The Jacksonville Jaguars opened training camp Thursday morning to the veterans, as they join the rookies who reported nearly a week ago. Heading into camp, there are a few questions looming around the practice fields. What is to come from Blake Bortles this season? Will Leonard Fournette share playing time in the backfield? How will the veteran acquisitions from this offseason impact this young defense?
The biggest question mark circulating Jacksonville is the status of Bortles’ future with the team. Expectations were high when he was selected with the third overall pick in 2014. However, things got off to a slow start for Bortles and the Jags as they have only won 11 games with Bortles under center.
This season is now make-or-break for Bortles after the Jags picked up his fifth-year option this offseason, meaning he will be under contract until 2018. With a sub-60 completion percentage and sub-80 passer rating in his career, there is certainly speculation as to if Bortles is worth keeping around until then. Yet, head coach Doug Marrone is optimistic about Bortles’ improvement. He spent the offseason working with quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeux. He has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to and the acquisition of Fournette should solidify the running game.
Speaking of Fournette, there is speculation surrounding if Jacksonville will run with a feature-back formation or if it will be a shared system. The Jags took Fournette with the fourth overall pick in this years draft after ranking 22nd in total rushing yards with T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory sharing the workload. Both Yeldon and Ivory are still under contract with Jacksonville which is why the possibility of splitting the workload with Fournette is still possible.
While at LSU, Fournette shared his playing time in all three seasons so he is accustomed to earning his time on the field. His freshman year he earned playing time behind starter Terrence Magee and then split carries with Derrius Guice in both 2015 and 2016. However, with Ivory moving into the back half of his career at age 29, he may not be as big of a factor for Fournette. As the competition will begin during training camp, Fournette will need to show why he was a Heisman candidate if he wants to earn the starting role.
The final thing to watch during training camp will be how the defense begins to work together. There were multiple veteran signees that joined Jacksonville this offseason, including Calais Campbell, A.J. Buoye and Barry Church. These pieces add to a defense that is stacked with young talent at its core lead by Dante Fowler, Myles Jack, and Jalen Ramsey. We have seen already that this defense has the potential to be great for many years to come.
When looking at the defensive line, adding Campbell now makes the D-line one of the most ferocious in the NFL. A healthy Fowler working on the end with Campbell as well as Malik Jackson working the interior, this will make for a quarterback’s nightmare. Having the stout line backing group of Jack, Paul Posluszny, and Telvin Smith bolsters up the front seven and provides a cushion for the secondary.
Buoye can bring his five years of experience to the secondary and groom Ramsey into the top tier cornerback that he has the potential for. Church will add veteran knowledge as he plays alongside Tashaun Gipson at the safety position. These veterans will now inherit a large amount of responsibility in preparing this young Jags defense for the future.
Jacksonville has a lot of young talent that will look to improve on their 3-13 record from last season under new head coach Marrone. This is only the start of a bright future for the Jaguars.