Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.

@ESPNdirocco: It's important for any running back, whether it's Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart. If there's no holes, it's hard for backs to get positive yardage. The Jaguars like to run the outside zone, and the interior of the offensive line plays a significant role in that. Fixing the center and right guard spots will be the key to the offense's success.

@ESPNdirocco: The hope is Allen Robinson be back on the practice field before the season opener. Even if he is, though, I wouldn't expect much out of him this season. Missing that much practice time at a position where rookies traditionally struggle may essentially make his first season a wash.

@ESPNdirocco: Outside of Blake Bortles, the player who has impressed me the most is defensive end Tyson Alualu, who has two sacks through the first two games. He had a great camp and is playing with a nasty attitude. The player who has been the most disappointing is center Mike Brewster, who has been given every chance to lock up the starting center spot but has struggled.

@ESPNdirocco: It's not about the number of victories. It's about showing progress. The Jaguars should be a better team this season, but a tough early schedule will make it hard for them to win significantly more games this season. I'm predicting them to win six games, but as long as there's visible progress, the season will be successful.

@ESPNdirocco: Both sides have had preliminary discussions and GM David Caldwell said he wants to keep Cecil Shorts around long term. As for whether the Jaguars let him walk, that depends on whether Shorts' asking price is unreasonable.

@ESPNdirocco: The defensive line has undergone a significant upgrade with the addition of Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood. That will be the most improved unit. As it was last year, the interior of the offensive line is the biggest weakness. It got an upgrade with Zane Beadles, but the center and right guard spots, as discussed above, are a huge issue.

@ESPNdirocco: No. That's not realistic until 2015.

@ESPNdirocco: I expect Allen Hurns to. Robinson won't contribute much this year and Ace Sanders is suspended for the first four games.

@ESPNdirocco: It depends on how this season plays out. The Jaguars don't seem to think Brewster is the answer, and Jacques McClendon doesn't seem to be a long-term option. Luke Bowanko, however, has a chance to win the job and they liked what they saw from him during the limited reps he's gotten. If they believe he's the long-term answer, then I don't see them making the position a high priority in free agency or the draft. There are several centers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents that fit the age profile the Jaguars would like (27 years old or younger). Stefen Wisniewski and Rodney Hudson top the list. 
DETROIT -- It's getting harder and harder to understand the Jacksonville Jaguars' stance that Chad Henne will be the starting quarterback when the season begins on Sept. 7.

It's not that Henne has played poorly during the Jaguars' three preseason games. He has played pretty well, in fact, going 25-for-38 for 230 yards and one touchdown. But rookie Blake Bortles has been so darn good at the same time.

Calm, confident, poised in the pocket, Bortles has recognized defenses and has been getting the offense out of bad plays. He has been scanning the field to find his second and third options.

He's doing everything you want your quarterback to do -- and he's doing it better than Henne. And yet, during his news conference after the Jaguars' 13-12 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Friday night, Gus Bradley said it again: Henne will be the starter against the Philadelphia Eagles to open the season.

It doesn't seem logical after comparing the two quarterbacks' performance against the Lions. Both played with the first-team offense against the Lions' first-team defense. Henne completed 9 of 14 passes for 70 yards and was sacked twice. Bortles completed 10 of 16 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown and was sacked once.

Then look at Bortles' numbers in the preseason: 28-for-44, 435 yards, one touchdown.

But the Jaguars aren't budging.

And that may be part of the reason Bortles has played so well.

"I think from Day 1 Gus and [general manager] Dave [Caldwell] have talked about creating a stress-free and anxiety free environment and that's exactly what it's been," Bortles said. "It's been perfect. It's been the perfect situation to learn and try to progress and get better. I know my role is the backup quarterback and to learn from Chad and ask as many questions as possible."

There are signs that he's ready now, though. Like the way he handled himself when he was inserted into the game late in the first half: 1:43 remaining, no time outs, ball on the Jacksonville 5-yard line. He took the Jaguars down the field and got three points on a Kasey Redfern field goal.

Or the throw he made to running back Jordan Todman. Bortles rolled to his right, didn't see any open receivers in front of him, and threw back across the field to a wide-open Todman on the sideline for a 24-yard gain.

The players see it.

"In the huddle he's just one of those guys you don't necessarily know if he's happy, if he's sad," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's just even-keeled and that's something that you develop normally as you get more years in the league and you kind of get a grasp of what's going on around you. He has that right now."

Bortles also has the innate ability to know when to take shots down the field, too.

"I think knowing what your guys are doing and kind of taking calculated risks," he said. "There was a couple throws that weren't too smart but I think you've got to know the situation and when's it's OK to take that chance and when's it's OK to take the checkdown."

