By: Hays Carlyon
I keep coming back to one question when thinking about the Jaguars this season.
What are they?
There is an identity conflict throughout the Jaguars.
The coronavirus has only compounded it.
The Jaguars will be one of the teams most affected by the NFL’s wise elimination of the preseason. The team had already lost the opportunity to conduct joint practices with Tampa Bay.
Youth is certainly a reason the Jaguars needed the preseason and joint practices.
However, it goes beyond that to a fundamental question hovering over the team. A question a good program never has to answer.
What are they?
It’s a hard question to answer at every level of the organization.
The front office features a new, yet old, general manager in Dave Caldwell. Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired Tom Coughlin as the primary football decision maker late last season. Caldwell now is back in control after being the top dog from 2013-16. The Jaguars were 15-49 in that span. The Jaguars were 23-28 (counting playoffs) in Coughlin’s three seasons.
What kind of team is Caldwell trying to build in his second stint in control? Caldwell used his vast offseason resources to build up the defensive side of the ball. So, is this a defensive-minded team?
What are they on defense?
The scheme varies depending on which Jaguar is talking. Coach Doug Marrone and Caldwell talked openly about significant defensive adjustments this offseason and the personnel moves would suggest a move to more of a 3-4 look.
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash remains steadfast that he runs a 4-3 scheme.
Losing the entire off-season program and the chance to go against other teams this August makes the defense a total mystery. Marrone, Wash and company simply don’t know which players can do what and what tweaks will have the best effect.
They won’t know until Indianapolis visits TIAA Bank Field to open the season on Sept. 13.
What are they on offense?
Coughlin wanted to build a physical running team.
That would still appear to be the best path (albeit outdated) for this season. The Jaguars have a quality running back in Leonard Fournette who can take some pressure off a young quarterback in Gardner Minshew with a (at least for now) below-average group of weapons around him.
However, that can’t be the identity. Not when Caldwell was trying to trade Fournette prior to the draft.
You don’t trade the centerpiece of your offensive identity.
So, are the Jaguars going to get with the times and become more pass-oriented under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden? Perhaps, but again think of the numerous reps Gruden has already missed out on in evaluating what his players do best and what they can’t do well.
The offense will have to gauge itself against only one barometer prior to seeing the Colts — the Jaguars completely revamped defensive unit.
The biggest identity conundrum might be with Marrone.
How will he mange this team? Marrone is a disciplinarian by nature. However, Coughlin’s miserable approach as executive taskmaster undermined Marrone, forcing him to become more of a player’s coach to keep a toxic situation from further unravelling.
Coughlin is gone. Finally, Marrone can coach the Jaguars without Coughlin’s influence. Does Marrone feel the need to return to his traditional philosophy of being the best builder of discipline in the program as coach or does he feel like he’s swung too far one way to switch back and maintain his credibility?
Any football organization needs an identity. You need to know it. That identity needs to be so strong that outsiders know it.
You can feel it, like a brick in your hand.
The Jaguars identity is like trying to hold water in your hand.
There’s no way to grip it.
What are they?
There are always reasons to be optimistic about a new season, but this question keeps nagging me.
I don’t know what they are. I don’t know what they’re trying to be.
That makes it difficult for me to believe they can pleasantly surprise us this fall.
(You can email Hays at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)