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.
Gameday- Jaguars host Titans in AFC South showdown
Who: Jaguars (2-0) vs. Titans (1-1)
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Spread: Jaguars by 9 1/2 (Courtesty VegasInsider.com)
The 2-0 Jaguars are ready to play host to AFC South rival Tennessee on Sunday and try to break the Titans 2017 headlock they put around Jacksonville in sweeping them.
Here’s what we are watching in their first match-up of the year Sunday:
Who’s running the ball in Jacksonville?
As we documented, both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon are banged up and were limited in practice this week. Fournette is unlikely to play or even if he is, he may not be that effective with a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago.
Yeldon had 51 yards rushing last week against the Patriots in Fournette’s absence, but he has a sprained ankle. Yeldon is also listed as questionable.
If Yeldon cannot go, the third running back is Corey Grant, a four year veteran, who has only started one game in his career. Grant did have six catches and four runs last week in the New England win.
QB Blake Bortles played well without Fournette throwing four TDs in the win. He desperately needs some rushing attack for drive momentum and to set up play action.
Who’s the QB for the Titans?
Marcus Mariota has been battling an injury to the nerve in his elbow after taking a hit in the week one loss to the Dolphins. Mariota did not play in their win last week against Houston and is officially questionable for this game in North Florida.
If he cannot play, veteran backup Blaine Gabbert will fill in as he’s done the last two games. Gabbert was just 13-20 for 117 yards and a TD pass against the Texans, but he didn’t have to have great numbers.
The Titans got a fake punt TD pass, played solid defense and still won.
It’s possible that Mariota may try to play, but Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel will have use of both QBs, too.
Which leads to, will the Jaguars D lock down the Titans?
It’s no secret that the Jags want to win with defense, and this game is no exception. They were really good against the Patriots last week holding Hall of Famer Tom Brady in check for much of the day. Jacksonville is fifth in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed in the NFL.
Plus, Jacksonville still has one of the most feared pass rushes in the league, as Brady found out the hard way last week. In a critical third quarter sequence, Bortles had thrown an interception, but right away, defensive end Dante Fowler got the ball back on a strip sack of Brady.
They will need plays like that to get the win and keep their perfect season in tact.
Jaguars may have to go deeper into running back depth chart Sunday
More concern for the Jaguars running back situation at the conclusion of Friday’s practice. This is because not only is Leonard Fournette still questionable to play with his injured hamstring, but now so too is his backup, T.J. Yeldon.
Both players were limited in practice on Friday for Sunday’s game with the Titans. Yeldon has a sprained ankle suffered during Sunday’s win over New England 31-20. He did carry the ball 10 times for 58 yards rushing last week, which was a solid performance.
Coach Doug Marrone was his usual non-forthcoming self post Friday practice, when it came to conversation about the injured backs. However, you can use previous precedence and injury designation to draw some conclusions.
For example, Fournette’s hamstring was bad enough that he never returned to the opening game with the Giants, and even though he and the Jaguars said the right things leading up to last week’s game, he was unable to practice fully, was listed as questionable, and they held him out of the Pats game.
And with the understanding that we are not in the Jacksonville training room and don’t know the full updates, the fact that now Fournette and Yeldon were unable to practice fully at all this week, has to be a concern for the Jaguars running attack.
If neither of those two are active or, let’s say they are active but not effective, the third string running back is fourth year veteran Corey Grant. The former undrafted player from Auburn has been active for 35 games in his career including all 16 a year ago and the first two in this season.
He has only one career start, but Grant against the Patriots last week had six catches for 56 yards and four carries for 13 yards. And he’s clearly who Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett will turn to to establish the ground game and the play-action for quarterback Blake Bortles.
Again, there’s always the possibility that they were just being precautionary with Yeldon’s ankle this week and that with 48 hours more rest and treatment, he will be ready to start.
But, let’s just say that if you have the former Bama tailback or Fournette, you might need to look at other options for your Fantasy Football lineup this week.
Jaguars QB Bortles doesn’t mind you coming over to his place
The Jaguars are “riding high” early on in the season after an impressive win against New England. Everyone is obviously loose, because of the success in 2017, and now, back-to-back wins to start this year have given a sense of confidence to the young squad.
An embattled fifth year quarterback Blake Bortles is on a serious uptick in his own playing career. Off yet another surprising game Sunday, where he threw for 376 yards and four scores in the 31 – 20 victory, Bortles has plenty of reasons to smile.
And, unusually, he has plenty of reasons to welcome total strangers who come to his door
Yes. You read that correctly.
Bortles made mention earlier this week about fans and even teammates coming to his house, unannounced, to “say hello,” maybe catch up on some Netflix and of course, talk about the success of the Jaguars.
Okay, we made the Netflix part up.
Still, for an NFL quarterback to make mention that he’s welcoming people to come see him at his home to talk up the team he plays for is definitely unusual.
Bortles elaborated jokingly to the media Wednesday after the Jaguars practice in preparation for their first meeting this season with the Titans:
QB Blake Bortles and LB Telvin Smith address the media following practice. https://t.co/144T5Ng7EK
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) September 19, 2018
“It’s a football town that loves their Jaguars, especially when they are playing well. You know, I don’t have a problem having a conversation with somebody at the door.” When asked whether the fans relate to him, Bortles continued, “I feel as though I relate to the city of Jacksonville and the people who live here….I’ve lived in Florida my whole life. I feel comfortable here. I’ve made a lot of friends here. Made a lot of good relationships. Really enjoyed being here.”
It’s a very juicy twist to the Bortles soap opera from a year ago, when Jags fans were ready to not only come to his front door, but pack all of his belongings and put them on a moving truck to get him out of town.
Yet, Bortles played steady and at times great football in the 2017 season, including Jacksonville’s stunning AFC divisional playoff win at Pittsburgh last year. He also played well in the AFC Championship Game resulting in a narrow lost to New England.
So, it’s understandable that Bortles has got the Jaguars fans filling up on his bandwagon, yet again.
However, one thing is for sure, in the NFL everything is fleeting and directly related to what you’ve done, lately. And with the Titans having swept the Jaguars a year ago, Bortles and his teammates know they have to get that corrected starting with Sunday’s home game at TIAA Bank Field.
Otherwise, any strangers at the Bortles home, who are decked out in black and teal uninvited, may not be as friendly coming up the driveway next week.
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