Bortles has performed well at each level during the preseason. He looked good in his debut. He looked better in his second game against a better defensive front. On Friday night he did it against the Lions' first-team defense.

He'll get a lot of playing time next week in the final preseason game, and it's a pretty good bet he'll play well then, too.

But the Jaguars hope that's the last time we see Bortles on the field this season.

DETROIT, Mich. -- When Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles looked pretty good in the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the caveat was: It was the Bucs' second-team defense and it was pretty vanilla.

When he did it again against the Chicago Bears' second-team defense, it was, "Let's see how he does against the starters."

Now what?

Because after Friday night's performance against the Detroit Lions, in which he played with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, there's nothing left to say. Bortles completed 10 of 16 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown in the Jaguars' 13-12 loss to Detroit at Ford Field. As the third overall pick continues to play well he's got to have the Jaguars beginning to rethink their plan of having him sit out the 2014 season.

Bortles wasn't perfect against the Lions. He threw a couple bad passes and had two others that should have been intercepted (one would have been nullified by a penalty), but he led the Jaguars to nine points in four drives and just the team's second red-zone touchdown this preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Jaguars' third preseason game of the year:
  • There's no doubt now that the Jaguars have found themselves a gem in undrafted rookie receiver Allen Hurns. He was the team's leading receiver in the preseason entering Friday night's game and caught six passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Lions while playing with the first-team offense. Hurns not only will get a lot of playing time this season, he has all but locked up the No. 3 receiver spot behind Cecil Shorts and Marqise Lee.
  • It looks like the race to be the starting center is going to be a two-man race between Jacques McClendon and rookie sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko. McClendon started the game and Bowanko came in next. Brewster didn't play in the first half and lined up at right guard in the second half until he switched over to center when Ricky Stanzi entered the game in the fourth quarter. If Brewster really is the team's third option -- and that's the way it appears -- then he may have a hard time making the roster.
  • The talk all camp has been about the Jaguars' lightning package, which puts four LEOs on the field at the same time. But the Jaguars have also worked on some other wrinkles, such as having different players dropping in coverage. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks even did it a couple times. Andre Branch did it against the Lions and came away with an interception of a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Calvin Johnson. He didn't look bad running with the ball, either, and the 21-yard return helped set up the Jaguars' first field goal.
  • Lee got into a scuffle after a play with former Jaguars corner Rashean Mathis and was penalized for using abusive language. That is one of the areas that the NFL is emphasizing this season. … It was a pretty quiet night for Shorts, who made his preseason debut. He had two passes thrown his way but didn't make a catch. He was open on a deep route, but he was looking inside and Chad Henne's pass was thrown between Shorts and the sideline. It didn't appear that Shorts even saw the ball until just before it landed.


W2W4: Jacksonville Jaguars

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) and Detroit Lions play their third preseason game Friday night at Ford Field at 7:30 p.m.

1. Blake Bortles’ first-team debut: After tearing it up in the preseason with the second-team offense against second-team defenses (18-for-28, 277 yards) the Jaguars are finally giving the rookie quarterback a chance to play with the first team against a first-team defense. He’ll play about a quarter, and coach Gus Bradley said he’ll likely enter the game sometime in the second quarter. There is a difference between playing against a first-team defense: The players are (obviously) better, the coverages are disguised, there are more pressures, and everything happens just a bit faster. That means Bortles has to make quicker decisions. So far during the preseason, he has been poised and confident in the pocket and has smartly audibled the Jaguars out of bad plays. He also hasn’t locked in on his first option on pass plays, either. Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch want to see if he can do those things against the Lions’ first-team defense.

2. Make or break: It’s possible that Mike Brewster could go from being the Jaguars’ starting center at the start of training camp to not even making the team. He hasn’t been impressive, and the Jaguars are working three other players at the spot in third-year veteran Jacques McClendon and rookies Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko. McClendon is going to start against the Lions, and Bradley said he’s not sure of the rotation after that. Brewster’s issue is that he’s not a powerful player at the point of attack, and that’s hurting the Jaguars in the power-run game. This is a critical game for his future with the franchise, and it comes against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. If he doesn’t play well, then he will have a tough time making the final roster. The lineup to look for will be when Bowanko is at center and Linder is at right guard. Linder was drafted to be the right guard, and the staff has liked what they’ve seen from Bowanko at center.

3. Pressure: The Jaguars’ upgraded defensive line has played well against the run in camp and in the team’s first two preseason games, but the unit did not get much pressure on Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler last week. This week’s test is Matthew Stafford, who is getting Calvin Johnson back for the first time this preseason. The Jaguars have just 51 sacks over the past two seasons (31 in 2013) and this is the kind of game in which the pass rush needs to shine: a high-powered pass attack led by an elite quarterback and receiver. The Jaguars signed Chris Clemons to be disruptive off the edge, and he has been impressive in camp and has one of the team’s four sacks. He looks like the player that had at least 11 sacks in three consecutive seasons (2009-12) before suffering a torn ACL in the 2012 postseason. His production dipped to 4.5 sacks last season, but he said he didn’t feel completely healthy until Seattle’s playoff run.
ROMULUS, Mich. -- Reading the coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars ...

