Many preseason favorites like Gerrit Prince are no longer with the team, but players like Trevor Lawrence miraculously survived the cutting block.
However, when coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke spoke to the media on Thursday, the big questions were about guys who are on the roster but are unavailable.
The big name the Jaguars will be missing to begin the year is starting defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton, who was placed on the Non Football Injury list this week and will miss the team’s first four games. Seventh-round rookie offensive lineman Cooper Hodges also joined Hamilton on the reserve list.
To help supplement the roster, the team signed DL Angelo Blackson and OL Blake Hance. Hance was cut earlier in the week but was brought back in a move the team was expected to make.
Another player that the team will miss at the start of the season is fourth-year corner Chris Claybrooks. Claybrooks was placed on the league’s Exempt List as a result of a July 21 arrest.
Per league stipulation, Claybrooks is ineligible to practice or attend games and will remain on the list indefinitely. He also doesn’t count against the Jaguars’ 53-man active roster.
“We knew that was coming,” Baalke said of the Tuesday ruling. “We have been monitoring it. We have been in contact with the league. We were prepared for it.”
With Claybrooks out, the cornerback room will look to Montaric Brown, Gregory Junior and Christian Braswell to help supplement the depth, with all three looking at various levels of potential playing time.
“We feel good about all three of them and good enough to keep them on the 53,” Baalke said. “Greg Junior is competing for the nickel spot. Montaric has done some really good things through camp. Christian is a very talented young guy.”
When asked if incumbent Tre Herndon will be the starting nickel, Pederson had a simple answer.
“Yes,” Pederson said.
In other injury news, rookie DL Tyler Lacy has “a little hip” ailment according to Pederson. Pederson said the team is monitoring him and said Lacy is day-to-day.
Fellow rookie Antonio Johnson doesn’t have a timetable for return in regards to a hamstring injury, but Pederson said he “would probably lean towards not playing” Johnson in Week 1.
The team’s offensive line has been banged up in recent weeks, but Pederson said guys like Anton Harrison, Ben Bartch and Tyler Shatley are cleared to play.
“We feel really good about where our offensive line is health-wise going into the regular season,” Pederson said. “No concerns there.”
Pederson said bringing back Hance was “very important” for the team and offensive line, and that he will likely get considerable playing time as a swing tackle.
Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, who suffered a heel injury earlier in camp, is “progressing well” according to Pederson. Fatukasi has been snakebit in terms of injuries after signing with the Jaguars but will be back with the team on Monday.
“I think Monday we will have a better picture of where he is,” Pederson said of the sixth-year defensive lineman.
As for the overall makeup of the roster, Pederson said every move the team makes is to get closer to bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Jacksonville, and much of that requires roster turnover and making tough cuts and trades.
“We needed to get better, and we needed to get better in a hurry,” Pederson said of the roster since taking over as coach last year. “In order to put together a championship roster together that is what you have to do. You have to take some risks and you got to go out on a limb with some of these players. But you don’t go out on that limb without the confidence that that limb is going to support you.”
A player that had trade rumors swirling as final cuts and trades were made was rookie WR Parker Washington. A report came out that the team may have been shopping Washington, but Baalke shot the notion down.
“He was never on the trade block,” Baalke said. “We weren’t actively shopping him. There were several teams that reached out. But it was not a situation we felt comfortable with and it didn’t move the needle for us.”
As for a player that was never actually in trade talks was Lawrence, who Pederson said has developed exactly how he wants heading into his third year in the league and second year under the veteran coach.
“He has had a really good offseason, a really good camp,” Pederson said. “I have seen that confidence, that growth, that maturity. Where he was a year ago, to today, is really night and day. He is so much further along. He has been in the conversion for tops in the AFC, as he should be.”
Trent: we told Trevor he was on the bubble. @ActionSportsJax (they were kidding I don’t think I have to say that)— Brent Martineau (@BrentASJax) August 31, 2023
Overall, the 2023 Jaguars’ roster is in one of its best states, according to Baalke.
“We feel good about the group we have,” Baalke said. “It is a good group of guys. We are looking forward to getting rolling.”
Team activities are halted until Labor Day Monday, when the team will then turn its sights to facing the Indianapolis Colts.
When asked about his Week 1 opponent, Pederson said it is going to be quite a test facing rookie first-round quarterback Anthony Richardson.
“At least defensively… We played them twice last year so we kind of know what their structure is,” Pederson said. “Offensively, with the type of quarterback (they have), we have to watch a lot of tape. There is obviously going to be some unknown.”
The expectations are high for the Jaguars this season. That fact is not unknown to Pederson.
But Pederson didn’t want to jump to any conclusions just yet about the team. He knows better than anyone that the road to the Super Bowl is long, and is still about seven months away.
“As far as where we can end up, it is way too early to tell,” Pederson said.