The Jaguars are back on the practice field starting Tuesday opening their three-day mandatory minicamp with as much uncertainty, as hope for this season.
It’s a critical year, in particular for Coach Doug Marrone, as his team floundered badly in 2018 and needs to rebound. This is especially, after owner Shad Khan spent a massive amount of money to bring an eagle Super Bowl hero quarterback Nick Foles through free agency to fix their constantly underachieving offense.
But Foles’ arrival is not the only story line in the second week in June
As we learned Monday, Jacksonville’s most effective pass rusher of the past three seasons, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, has decided to skip these workouts, as a message to the team that he wants a new contract. Ngakoue is woefully underpaid buy NFL elite pass-rusher standards. The top five averages over $15 million per season and Ngakoue is scheduled to make just $2 million in the final year of his rookie deal.
There had been hope from the team that Ngakoue would continue to participate, while the contract was being worked out between his representatives and VP of football Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell. Obviously, Ngakoue didn’t believe there was meaningful and sincere progress towards his new deal. And, the only leverage he has, for now, is to not play until he gets one.
The next huge question mark is also on the defensive side of the ball. And, that is: what happens in the absence of linebacker Telvin Smith?
Smith has been AWOL for over a month after announcing that he would not play football this season. No one knows for certain what the reasons are, and if they do, no one is saying. It’s obviously still possible that Smith good rejoin the Jaguars for training camp and preseason in August etc., but for now they must prepare to go without their former Pro Bowl captain and leading tackler the last three seasons.
As expected, the team got good news when star corner Jalen Ramsey reported to minicamp Tuesday Morning.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) June 11, 2019
The two time Pro Bowler is in the final year of his rookie deal, but the team has also picked up his fifth year option for 2020. Ramsey has made it a habit of skipping all the offseason workouts except the mandatory ones. And, that has drawn the ire of Coughlin, in particular, who spoke out about it earlier this Spring and then got rebuked by Ramsey’s representatives and the NFLPA, too.
Another off-field headache has been in the status of running back Leonard Fournette.
After a tremendous breakout rookie year that help Jacksonville make the playoffs, Fournette was a flop, just as the team was, all last season. He was injured and also disciplined for his behavior in the finale against the Texans. That’s when he and former teammate T.J. Yeldon were shown completely disinterested in whether the Jaguars could come back and win the game while sitting on the sidelines and not playing.
Add to that, Fournette was arrested by Jacksonville police on outstanding traffic warrant charges earlier this offseason, but fortunately, that case has now been plead out without Fournette receiving any jail time.
He has been working out heavily on his own and including with the University of Wyoming football program and the former LSU assistant strength coach that is now there with the Cowboys. Now, we will see if that hard work and the off-field headaches are behind the former first-round pick for a fresh start in 2019.
And finally there’s the pressure on Marrone, having fired offensive coordinator to Nate Hackett last season and hiring John DeFillippo, who is the former Eagles quarterback coach with Foles. Marrone is obviously out of excuses on having the offense fixed. Further, a strong argument can be made that the struggles with team off the field , with discipline,, behavior and culture are going to be blamed on him, if the Jaguars continue to lose
So the head coach, his team and everyone everyone involved is trying to put the last 15 months behind them to focus in and have the Jags last meaningful practices in June before training camp in late July.
Jags WR Marqise Lee returns to practice
After losing veteran Alfred Blue in the first half of the 24–10 Thursday night loss to the Eagles with an ankle injury, the Jaguars are looking for offensive depth. In some fortunate news, WR Marqise Lee is off of the PUP list and has begun practicing today, roughly one year after suffering from knee damage that sidelined him for the entire 2018 season.
Head coach Doug Marrone made the announcement before practice on Saturday.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 17, 2019
First Coast news reporter Ben Murphy got a video of Lee at practice receiving a pass from QB Nick Foles.
— Ben Murphy (@BenMurphyTV) August 17, 2019
Last year, Lee was injured in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Falcons. He was hit by reserve defensive back Damontae Kazee on this play after a reception.
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) August 25, 2018
Lee suffered a torn ACL and went on injured reserve missing the entire season.
Lee became more prominent in Jacksonville’s pass offense in 2017 with 56 catches for 702 yards and three TDs. The Jags are surely going to rely on him this season which could mean he’ll see the field a bit in their third preseason game to get him readjusted to competitive game play.
However, they might not want to risk another potential injury before the season begins. We could see it going either way. We do know that he’ll be a great weapon for Nick Foles to utilize this season.
The return of Lee is coming off the heels of some other good news for the Jags announced earlier this week. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson was also removed from the PUP list on Monday after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2 last season. He has since made enough progress participate in some individual drills and should be ready, along with Lee, for their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In other injury-related news, we await how serious Blue’s ankle injury is coming off this second preseason game. Meanwhile, the likelihood is that Leonard Fournette, backed up by Thomas Rawls, will be the two running backs when the Jaguars play at the Dolphins next Thursday night.
Jaguars searching for RB depth after second preseason game
With preseason game number two in the books, it’s apparent the Jaguars have real issues with running back depth due to injury. This after veteran Alfred Blue left the first half of the 24 – 10 Thursday night loss to the Eagles with an ankle injury and did not return.
Blue carried the ball four times for just five yards has Jacksonville offense once again sputtered behind a makeshift offensive line. Coach Doug Marrone was so concerned about that line situation and their ability to protect/block that starting quarterback Nick Foles and running back Leonard Fournette never saw the field for a single play during Thursday night.
That means that veteran at Thomas Rawls (above Thursday) was called upon to carry the ball a little more, and he did so, seven times for 19 yards including a long run of 11 playing in the first half.
Rawls is a 5th year veteran who had some modest success with the Seahawks, including rushing for 830 yards his rookie year in 2015 with a 5.6 yard per carry average. His numbers tapered off in 2016 – 17 with ankle and foot injuries, as he only played in 21 games in those two years. Rawls was later released and picked up by the Bengals, but injured again last season, and never carried the ball in Cincinnati.
Obviously, the Jaguars are wanting to implement Fournette, as the primary ball carrier, but they will need someone else to spell him on a series or two. Also, Fournette has had durability questions, as he missed parts or all of eight games last year with a hamstring injury.
The Jags were also hoping to bring along Temple rookie running back Ryquell Armstead, but after he carried eight times for 22 yards last week, he suffered a concussion in the preseason opening loss to the Ravens. Armstead hasn’t practiced since, and is still being evaluated with no further update Thursday.
Speaking of updates, we await how serious Blue’s ankle injury is coming off this second preseason game. Meanwhile, the likelihood is that Fournette, backed up by Rawls, will be the two running backs when the Jaguars play at the Dolphins next Thursday night.