The last several years, the Jaguars have teased with potential, while stockpiling young talent. Some of the wizards of the national media (raises hand) have thought they had the mark of an ascending playoff team.
Instead, they cratered under former coach Gus Bradley, who was always upbeat and positive but also 14-48 in four seasons. While he can’t be blamed for the tear-down that had to happen before the rebuild, at some point the record matters and you have to proceed.
They’re not going to be as cheerful this year with Doug Marrone coaching and Tom Coughlin watching over the top of the whole operation. But with the long-standing NFL truth that if the last guy was fat, the next one will be skinny, Jaguars ownership clearly thought they needed to be led with a firmer hand.
But that discipline also has to come with better play, specifically from quarterback Blake Bortles, who has one last chance to prove he’s worth building around. By using the fourth overall pick in the draft on running back Leonard Fournette instead of another quarterback of the future, they have given Bortles his best chance to date to run a balanced offense.
Ultimately, Bortles will determine the fate of this season and his own future. If he plays the way he did two years ago with more help, the team could rise. If he doesn’t, the stage will be set for the next reconstruction.
Biggest positive change: The Jags have always had young talent on defense, which you need if you want to compete. But while winning the offseason again, they signed one of the league’s consummate professionals in defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Along with the additions of cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church, it’s the kind of influx of veteran talent (and maturity) that should push all the youngsters like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack and Dante Fowler to realize the promise they’ve hinted at. The human talent is there. Now it has to become a good defense.
Biggest negative change: They were already quite bad so everything’s relative. It would have been nice to see left tackle Branden Albert all-in after they acquired him in trade. But he stayed away from the offseason program waiting for a contract extension which wasn’t coming. In his absence, it’s clear the Jaguars still have some work to do up front, and that’s going to be an issue for them. Second-round tackle Cam Robinson seems like a good pick, but we’ve heard that before from the Jaguars.
Coaching thermometer: Room temperature, which is probably a decent reflection of the state of the franchise. Marrone’s probably as safe as anyone in the short term, since he’s in his first full year and they seem to realize this might take a minute.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Tom Coughlin, and we say that with the knowledge it’s probably more of a happy hour/early bird special situation than an all-nighter. The elder statesman is back where his NFL head coaching career began, now with Super Bowls on his resume and the kind of presence the team sorely lacked. Simply making people show up on time isn’t going to be enough to turn the team around, but Coughlin’s also at a different point in life than his first time in Jacksonville. He’s not a big personality per se, but he also has the experience that means he has plenty of great stories. Even if a lot of them are about the good old days and end up with him yelling at the kids to get off his lawn.
How they can prove us wrong: Bortles can stop throwing so many interceptions. Jack grows into the role they envision in the middle (since they’ve bumped Paul Posluszny outside to make room for him). Fowler becomes the sack-producer they’ve been looking for for years. And all the other kids they’ve been pumping up finally play to their reputations.