By: Hays Carlyon
Phase Three of the Jaguars off-season program is underway.
That means it’s time to get an early preview of what this team will look like on the field this season. The Jaguars will conduct their first of 10 OTA practices on Tuesday.
First, here are the ground rules set up in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
The practices are voluntary. There is no live contact but the coaches can conduct 11-on-11 drills. The players wear helmets but no shoulder pads. Pads are allowed on the knees and elbows. The Jaguars can keep the players at TIAA Bank Field for six hours a day during this phase, up from four hours during the first two phases.
Here are the storylines to follow.
The Nick Foles Difference
Why: The former Philadelphia Super Bowl MVP is the key to any turnaround. Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell targeted Foles early in the off-season to be their answer at quarterback, replacing Blake Bortles.
Coach Doug Marrone hired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Foles’ quarterbacks coach with the Eagles for two seasons, to build the best offense to suit Foles.
If the Foles signing works, the Jaguars should be closer to the 10-6 team in 2017 that advanced to the AFC Championship Game. If the signing doesn’t work, last year’s 5-11 failure will be duplicated and the Jaguars will be staring at a total rebuild.
We should notice a distinct difference from Bortles if Foles is a significant upgrade. How he leads the offense will be fascinating. I’m expecting to see the passing game find more consistent rhythms in practice with Foles than what we saw during Bortles’ four years at OTAs as the starting quarterback.
Replacing Telvin Smith
Why: The Jaguars were dealt a surprising setback when Pro Bowl outside linebacker Telvin Smith announced he is taking the season off for health reasons. The Jaguars front office has to figure out who will replace Smith and the 1,020 snaps he logged last season.
The top option will be third-round rookie Quincy Williams, who has a similar skill set to Smith in terms of speed. However, Williams is considerably shorter and will have a dramatic increase in the skill he’s facing.
The Jaguars also brought in four veteran linebackers.
Which player Marrone and defensive coordinator Todd Wash elect to give the first crack to will be one of the major early takeaways. We should also know early on if fourth-year veteran Myles Jack will even be in consideration to move from his middle spot, something he’s been vocal about not wanting to happen.
Why: Sixth-year veteran receiver Marqise Lee will remain out as he recovers from a devastating knee injury suffered last preseason.
Two other players could be able to participate in some capacity. Left tackle Cam Robinson tore his ACL in the second game of the season. He’s crucial to turning around the offense.
Free-agent linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL while with Green Bay in training camp last season. It will be good for the team to be able to see Ryan perform if he’s able to in any capacity.
Several other players suffered less severe injuries, but it will be interesting to see how much they’re able to do on the field. That list includes: left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder and strong safety Ronnie Harrison.
The Draft Headliners
Why: The Jaguars got little out of last year’s draft class as rookies. That can’t happen again.
Coughlin and Caldwell went for instant impact this time over the developmental trio of last year: defensive tackle Taven Bryan, receiver DJ Chark and Harrison. Those three combined to play 920 offensive or defensive snaps. Harrison was the highest at 328.
The Jaguars were fortunate to have defensive end Josh Allen fall to the seventh choice. Their luck increased when right tackle Jawaan Taylor was available in the second round. Perhaps the biggest need was filled early in the third round when the Jaguars selected tight end Josh Oliver.
A reasonable expectation is that these three should combined for 2,100 snaps on offense or defense (900 for Taylor, 600 each for Allen and Oliver). The quality of production in those snaps will be the biggest key. We will get a sense of how the three fit in athletically in OTAs. There is no contact but their movement skills will be evident.
Why: Was much of the passing failure on Bortles? We’ll soon know. The Jaguars receiving corps is unimpressive but there is the chance it was held back by a subpar passer. With Foles throwing, do we see a difference in returners Dede Westbrook, Chark and Keelan Cole? Lee won’t be back until the end of the preseason, so the Jaguars need this young trio to elevate. Foles does have a history with free-agent addition Chris Conley. That connection will be one to focus on.
(You can email Hays at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)