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Jacksonville Jaguars

2018 Jaguars Training Camp: Three Players With The Most To Prove

Zach Goodall

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Dec 24, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook (12) catches the ball against San Francisco 49ers strong safety Eric Reid (35) during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is just around the corner, and the Jacksonville Jaguars head into camp with one of the strongest rosters in the NFL.

However, every roster has it’s question marks. Will player X make a jump in production this year? Does player Y fit better at another position? Can player Z unseat a player ahead of him for a roster spot?

The Jaguars are no different, as several players have much to prove with the 2018 season on our doorstep. With that being said, who has the most to prove during the 2018 training camp period, and why?

WR Dede Westbrook

Jun 14, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook (12) walks to the field during mini camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The second year receiver will undoubtebly have a role in the Jaguars’ offense, as well as special teams, this year. The question is, how big will said role(s) be?

Westbrook flashed during his rookie season as a possession receiver moreso than the deep-threat fans expected him to be after he was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He finished the year with 27 receptions for 339 yards (12.6 yards per catch) and a touchdown in the final seven games of the season, after missing the first nine with a core muscle injury.

His game changing speed and potential as both a receiver and a special teamer will keep Westbrook around for a while, but after a big shakeup in the Jaguars’ wide receiver room this year, it’s unclear how much playing time Westbrook will receive. Out with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, in with Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark: No one is quite sure how the depth chart will look heading into week one.

Keelan Cole, who finished his rookie season (as an undrafted free agent, mind you) with 42 catches for 748 yards (17.8 YPC) and three touchdowns, will likely be the team’s No. 1 deep threat, and if he can continue to progress as a route runner, he can unseat Marqise Lee as the team’s first receiver. While few would ever consider Lee to be a No. 1 talent, he has four years of chemistry with quarterback Blake Bortles and signed a four year, $34 million extension with the team in March. He best serves in the underneath passing game, but he will be on the field for the majority of the team’s offensive snaps.

Chark will likely easy into the offense, as he is unpolished as a route runner and has some technical issues to clean up, but his 4.34 speed at 6-3, 200 lbs presents a freaky matchup nightmare if he is developed well. The Jaguars signed Moncrief to a one year, “prove-it” contract worth $9.6 million, and he will be a factor in the redzone passing game and as a 50-50 ball-type of receiver.

Westbrook has a ton of talent and potential to thrive in Jacksonville’s offense. However, since the Jaguars’  receiver corps is filled with different styles of receivers, Westbrook will need to establish himself in his own way during training camp in order to receive the amount of snaps that fans are hoping he will get this year.

DT Abry Jones

Nov 12, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones (95) runs down field followed by Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung (76) during the second half at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps I’m not giving Abry Jones enough credit for the job he’s done during his five years in Jacksonville, considering the team gave him a four year, $15.5 million extension just last year. But, like Westbrook, there’s a lot of talent in Jones’ position group that could affect Jones’ playing time.

While Jones was a contributor in the team’s pass rush from the nose tackle position, he wasn’t the strongest run defender. The Jaguars’ addressed this midseason in trading a fifth round pick to the Buffalo Bills for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who eventually split time with Jones at nose tackle as well as moved around to the 3-tech defensive tackle position.

Dareus is still with the team, and should see a bigger role with the team after a full offseason in Jacksonville. Considering how much he helped the team’s run defense and his Pro Bowl résumé, fans have started to forget about Abry Jones. He will likely enter the 2018 season as a backup and in a rotational role, unlike how he began 2017 as a starter.

However, perhaps this will light a fire under the homegrown, former undrafted free agent. The Jaguars defensive line is far from thin, with Calais Campbell receiving snaps inside as well. 2018 first round draft pick Taven Bryan is mainly receiving reps at defensive end, but he played defnesive tackle at the University of Florida, and could see some playing time inside early on for the Jaguars as well.

With competition all around him, Jones has a lot to prove as a run defender and needs to continue to generate pressure in the pass rush in order to maintain a big tole in the Jaguars’ defense this year and for years to come.

RG A.J. Cann

Jun 14, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) takes a snap as offensive guard A.J. Cann (60) watches during mini camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Fans have been calling for competition and/or a replacement for Cann at right guard since his down-2016 season, and after the team signed LG Andrew Norwell to a five year, $66.5 million deal in free agency this year, Cann has undoubtebly become the weak link along the Jaguars’ offensive line.

Cann performed a little better in 2017 compared to 2016, but he is still inconsistent as a run blocker and has seemed out of position at right guard compared to his four years as the South Carolina Gamecocks’ starting left guard, where he was a second team All-American and first team All-SEC in 2014.