ESPN Insider Field Yates breaks down why he believes the Jaguars are doing the right thing Insider by sitting Blake Bortles -- at least for the majority of the 2014 season. With a capable veteran in Chad Henne and the luxury of not having the pressure to make the playoffs, the Jaguars don't have to put Bortles on the field until they believe he's completely ready. (Insider content)

NFL.com's Kevin Patra previews the Jaguars' 2014 season, and though he raves about Bortles, he also likes the development of Denard Robinson and Winston Guy. He predicts the Jaguars will finish second in the AFC South.

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah lists Bortles as a wild-card candidate to win the league's Rookie of the Year award.

The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran lists five Jaguars to watch in tonight's preseason game in Detroit.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In order to be a playoff team or have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, you have to have great players. The Jacksonville Jaguars don't have any that qualify -- yet.

ESPN Insider Mike Sando believes there are a few on the way. Sando included four Jaguars players on his list of top 50 NFL breakout players in 2014 (Insider content): safety Johnathan Cyprien, running back Toby Gerhart, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, and offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

Cyprien, a second-year safety from Florida International, came in at No. 5 on Sando's list, the highest spot of the four. Two other players were in the top 25 while another was in the top 40.

Marks is an interesting choice for the list because he could have qualified as a breakout player in 2013. He set career highs in sacks (four), pass breakups (eight), forced fumbles (two),and fumble recoveries (three). He did that while playing way too many snaps, too. But the addition of Ziggy Hood via free agency and a health Roy Miller alongside him should reduce the number of snaps he plays in 2014, which, theoretically will keep him fresher and therefore even more effective.

Sando had a few rules in picking the top 50: No rookies, no player who was ranked in the #NFLRank Top 100 (an ongoing series ranking the top 100 players on offense and defense), no older players, and avoid players who have signed a lucrative second contract.
Reading the coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars ...

Cameron Bradfield finds himself in a familiar spot: Having to step up and fill a key spot along the offensive line because of an injury. He's taking over at right tackle while Austin Pasztor is out for at least a month because of a broken bone in his right hand. Bradfield has started 25 games in his career, including 11 at left tackle in place of the injured Luke Joeckel last season, writes the Florida Times-Union's Hays Carlyon.

The Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer predicts the Jaguars will finish third in the AFC South with a 4-12 record.

However, NFL.com's Kevin Patra predicts the Jaguars will finish second in the division.

Coach Gus Bradley and Jaguars players are pleased with the NFL's decision to increase the size of the practice squad to 10 players, writes the T-U's Vito Stellino.

The Jaguars are worth $965 million on Forbes' NFL Team Value list.

The Jaguars signed fullback Eric Kettani and waived/injured tight end Fendi Onobun.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marcedes Lewis has said numerous times that he has had his best offseason and is in the best shape of his career.

That has been evident with the way he has performed in training camp and the first two preseason games. He’s catching nearly everything thrown his way and his role in the offense has been as prominent as it was at the end of the 2013 season.

But as reliable and valuable as Lewis has been, there are that many questions about the players behind him.

Clay Harbor, who caught 24 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns last season, has been out with a calf injury since July 28, and when he will return to practice is unclear. There is hope that he will return for the Sept. 7 season opener.

"It’s doing a lot better," said Harbor, who suffered a partial tear of his calf muscle. "I’m working toward hopefully Philadelphia game Week 1. That’s what the plan is, and if everything keeps going well then that’s what I’m going to try to do, get ready for that week and try my best to play."

Harbor is the only other tight end on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game, leaving the Jaguars with undrafted rookies Marcel Jensen and D.J. Tialavea and second-year player Branden Barden, who played in three games with Tennessee in 2010.

Barden and Jensen are essentially fighting to be the third tight end because the Jaguars will only keep three on the 53-man roster. The one that doesn’t make it is likely headed for the practice squad, and right now that looks to be Jensen. Tialavea appears to be the odd man out.

"I think Barden is having a real nice camp," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "It’s fun to see him compete. He’s smart, has good experience and is catching the ball actually really well this camp."

Barden signed with Tennessee as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after a five-year career at Vanderbilt, ended up on the Titans’ practice squad, and then was signed to the active roster and played in three games that season. The Titans waived him after another stint on the practice squad and the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad last November.

