Questions for Jags as preseason rapidly approaches
Note: this is a long piece, so the questions are in bold for you speed readers out there
1. Is Urban Meyer connecting with the locker room?
By most accounts, the answer is yes. Urban has shown an innate ability to get the most out of his players, from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida and Ohio State. But the NFL is a different beast, and some have questioned how a few of his decisions have or will affect this team (namely the Chris Doyle hiring, the Tim Tebow signing, and the recent fine for excessive contact in practice). Getting "buy in" is probably the most underrated aspect of any NFL staff. But there are three things in particular going for him: a track record of winning, a good and experienced staff, and a young impressionable roster.
2. Is Trevor Lawrence taking on a leadership role?
The answer is probably yes, but rookies can take time to earn the trust of their teammates. If Trevor establishes himself as the alpha on the team, then it bodes well for the team's future success.
3. Has the (mostly) new roster gelled? Or will it?
Between all of the Free Agent signings, new draft picks, and undrafted free agent signings, there will be as many as 25 (or more) new players on the 2021 Jaguars roster from last year (nearly 50% of the squad). How those personalities mesh as teammates, help each other learn and grow and get the best out of each other through competition, is something to watch closely.
4. Can this Offensive Line unit finally reach their collective potential?
On paper, the Jags OL has loads of potential:
- Cam Robinson (25, picked 34th)
- Andrew Norwell (29, first-team All-Pro in '17)
- Brandon Linder (29, picked 93rd, 79 starts)
- AJ Cann (29, picked 67th, 90 starts)
- Jawaan Taylor (23, picked 35th, 32 straight starts)
But, as we all know, they have underperformed - especially at the tackle spots. Walker Little could push either Robinson or Taylor, but this regime is banking on this unit being much better in 2021. Trevor Lawrence is depending on it.
5. How much has the defense improved on the field?
Malcom Brown, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jihad Ward, Shaq Griffin, Rayshawn Jenkins, Rudy Ford, Tyson Campbell, Andre Cisco, Jay Tufele and Jordan Smith. That's 10 defensive acquisitions of significance, but it remains to be seen (outside of Brown and Griffin) how much each will contribute. But with this infusion of talent and the addition of Joe Cullen, the 2021 defense should at least be somewhat improved.
6. How long will the growing pains last in Joe Cullen's new system?
A move to an "Attacking 3-4" that utilizes multiple fronts and blitzes from multiple angles and positions is a welcome one for this fan base. However, we should not expect everyone to be dialed in and excelling out of the gates. Tyson Campbell is expected to blitz from the nickel, but that is relatively new for him. And who will handle the defensive communication and adjustment duties, Myles Jack? He has to learn this scheme too. By year's end, things could be rolling. But those first 5 or 6 games, we could see a few missed assignments, or guys playing a little hesitant.
7. How aggressive will Darrell Bevell be with his playcalling?
This might be the most interesting question entering the season. You have a veteran OL that you're leaning on, and you're returning a 1,000-yard rusher in James Robinson. You also don't want to overload your rookie QB. However, Trevor Lawrence's skillset demands at least some attacking downfield - and the development of DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault (and signing of Marvin Jones) signify the potential for a much-improved passing game. It will be very interesting to see the run-pass ratio this year. But in Urban's first season, with a rookie QB, I expect us to run the ball a lot, and be strategic in our choices to attack through the air.
8. What will the RB snap shares look like this season?
James Robinson returns for year 2. Travis Etienne was selected 25th overall. Carlos Hyde signed a 2-year, $4.5M contract. All three will see carries this year, but how will they be distributed? I expect Robinson to still see the majority of the workload, with Etienne as a 3rd down back who can run more routes out of the backfield (or slot), and Hyde as a reliable veteran that Urban will use to lighten Robinson's load on early rushing downs.
9. How good can James Robinson be?
Well, if the Offensive Line reaches what this regime sees as its potential, and if the passing game and play-calling are on point, then the sky is the limit for this dude. We found a diamond in the rough, and he has the potential to generate over 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns (again).
10. How good can Travis Etienne be?
Very good. Year 1 could be interesting as he adjusts to the NFL game, but his speed and acceleration are world-class regardless of the competition. He looks comfortable in a receiving role, too, so the James Robinson-Travis Etienne duo could be Duval's version of the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara duo we saw in New Orleans in 2017 (not necessarily this season, but hopefully soon). Anything close to resembling that is a win for the offense.
