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Jaguars Offense Could Be Elite For Years To Come

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When Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell took over his post in Jacksonville, the team was at rock bottom in terms of roster depth and overall talent.

The team was in the final phase of the Blaine Gabbert era, which yielded them finishes of 32nd, 29th and 31st in total offense.

In a passing league where there are no more dominant defenses on a week-in, week-out basis, Caldwell recognized the need for an infusion of offensive talent and the team looked toward the NFL Draft.  They selected left tackle Luke Joeckel with the second-overall pick in the 2013 Draft, followed by quarterback Blake Bortles, wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in 2014, and then received a gift when undrafted free agent wide receiver Allen Hurns decided to begin his career in Jacksonville.

With a leaky offensive line and a trio of rookie receivers around their rookie quarterback, the Jaguars predictably struggled and finished 31st in total offense in 2014.  They were in need of a veteran presence in the locker room and on the field.

“If there is a big-time player that we have a need for, we’ll be aggressive for them,” Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said prior to the start of 2015 free agency.

Caldwell’s words were not empty as he added free agent right tackle Jermey Parnell, along with center Stefen Wisniewski to add some veteran presence to a struggling offensive line.  He then spent big money on tight end Julius Thomas to give his young quarterback another red zone threat.

“We’re in great shape going into next year,” Caldwell said about the teams free agency spending. “It’s not just a one-year thing. Now we can spend next year. In two years, we’d like to start taking care of our own guys and be out of this market.”

With the early season issues of cohesiveness on the line and an injury to Thomas, the team didn’t come out of the blocks blazing, although the signs of breaking out were everywhere.  Quarterback Blake Bortles was making fewer mistakes and more great plays.  The “Allens”- Robinson and Hurns- stopped dropping passes and were getting open consistently.  They found a running game with talented 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon and many believed that this Jaguars offense was a season away from being potentially very good.

“We showed it in spurts all season,but the main thing was that we weren’t consistent and now I think we’re getting to that point where we are starting to be consistent,” said wide receiver Allen Hurns, who is closing in on being just the second Jaguars receiver to go over 1,000 yards in a season in the last decade.  “It shows just how we are as an offense with being able to respond to certain things so I compliment the offense on that.”

Although the win-loss record isn’t where Caldwell and company, along with Jaguars fans would like it to be, the offense has developed quicker than anyone would have believed.  Jacksonville is now in the Top-10 in the NFL in scoring, and quarterback Blake Bortles is on pace to exceed 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns.  Since Thomas returned from his broken hand, the Jaguars are second in the NFL in scoring at 29.3 points per game, just behind the Carolina Panthers.

“We know that if our offense doesn’t make mistakes, like fumbling the ball, throwing interceptions, they can’t be stopped,” Jaguars cornerback Davon House said following Sunday’s 51-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.  “Our mindset as a defense is that we have to get the ball back to the offense because they’re going to score.”

Tight end Julius Thomas came from Denver to Jacksonville in free agency and the prevailing thought was that he was simply making a cash grab going from a perennial contender to one of the league’s bottom-feeders.  Jokes about his and the offense’s production were made in the offseason, mocking the tight end from leaving a Peyton Manning-led offense to one with Bortles, who threw 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as a rookie in 2014.

“You have to look at what Coach Bradley is building,” Thomas said. “You have so many decisions to make as a free agent. Here we have an opportunity to build something. It’s good to take on part of the challenge and be a trailblazer and help a team get to where it sees itself. I was on a team with a lot of veteran guys who I looked up to and learned from. I am trying to bring that here. When you believe in something, and I believed in what they are doing here, it was easy to make the decision.

“Everybody will say it’s about the money. That’s their opinion. I am not going to try and take them off that stance. I saw something here I could identify with.”

Although most didn’t see it coming after Bortles disastrous rookie season, but he is now a better quarterback than Manning.  The Jaguars are better offense, scoring nearly four more points per game than the Broncos.

“Every week we come in here and say it’s a process and we stick to what we’ve been doing,” Thomas explained. “The offense is growing and we’re getting better so it’s going to take a little while for things to start clicking on the field. And we really believe it and week in and week out we’re starting to see it and we’re starting to make more plays and take better care of the ball, and that’s what has really allowed us to do that.”

Bortles is the triggerman that makes everything work.  Although he’s far from a finished product, he makes his fair share of “wow” plays and he is unflappable in the face of pressure and following mistakes.  As great of a physical talent as the second-year signal caller from UCF is, he’s an even better leader and has the respect of every player and coach in the locker room.

“I have full confidence in Blake and the weapons he has around him,” House said.

The reason why everyone respects the young quarterback is his insatiable work ethic and his unwillingness to pass the blame for any of the team’s shortcomings, even if they aren’t necessarily his fault.  In Sunday’s win over Indianapolis, an errant snap went past Bortles which was recovered by Robert Mathis for a touchdown.  When asked about the play, the quarterback took the blame.

“I should have been able to handle it,” Bortles said.  “I’ve handled worse snaps than that.  If you’re going to blame anyone, most of it should be on me.”

As quick as he refuses to pass blame, Bortles is quick to credit his teammates for the recent success.

“It really speaks of all those guys and their toughness…you’re able to do that because you’re able to go through each week and practice with those guys three or four times a week,” the young quarterback said. “Everybody’s banged up this time of the year, but those guys are being able to go out and practice and carry it over to Sunday.”

With a core of young players that features a 23-year old Bortles, 22-year old Robinson, 24-year old Hurns and 22-year old Yeldon, the Jaguars figure to be in good shape offensively for quite a while.

With a 5-8 record, there is still an outside chance that they can win the ultra-winnable AFC South.  They’ll have to win out and get a little help from the Tennessee Titans, which may even be the bigger long-shot than the team winning out.

Still, the team is going to continue playing hard until their season is finished and with that offense, there’s no Wildcard team that will feel completely comfortable coming into Jacksonville for a first-round game.

“I think teams might be scared of us if we can sneak into that dance,” House said confidently.

Whatever happens over the final three games of the season, the arrow is pointing straight up for the Jaguars.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.