Jensen is an undrafted free agent from Fresno State. He caught the staff’s eye during organized team activities and minicamp after making a few catches. He is intriguing because of his size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) and length, but he is a raw talent and has been relatively anonymous in training camp.

"I thought that was another great acquisition there to get a guy like him," Fisch said. "I think there’s some good upside there with him."

Potential is nice, but the Jaguars need production behind Lewis, especially if Harbor can’t return for the season opener.

Why Jags are correct to sit Bortles

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, has been among the standout performers through two weeks of preseason action. And yet the Jaguars remain ardent in their stance for his role to begin 2014: As of now, he's the backup to veteran Chad Henne, who re-signed this offseason to serve as a bridge to the future.

While Bortles has undeniably shown flashes of promise, the Jaguars' approach is understandable and correct. Henne, not Bortles, should open the season as the starter. Here's why.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here’s the latest on how the Jaguars plan on breaking up playing time for key players in Friday’s preseason game at Detroit:
  • Expect Chad Henne to play about a quarter and a half and Blake Bortles to play about a quarter. Coach Gus Bradley said he couldn’t commit to anything firmer than that. “I hate to say exact because it could be depending on reps like it was last week, but that’s the idea,” Bradley said Wednesday afternoon. Bortles is supposed to get time with the first-team offense against the Lions, but whether that means he’ll be working with the first-team offense the entire time he’s on the field has not been determined.
  • Jacques McClendon will start at center against the Lions. Which player comes in next is uncertain, Bradley said. It’s most likely going to be Mike Brewster, who has started the first two preseason games, but sixth-round pick Luke Bowanko is an option. Bowanko returned to practice on Tuesday after suffering a sprained ankle in last Thursday’s loss to Chicago and took some reps at center on Wednesday. “We’ll find out how he handled today and that, depending on how well he did, will determine our rotation.”
  • Receiver Cecil Shorts and linebacker Dekoda Watson are scheduled to make their preseason debuts. Bradley said they will get the playing time starters normally would in the first preseason game: about 15 snaps. “We’ll see how the situations present themselves,” Bradley said. “The thing to look for with those guys [is] we’ll try to take them out if it’s extended drives.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars may have won only six games over the past two seasons, but they’re worth nearly $200 million more than the $770 million Shad Khan plunked down to purchase the franchise back in November 2011.

According to the Forbes NFL Team Value list that was released Wednesday, the Jaguars are worth $965 million. While that’s an increase of $195 million -- no doubt helped by the stadium renovations and stadium naming rights contract extension with EverBank -- that still ranks 29th among NFL teams.

Still, a 25 percent increase in value in less than three years is a pretty significant jump.

The Dallas Cowboys top the list at $3.2 billion. The three teams worth less than the Jaguars are Detroit ($960 million), Buffalo ($935 million), and St. Louis ($930 million).

The Jaguars are the only team in the AFC South valued at less than $1 billion. Houston ranks fifth at $1.85 billion, Indianapolis is 12th at $1.4 billion, and Tennessee is 19th at $1.16 billion.

Reading the coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars ...

CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco lists safety Johnathan Cyprien among the players on his 2014 Under the Radar team.

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal writes that NFL teams missed eight extra point attempts during the two-game experiment to move the PAT back so it's a 33-yard attempt. Josh Scobee went 2-for-2.

The Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer writes that the top of the 2013 draft class has yet to make the grade. That includes left tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick, whom Iyer grades as a C.

It may have only been for three plays in 11-on-11, but rookie quarterback Blake Bortles says he noticed a difference in the speed of the game when running with the first team as opposed to the second team, writes the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. He also writes that defensive coordinator Bob Babich says the defense has plenty of things to work on against Detroit on Friday night.

Bortles playing with starters important

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco discusses the importance of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles getting time with the first-team offense in the team’s upcoming preseason game.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here's a preview of what to watch for regarding the Jacksonville Jaguars on Wednesday …
  • Gus Bradley said the Jaguars would discuss the starting center for Friday's game at Detroit on Tuesday night, so he may be able to tell us if it's going to be Jacques McClendon or Mike Brewster. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said before Tuesday's practice that it likely would be McClendon, who has worked with the first-team offense the past three days. Luke Bowanko, who left last week's game against Chicago with an ankle injury, may get playing time, too.
  • We didn't get to the tight end situation behind Marcedes Lewis on Tuesday so we'll circle back and hit today. It appears Clay Harbor is getting closer to a return and Fisch said he hopes to have Harbor back by the Sept. 7 season opener.
  • Receiver Cecil Shorts and linebacker Dekoda Watson should make their preseason debuts on Friday night. They likely won't be in long, but they're both eager to finally get on the field after injuries have held them back. Really eager. Like, Friday-better-hurry-up eager.
  • The Jaguars will have a roughly two-hour practice and Bradley will have his news conference immediately after.