Unlike in recent years, there’s at least reason for hope with the Jaguars in the preseason.
They might be hanging around the bottom of the PFT Preseason Power Rankings, but the arrow is clearly pointing up for them after years of floundering about.
Second-year coach Gus Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell have remade the roster rapidly and with a clear plan, and they were willing to not reach last year knowing they couldn’t fix everything at once.
The Jaguars added their quarterback of the future this offseason, but they’re committed to not making him the quarterback of the present until he’s ready.
Along with the steady progress they’ve made building a competitive roster, the Jaguars are more interesting than they’ve been in years.
Bradley made a statement in his first year, getting the Jaguars to a competitive place one side of the ball at a time.
With a solid defense in place, they added parts which should make it even better this offseason.
They lost a solid starter in linebacker Russell Allen, but with former Buccaneer Dekoda Watson coming aboard, it’s still a fast group.
As their young secondary grows together, it should only get better, and give the Jaguars time to develop on the other side where they need it the most.
Being able to cut a productive veteran like Jason Babin points to the fact the Jaguars think this can be a good group as it stands.
For lack of a better word, the Jaguars were painful to watch last year when they had the ball.
And that feels generous.
The goal is to let Toby Gerhart provide some ballast to the running game. He’s shown enough in glimpses of playing time in Minnesota to make you think he can be a productive every-down player, and that’s what they’re banking on.
They’ll need a productive running game, because their receiving corps is very much a work in progress.
Wide receiver Cecil Shorts has shown game-breaking ability, but he needed help in the worst way. The Jaguars used a pair of second-round picks on wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, and will need both to contribute right off the bat.
With the offense in a bit of a holding pattern until Bortles makes his inevitable rise, it’s hard to know how much to expect.
But at least there’s a plan.
As important as anyone the Jaguars brought in this offseason was their decisions on when to let go.
They made the cold, clinical call to let franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew walk into free agency, when they easy thing would have been to keep around a player who for years was the only reason to watch them.
Then they cut the cord on former first-rounder Blaine Gabbert, trading the guy they thought would be their franchise passer to the 49ers for a sack of beans.
There was also the tacit admission that they’ll never get anything from wide receiver Justin Blackmon by drafting receivers in bulk.
While it’s easier for a new administration to admit the mistakes of a former regime, getting something of value for Gabbert was a coup, and moving on from Jones-Drew before the inevitable decline was probably good business.
We’ll see if staking the running game to Toby Gerhart was the right decision, but drafting Blake Bortles is the clean slate at the position the team so desperately needed.
The Jaguars still have some work to do on defense, primarily finding a free safety.
Winston Guy and Josh Evans shared the role last year, and one needs to emerge. The Jaguars have been consistent giving young players chances, but they’ve brought in some depth to push them as well. Former Panthers second-rounder Sherrod Martin is still young enough to be an intriguing prospect, with the kind of range to have a shot.
The Jaguars also need to settle the middle of their offensive line.
With longtime center Brad Meester retiring and stable guard Uche Nwaneri cut, they’re remaking the interior. Former Broncos guard Zane Beadles was a big-ticket free agent addition, and they’re hoping some other young players are ready to step up.
If Mike Brewster is ready to take over at center, and they can find a right guard with the ability to help the run game, they appear to be moving in the right direction up front.
The Jaguars can get better this year, even if their record doesn’t.
Because the only true barometer of this season will be how it helps Bortles develop into the starter.
If he’s not ready to start the opener, they know they can leave Henne in there and be at least acceptable. But if they can use the time to get the third-overall pick up to speed, they’re better off for it in the long run.
Many thought during the draft season that Bortles was the player with the most upside, the classic drop-back passer frame, and the tools to succeed. But there was also a consensus that he needed some time.
The Jaguars appear willing to give him just that.
The way they pursued last season (knowing they didn’t have a long-term quarterback, and not reaching to get one for the sake of having one) indicates a well-thought-out plan.
Now comes the execution part of the plan, and if they can get Bortles ready, they’re set up to be competitive for years to come.