11. How valuable can Carlos Hyde be?
Hyde rounds out what is likely our most talented backfield in quite some time with Lawrence, Robinson, and Etienne. While he definitely won't get a bulk of carries, I do expect him to contribute. He's a reliable veteran, one that Urban is familiar with and trusts. Most importantly, if Robinson or Etienne goes down (very possible), he gives us a steady presence that can step in right away. He's not a game-breaker, but he can still play
12. Beyond Jones, Chark, and Shenault, what will our WR depth look like?
This position is hard to get a good read on beyond the top 3. Jamal Agnew looks like a lock as the 6th man and kick return specialist. And then there is a list of guys who could make it depending on their performance in camp and in preseason, with maybe 2 spots left and the Practice Squad.
- Collin Johnson
- Phillip Dorsett
- Pharoh Cooper
- Josh Imatorbhebhe
- Jalen Camp
- Laquon Treadwell
- Josh Hammond
- Tim Jones
I expect Johnson and Dorsett to make it as #4 and #5 (with Agnew as #6) and Camp on the P.S. But we shall see.
13. How do final cuts on the Defensive Line shake out?
This bunch is suddenly crowded, and while it doesn't have much of the high-end talent, it is deeper than in years past. Does Taven Bryan make the roster?
- Malcolm Brown
- Dawuane Smoot
- Doug Costin
- Davon Hamilton
- Jay Tufele
- Roy Robertson-Harris
- Jihad Ward
- Adam Gotsis
- Lerentee McCray
14. Who wins the competition(s) at linebacker?
Josh Allen and K'Lavonn Chaisson are locks. As are Joe Schoebert and Myles Jack. As are Damien Wilson and Jordan Smith. That's 6. But there are still talented players on the current roster, several of whom have a good shot at making it:
- Shaq Quarterman
- Leon Jacobs
- Dylan Moses
- Dakota Allen
- Quincy WIlliams
- Chapelle Russell
15. And what about the secondary?
Do we keep 5 corners (Griffin, Henderson, Campbell, Jones, Herndon) or a 6th (Claybrooks / Daniel / Barcoo)? And do we keep 5 safeties (Jenkins, Wilson, Cisco, Ford, Thomas) or a 6th (Wingard)?
16. How many Tight Ends are on the final roster?
It could be just 3 (Manhertz, O'Shaughnessy, Farrell). There could be a 4th (Davis, Ellefson, or Tebow). And a trade could shake things up here to upgrade the passing attack, such as TE Zach Ertz (however unlikely).
17. How legit is this kicker duel?
Josh Lambo is the 3rd-most accurate kicker in NFL history, and has made 95% of his field goal attempts since coming to Jacksonville. However, he has 2 years left on a lucrative deal and Rosas has apparently been pushing him in camp - not to mention Lambo is coming off an injured season in which he played 4 games. I think Lambo is ultimately the guy, but you never know. This position could decide a few close games this season, and I'd go with the trusty vet in game time if he's healthy.
18. What is our strongest unit or position group?
For me it's the running backs group. Robinson, Etienne, and Hyde is a very solid trio. Despite Etienne being a forecast, this bunch will be our primary means of offense as Trevor Lawrence adjusts to the NFL game. Until I see Trevor comfortable, and until I see the growth from Chark and Shenault that we expect, I am confident in the RB group more than any other.
19. What is our weakest unit or position group?
Interior defensive line. They did a lot to address the DL in the offseason, but there still isn't anyone that scares you or that you have to gameplan for.
20. How will Urban Meyer handle losing?
Probably not well. But, as he has aged from his days in Gainesville, and also been away from the game since his final Rose Bowl after the 2018 season, I do expect him to handle it better than he did in college. He knows you don't have to go undefeated or only lose 1 game in order to be successful in the NFL. Don't get me wrong - this dude hates losing as much or more than anyone. But I don't think he'll be cursing out the media after the first loss.
21. How will some of the young players handle losing?
Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne didn't lose a whole lot in college. Neither did Tyson Campbell. Neither did Luke Farrell. Jacksonville is not Clemson, Athens, or Columbus. Some players are able to understand this quickly and keep grinding, some guys hate it so much it fuels their fire, but others don't know how to handle it well at all. I don't expect it to be a problem, but we really don't want to see Lawrence / Etienne / Campbell / Player X arguing with coaches or teammates on the sideline once a losing streak starts. Bad for team morale and chemistry.
