Battles in an NFL training camp are everywhere. Sometimes they are for starting positions and sometimes for depth on a roster. And in the case of all three Florida pro teams, there are question marks in the backfield.
Let’s start in Jacksonville, where the Jags obviously drafted Leonard Fournette to be the main ball carrier for the foreseeable future. He got off to a good start in the role in their first preseason game at New England. However, he came out of that game with what’s been described as a “sore foot,” hasn’t practiced in the important team vs. team practices with the Bucs and won’t play in Thursday’s night’s game.
So, clearly there is serious opportunity for either veteran Chris Ivory (above) or third year player T.J. Yeldon to showcase themselves, not only in this preseason game, but for the remainder of camp to not only begin the year in the mix, but maybe get some key carries, themselves. Our Roy Cummings wrote earlier in the year that Ivory in particular may be the guy who starts at the beginning of the season or at the minimum rotate in and out with Fournette during first halves.
If Ivory looks impressive Thursday, that will solidify his role. Obviously, for Yeldon he must be better than what we saw last year and out of the gate against the Pats, where he was barely getting any yardage. Still, the Jaguars are likely to give to Fournette 18-20 times no matter what.
Meanwhile, the Bucs have issues of their own, as star running back Doug Martin is suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the season. Martin has been taking a lot of the first team reps in camp and was the first running back on the field during Tampa Bay’s opening possession last Friday night in Cincinnati. But, Jacquizz Rodgers replaced him on that drive and the subsequent drive as a “1A” in coach Dirk Koetter’s rotation.
Despite being under sized, Rodgers was very effective last season while Martin nursed a hamstring injury and then did not play in the Buccaneers final two games of the season, while the suspension was sorted out. So, if he’s healthy, he will be the guy out with the first team on opening day.
The Buccaneers have fourth year veteran Charles Sims to the mix, but he’s battled injuries his first three seasons and is clearly more of a pass catching back than an every down guy to carry the load for a run game. They also have second year player Peyton Barber, who shined in limited opportunities in 2016 and knows the offense. And the Bucs drafted rookie Jeremy McNichols out of Boise State, who has pass catching skills and is a good special teams player. However, he’s not going to be an every down back at least to begin this year, if at all.
So, the Bucs, who get a roster exemption while Martin sits, will likely keep all five guys as camp begins.
Finally, in Miami, it’s obvious that the Dolphins want to ride “The J-Train” some more. Jay Ajayi’s breakout season in his second year has fantasy football drafters salivating. The problem is, he’s already suffered a mild concussion that kept him out a week and in the Fins first preseason game with Atlanta last week. Ajayi is back at practice this week and slated to be the 20+ carry back that the Dolphins need.
However, as his absence early in camp has shown, the Dolphins must establish the rotation. We have written previously this off season about who the other backs are and which one will emerge behind Ajayi. Last Thursday they used both Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake for some first half carries. Drake was slightly more effective with 21 yards on just four carries. Wililams did carry it six times, himself.
Drake also is a pass catcher and kick returner, too. But, then, he left practice earlier this week with a slight concussion. So, it would appear that Williams has the upper hand in the battle for playing time behind Ajayi.
Also keep an eye on undrafted rookie De’Veon Smith out of Michigan who carried it seven times in preseason game #1. He will have a shot to make the roster for Adam Gase’s backfield and can also go on the practice squad, too.
All in all, there are some talented backs among the state’s NFL tams. But who starts week one, how much they carry it, and who backs them up in what order? That’s still up for grabs in all three spots.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?