There’s no use sugar-coating it: The Jaguars were awful last year.
They might not be much better this year.
But you can’t say that they’re not willing to change everything, in an effort to change the product on the field.
Shad Khan has employed an impressive display of out-with-the-old in his short time owning the team, willing to embrace change to create a market as well as a football team.
They’ve changed uniforms, hired a new General Manager (David Caldwell) and coach (Gus Bradley) to preside over the reclamation, and tweaked their stadium to try to create something new.
They needed to. After years of chasing random success under Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars had devolved into a big mess, and only a clean start was going to give them a chance to fix things.
This is Year One of the process, and it’s not necessarily going to be a short one.
But the Jaguars are hoping their short-term pain pays off in years to come.
Considering how porous it’s been in recent years, the Jaguars offensive line should be solid, at least around the edges.
There’s nothing wrong with left tackle Eugene Monroe, and using the second overall pick on Luke Joeckel to play right tackle gives them a solid pair to begin with.
They’ve been decimated by injuries up front in recent years, but if they can keep those two on the field along with a smart veteran center in Brad Meester, they have what could be a good group.
That’s progress, and that’s what they need.
They also have an utterly serviceable group of linebackers, who should have opportunities to make a high number of tackles five yards downfield.
Beyond that, you have point to things like good specialists (kicker Josh Scobee and punter Bryan Anger), which tells you more about the roster than those specialists in particular.
Aside from the obvious and most deficient position on the roster, the Jaguars lack playmakers on offense.
They can’t know at the moment what they’re going to get from running back Maurice Jones-Drew coming off last year’s foot surgery, and 2012 first-round wideout Justin Blackmon will miss the first month of the season coming off a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Cecil Shorts has shown signs of being a legitimate NFL wide receiver, but that moves the total to one on the roster.
They have high hopes for offensive weapon Denard Robinson and fellow rookie wideout/return man Ace Sanders, but until they prove something, it’s hard to see how the Jaguars are going to score points.
There’s also not the impact pass-rusher they desperately need to play the “Leo” position in Bradley’s defense, and that is going to keep them from making much progress defensively.
The line as a whole is a hash, and the odds that every Patriots castoff ends up here at some point (such as defensive tackles Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick) points to the rebuilding they’re in the middle of.
Where to begin? At the top is probably as good a place as any.
The razing and rebuilding began a year into owner Khan taking over, with hiring Caldwell and Bradley.
Their challenge is simply to hit reset on a franchise grown stale after an early run of success.
Knowing they can’t fix it all in one season, they didn’t opt for a bold strategy of signing name free agents. Frankly, they’re in the mess they’re in because the previous regime did a bit too much of that, in an effort to keep the team at a mediocre level.
The clear-out of the secondary is a good example of what they’re trying to do. They could have easily hung onto players such as Rashean Mathis, Dawan Landry and Aaron Ross. Instead, they drafted at least half a starting secondary in safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz, and will let those guys grow this year.
The most important, obviously is the quarterback battle between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Or maybe Mike Kafka. Or maybe even Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers.
For all the progress they’ve made in other areas, trying to figure out which one of these guys gets to (has to?) start will be the first defining decision of a rebuilding year.
Even though Caldwell and Bradley had nothing to do with drafting Gabbert, his draft status alone almost forces them to find out once and for all if he can play. The hunch here is that he can’t, but before you blow it up and start over, they have to make sure he has no value before they move on.
Henne’s Henne, and Hennes are available on every street-corner every NFL offseason. Unless Gabbert is so abjectly bad in training camp that playing him would stunt the growth of other parts they intend to keep beyond this year, there’s no real point in starting Henne, even if he’s a bit better.
The fact Kafka’s a factor points to how bad this spot on the depth chart is, and how far the Jaguars have to go to become respectable.
You want optimism? Here’s optimism.
The Jaguars get to start their season against a jury of their peers, opening against the Chiefs and the Raiders.
Of course, that’s followed by a stretch of four games in their next six against playoff teams, which should rapidly bring them back to reality.
But then again, no result of an individual game will matter to the long-term health of the franchise.
What Caldwell and Bradley need to use this season for is sorting — figuring out which parts might help them win in two years, when that’s a reasonable goal.
That begins at quarterback, but extends to finding out which of the young players are worth building around.
The danger is overwhelming the kids in losses, and ruining them before they have a chance to flourish. Hiring the high-energy and well-respected Bradley was a nod to that, as they’ll need his fire when the beatings commence in the fall.
Then comes Caldwell’s next big challenge, to find a quarterback who can turn them around quickly, as has happened in other places.