It cannot be denied that the Jacksonville Jaguars took significant steps to rebuild their roster over the past two offseason.
After a multitude of signings and promising draft picks, Jacksonville now has the defensive linemen, running backs, defensive backs, receivers, and linebackers to get any fan base excited and provide faith that a playoff return is upcoming. Newly signed safety Barry Church even said the Jaguars have “a lot more talent” than the NFC-leading roster in Dallas where he played in 2016.
It’s true that Jacksonville has just as many above-average units as any playoff contender, but unfortunately, its weaknesses could undo all that good.
Not that roster holes preclude teams from having success (see: the Seattle Seahawks and their perennially terrible offensive line), and in truth, being strong across the board is a feat that only the most elite clubs can manage.
But in the Jaguars’ case, their weaknesses are in the most important areas. Specifically, at quarterback, and with those who have to block for him.
Jaguars fans were recently dealt some concerning news on both of those fronts, as the franchise left tackle they traded for in March, Branden Albert, retired on Monday, and their starting quarterback, Blake Bortles, tossed five picks in Saturday evening’s practice.
The offensive line wasn’t looking particularly strong even before Albert announced his retirement, but the former Pro Bowler’s arrival had stirred up some optimism for the left side of the unit. His successor, Cam Robinson, was drafted in the second round this spring with hopes that he could be developed before needing to contribute, but the Alabama product now faces more pressure to be ready.
Brandon Linder, who recently became the highest-paid center in the league, does give Jacksonville a reliable leader on its interior line, which is more than many teams can say, but the rest of the unit is questionable at best. Using the few offensive line statistics that are available, the Jaguars appear average at best and their No. 17 spot on theScore’s Offensive Line Rankings is an optimistic reflection of 2016.
- Pro Football Focus ranking: 22nd
- Sacks Allowed: 34 (15th)
- QB Hits Allowed: 85 (16th-tied)
- Rushing Yards Per Attempt: 4.2 (16th)
- Rushing TDs: 8 (29th)
- Starting Experience: 185 combined starts (28th)
The Jaguars will hope that some of those numbers can be improved by the arrival of rookie power back Leonard Fournette, but they can’t expect to catch anyone off guard with their new runner after his highlight-reel college career. The onus is still on Bortles to make this offense work.
In defense of the quarterback, his poor Saturday practice session was blown out of proportion as it was a single training camp scrimmage. On Monday, Bortles missed just one of 21 completions in his 11-on-11 scrimmage, according to Ryan O’Hallaran of the Florida-Times Union.
But while no single practice session proves anything about Bortles’ abilities as a quarterback, his game tape speaks much louder to the belief that he’s Jacksonville’s weakest link. Only three quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts had a worse completion percentage than Bortles last season – disappointing rookie Jared Goff, aging journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Cam Newton, who had a down year after winning MVP. Bortles ranked fourth in interceptions in 2016, first in 2015, and third in 2014, while leading his team to a combined 11-34 record over 45 career starts.
In the NFL, you cannot win if your quarterback is your weakest link. Period.
Bortles’ struggles will be a major storyline for the Jaguars in training camp and throughout the season, which is a shame for players like Fournette, Church, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Allen Robinson, and the other recent additions who can genuinely improve the club’s stature. Most of the roster should feel good about their abilities and have confidence in their fellow position players.
However, when the ball gets snapped, the camera is only guaranteed to focus on the quarterback and his blockers. While that group is not a proper representation of Jacksonville’s roster, it will be on them to get the team back in the win column.
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