college, so his development is going to be fun to watch.
R: Ronnie Harrison. The unfamiliar starting safety duo in Jacksonville looks certain to be Harrison and Jarrod Wilson. The backend of the secondary is now one of the biggest question marks on an absolutely loaded defense. Harrison flashed potential last year, taking over at the strong safety spot for Barry Church. In 14 games with eight starts, Harrison recorded 32 tackles, three passes defended, one sack, one interception and three tackles for loss. Harrison’s growth in year two is something to monitor.
S: Telvin Smith. Smith, a captain for the Jaguars, unexpectedly decided to step away from football in 2019, which left a void at the WILL spot. As mentioned above, rookie Quincy Williams is likely to take over, but that is a lot of production to duplicate. Smith’s overall play took a dip in 2018, but he still led the team in tackles with a career high 128. The dynamic without Smith’s leadership both on and off the field will be intriguing.
T: Taven Bryan. Bryan had a disappointing rookie season. The plan to play him at “big end” didn’t work out. However, once the coaching staff moved Bryan back to his natural position of three-technique, he showed good progress. The Wyoming Wildman will play most of his snaps at defensive tackle this season, and the Jaguars will rotate Bryan, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones and Calais Campbell along the interior of the defensive line. Look for improved sack and pressure numbers from him.
U: Under-the-radar players to watch. Running back Alfred Blue was signed to spell Fournette. At tight end, rookie Josh Oliver and free agent signee Geoff Swaim look to bring the position back to relevance for the Jaguars. Meanwhile, the wide receiver position is in dire need of somebody stepping up behind Dede Westbrook. Could it be Cole, D.J. Chark or one of the newcomers in Chris Conley or Terrelle Pryor? On defense, Jarrod Wilson gets his chance to shine at free safety.
V: Victories. What is a fair estimate of win for this team? Probably somewhere between seven and 10. The first year under a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback is going to have growing pains. But this is the NFL and there is a lot of parity between years, so the Jaguars have as good a chance as any to go from worst to first in the division. Training camp gives us our first glimpse into this team’s potential.
W: Dede Westbrook. Westbrook truly ascended his play in 2018. He led the team in receptions (66), yards (717) and receiving touchdowns (5). Now entering his third year, Westbrook has a great chance to truly take hold of the No. 1 wide receiver spot, depending on what Lee is able to do coming off a substantial injury. Westbrook has an upgraded quarterback throwing him the ball and can work from both the slot or the outside. Expect a big year from him.
X: X-Factor. Who is going to be the X-factor for this team? This could be a player whom you least expect, such as Chark, Blue, Oliver, Bryan, Wilson, Williams, or somebody who’s not even crossing our minds just yet. Or maybe it is somebody who we may expect, like Westbrook with his playmaking ability, or Allen with his pass-rushing prowess. It will be fun to find out.
Y: Yannick Ngakoue. One of the biggest offseason storylines is flowing into training camp. For some strange reason, Jacksonville’s front office is playing hard ball with one of the best young pass rushers in the entire NFL. And now it is official that Ngakoue plans to hold out for the beginning of training camp. How long the holdout lasts is anybody’s guess, but hopefully the two sides can work something out soon.
Z: Zedrick Woods. In a shocking move, Zedrick Woods, an undrafted free agent signing out of Mississippi, decided to retire before training camp. Woods, who ran a ridiculous 4.29 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (fastest time in 2019), had a great shot to make the 53-man roster in a thin safety group. The Jaguars brought back defensive lineman Lyndon Johnson in his place.
Of course, there are going to be plenty more players and storylines to follow along with as training camp begins. Stay up-to-date with Big Cat Country.