22. Speaking of Tyson Campbell, what will his role be?
From the sounds of it, Shaq Griffin and CJ Henderson are the primary outside corners with Campbell being utilized most often as a nickel - where he can cover slots / tight ends / backs and blitz some too. But it also sounds like Cullen likes to move guys around and focus on match-ups. If there's a smaller shifty slot receiver, perhaps Henderson will slide inside and Campbell will play outside. There's even been mention of him lining up at safety in some alignments. I'm all for it, and I think having versatile players on defense only makes the system better.
23. Are CJ Henderson and K'Lavonn Chaisson going to develop?
Boy do we need them to. Selected #9 and #20 overall at premium positions, one way for a rebuild not to work is if you draft poorly at corner and pass rush in the first round. It's way too early to call either of them a bust, though. In fact, I ultimately think both end up being pretty good players. 2020 was not only a strange year and their rookie season, but they were being coached by a dead staff walking - in a scheme that may not have utilized their skillsets best either. Let's give Urban Meyer, Joe Cullen, and the defensive staff some time to develop them, and also give the players time to adjust to not only the speed of the NFL, but the new scheme too. But we should expect immediate improvement this year.
24. Is DJ Chark or Laviska Shenault going to surprise people?
Yes, and yes. Chark sounds like a man on a mission who has gotten stronger and more physical at the line of scrimmage, Shenault is probably the biggest breakout candidate in the NFL, and both of them are getting 1) Trevor Lawrence, 2) Darrell Bevell, and 3) Marvin Jones and Travis Etienne to help open up coverages a little. Shenault is just 22 and was a rookie last season - on a bad team with a bad offense and poor QB play. Both of these guys will have good seasons if they stay healthy.
25. What's the hardest game on the schedule, or "measuring stick"?
@ Seattle (Week 8). The Seahawks have been a model of consistency for a long time now, making the Playoffs in 14 of the last 18 seasons since 2003. In Pete Carroll's tenure, they have made the Playoffs in 9 of his 11 seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 2013 (and were one bad play call from winning another in 2014). The Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson Era in Seattle is something that Jacksonville is striving for with Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence. The Jags will be coming off a bye week and have a shot to showcase their own new era against one of the league's best franchises over the last decade plus. It's Halloween. It's a 4:05pm ET kick with a bigger audience than most Jags games. Pete Carroll vs. Urban Meyer. Russell Wilson vs. Trevor Lawrence. This game will tell us a lot about where we stand and the direction we are headed with Meyer (win, lose or tie).
26. What is this team's floor?
3 wins if things go really south (injuries to key starters, Urban losing locker room, bad breaks in games, etc.).
27. What is this team's ceiling?
10 wins if things go really well (Trevor shines, young players show development, key close wins in 4th quarter, etc.)
28. This team will disappoint if...
Trevor's rookie struggles are more glaring than anticipated, the offensive line continues to underperform, and/or the players we are relying on to get better simply don't.
29. This team will surprise if...
The passing attack is humming early, the defense gels quickly to create more "havoc", and/or the team can win more close games than expected with such a young roster and rookie QB. On average, about 50% of NFL games are decided by one possession (8 points or less). In other words, Trevor will have plenty of opportunities on 4th quarter drives to either close the gap, tie, or take the lead. Similarly, the defense will have opportunities to either protect a small lead or get the ball back for the offense late in games. They are learned skills, but that's why teams with good QB's and good defenses usually win the close ones. If we can exceed expectations in close games, we can reach that 10 win ceiling potentially.
30. What will our record be?
7-10. As exciting as all the "newness" is (head coach, coordinators, schemes, QB, free agents and draft picks), we cannot forget just how bad this team was last year. Not only did we go 1-15, but 9 of those losses were by double digits. I expect a smoother ship, less blowouts, and a more competitive team overall.
But this is Year 1 of this rebuild, and a winning record is likely another year or two away. Trevor might even be a generational talent, but as far as I can tell no rookie QB has ever taken his team from 1st overall pick to the playoffs in their first season.
7-10 is a hopeful but realistic expectation, and - depending on how we look - should give us confidence going forward in the direction of the franchise. 30 days to football, y'all. Go Jags.
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