Jacksonville Jaguars counterparts to be counted on

“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2015 for their respective teams to have a successful 2015 campaign. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl but a successful season doesn’t always result in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No matter what “you” consider to be a success these counterparts are essential to achieving that goal.

Jacksonville Jaguars “Counterparts to be counted on” 2015

Blake Bortles – You can certainly make the argument that Blake Bortles’ supporting cast was severely lacking in 2014. No question, about it. The offensive line struggled mightily in pass protection (71 sacks allowed most in NFL). “Featured back” Toby Gerhart, was banged up most of the season and completely ineffective (3.2 yards per carry) when healthy. In fact Bortles’ seven rushes of 20+ yards led the team by a wide margin. Cecil Shorts (now of the Houston Texans) caught only one touchdown pass. Marcedes Lewis managed a meager 18 receptions in eight contests. Undrafted rookie free agent Allen Hurns substantially outperformed 2014 second round selections Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. It was one of the worst offenses in the league. However, the decision to start Bortles in favor of Chad Henne sooner rather than later was the right move. Take your lumps “rook.” But as with any young signal caller you want to see him progress week-to-week and that wasn’t the case for Bortles.

It’s no secret that I thought that selecting Bortles third overall was a mistake as Teddy Bridgewater was my top rated quarterback prospect in the 2014 draft class, despite his infamous Pro Day. I get it, 6’5” 232 lbs., big arm, mobile, decent footwork in the pocket….he looks the part, there are tools to work with and 50 TDs to 16 interceptions over his sophomore and junior seasons was  impressive. The media hype spiked as he led the UCF Knights to a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. Many talent evaluators felt and still feel that Bortles has a substantial “ceiling” with respect to his potential, the highest among all of the quarterbacks in the 2014draft class. Those same evaluators generally admitted that Bridgewater was a more “pro ready” quarterback but felt he had some physical limitations that ultimately would limit his upside. I’ll take the “pro ready” quarterback 9 times out of 10 and this would have been one of those nine times. As for Bortles, I thought he would have been better served playing out his senior season at UCF and garnering some additional experience under center; but he made an excellent business decision and parlayed forgoing his senior season into being the third overall selection in last year’s draft.

As I stated before what’s most important in terms of the development of a young quarterback is how he progresses week-to-week. Suffice it to say there was little to no progress made over his first 14 games, resulting in a completion percentage less than 60 percent, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Turnovers. Turnovers were Bortles’ undoing and they came in waves. In fact, Bortles threw interceptions in each of the first nine games he played in. He managed to avoid throwing interceptions in the final two games of the season but only managed to complete 46% of his passes during those contests. It wasn’t an encouraging rookie season but it resulted in necessary experience. The Jaguars still aren’t a talent laden team but they are improved on offense. Perhaps the biggest and most important improvement on offense is that of the offensive line. Adding OT Jeremy Parnell and OG Zane Beadles via free agency to youngsters Luke Joeckel and Brandon Linder should lead to better pass protection. More talent in the backfield in the form of rookie T.J. Yeldon and Bernard Pierce in addition to an improved offensive line should take some of the pressure off of Bortles. The addition of tight end Julius Thomas as well as more familiarity with his young receivers (Robinson, Hurns) should lead to an improved passing game theoretically. I certainly don’t expect the Jags to make a playoff run in 2015, but considering that Bortles touches the ball on every play he is the Jaguars’ offensive “counterpart to be counted on.” The Jaguars’ fan base, coaching staff and front office are counting on him to protect the football and demonstrate steady improvement in 2015. That would be a success.

Jared Odrick – Photo by Bob Mack

Jared Odrick – I like what Gus Bradley and the Jaguars’ front office have done in terms of the defensive personnel. Much like the offense it isn’t a finished product but the Jaguars’ defense competes and management understands how to build a defense and that’s via the trenches.  The Jags drafted my top edge rusher in the 2015 draft class Dante Fowler Jr. from the University of Florida and managed a late round steal in the 6th round selecting defensive tackle Michael Bennett of Ohio State. With Chris Clemons manning the “Leo” defensive end position and Tyson Alualu, Ziggy Hood and Alan Branch rounding out the defensive line rotation the Jaguars d-line appears to be the most talented position group on the team. Unfortunately, the Jaguars are dealing with a lot of injuries on that defensive line. Fowler was lost for the season after suffering an ACL tear on the first day of rookie mini camp. Starting defensive tackles Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks are injured too after suffering season ending injuries late last season; although they are expected to be back early-to-mid season. And then there is the free agent acquisition of Jared Odrick.

The Jaguars opened up the purse strings and inked DE/DT Jared Odrick to a lucractive free agent deal for 5-years $42.5 million with $22 million guaranteed. Odrick will play the “Big” defensive end and figures to be an improvement over Red Bryant. However, the $8.5 million annual salary is a hefty price for a 16-game starter (2014) that only managed one sack. On the positive side Odrick is stout against the run and he did average 5.0 sacks a season from 2011-2013 despite not being a full-time starter during the entire three year period. He will have to be stellar against the run and exceed his career high of 6.0 sacks this year to pay dividends on the large investment the Jaguars made in the 27-year-old. The length and financial commitment the Jaguars made to Odrick suggests that they consider him a cornerstone type of player in terms of the franchise’s long-term success. Considering that Marks and Fowler are out with injuries, and Chris Clemons is probably better suited as a situational pass rusher at this juncture in his career. Jared Odrick must have a career best type of season in order for the Jaguars to continue to take steps in the right direction.




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