Unlike last year, however, it seems like Cann has some true com[petition during the offseason program heading into the 2018 season. Josh Walker received first team reps in OTAs and mini-camp in Cann’s absence due to an undisclosed injury, and could very well challenge Cann for his starting gig in training camp. Fourth round draft pick Will Richardson and interior lineman Tyler Shatley could be involved in the camp battle as well.

Assuming Cann recovers from his injury before camp kicks off, he needs to give it all he’s got before the regular season comes along. His job is likely the least safe across the entire roster. If ever there was a time for him to live up to the hype that got him selected by the Jaguars in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, that time is now.

Zach Goodall covers the Jacksonville Jaguars on the Locked On Jaguars Podcast and on BigCatCountry.com. Follow him on Twitter @zach_goodall.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars agree to terms with 2018 first round pick Taven Bryan

Ruairi Songer

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Jun 14, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Taven Bryan (90) walks to the field during mini camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars have come to terms on a contract with first round pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Bryan’s rookie deal is worth $10.2 million over 4 years, and includes a $5.5 million signing bonus.

The contract, relatively low compared to the NFL’s most expensive defensive line, could help relieve the Jaguars cap space within the next few years when Bryan inevitably takes on a bigger role.

 

 

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles Must Take Control, Limit Mistakes in Training Camp

Zach Goodall

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Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) reacts against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles signed a three year, $54 million extension with the team in February after leading Jacksonville to their first AFC Championship since 1999.

Now, the signal-caller must prove he was worth the deal.

Bortles has had an up-and-down career so far in Jacksonville, but showed significant improvement during the 2017 season compared to the year before. The QB completed 60.2% of his passes — a career high — for 3687 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — a career low — and led the Jaguars to a 10-6, AFC South Champion season.

However, when training camp came around prior to the 2017 season, the wheels were falling off the wagon. Bortles’ had a disappointing camp, throwing five interceptions during the annual season-ticket owner exclusive practice, and during the preseason was benched in favor of Chad Henne to add some fuel to a quarterback competition between the two.

Bortles did win the job back before the regular season kicked off, and all was forgotten about as the team started winning. But, with a shiny new contract in his hands and a team to lead back to the playoffs this year, Bortles can not repeat his 2017 training camp performance this time around.

This will be Bortles’ second full offseason in offensive coordinator Nate Hackett’s system, and he needs to play like a poised veteran of the system. Hackett wasn’t a perfect playcaller in 2017, but he seemed to find a way to mesh the team’s run-first philosophy with Bortles’ strength’s and limit his faults with controlling the football.

All eyes are on running back Leonard Fournette’s growth as a bell-cow back entering his second professional season, and that should continue to take pressure off of Bortles. He doesn’t need to force passes or rush into decisions, as the run game will be the focal point of the offense.

In the passing game, things might start off a little shaky. The receiving corps was shaken up during the offseason, and it will naturally take time for Bortles’ to form chemistry with his new weapons.

This is the perfect opportunity for Bortles to take charge of the passing game, though. Taking the new guys under his wing and showing them the ropes will establish a sense of leadership that Bortles’ hasn’t been been able to establish in years’ past when his job security was in question.

On the field during camp, Bortles must display consistency. Despite his lows during last year’s camp, there were also moments where one was left thinking “Wow, now THAT was a good pass. Why can’t Bortles do that on every throw?”

It’s hard to ask the quarterback to be perfect on every throw, but with pressure being lifted by the presence of a true run game, Bortles’ has the ability to be a little more relaxed when dropping back. Opposing defenses must respect Jacksonville’s rushing attack, and with that, there will be more options to utilize in the passing game that Bortles must trust.

Bortles doesn’t need to “wow” anyone during camp. That isn’t what the team is going to ask of him during the season. As a quarterback, Bortles must display growth in terms of his consistency as a passer, limiting mistakes and learning to take what the defense gives him. As a Jaguar, Bortles must take the reigns and lead the team en route to an AFC South-winning season for the second year in a row.

After getting paid like the man, Blake Bortles needs to be the man.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus accused of sexual assault

Zach Goodall

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Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (99) against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has been accused of sexual assault and exposing a sexually transmitted disease to an anonymous Texas woman, per News4Jax.

The report states that Dareus had unconsensual sex with the woman when she was unconcious in a hotel in Houston this past April, also failing to disclose he was carrying herpes. The woman plans to sue Dareus for at least $15,000, per the report.

This isn’t the first sexual assault accusation against Dareus. A Las Vegas woman recently accused Dareus of a similar act from back in January, according to FloridaPolitics.com. Dareus reportedly brought the woman back to a party at his rental mansion in Lutz, near Tampa, where she claims he groped, drugged, and assaulted her after she blacked out.

Dareus was acquired by the Jaguars in the middle of the 2017 season via trade with the Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars sent Buffalo their fifth round pick in the 2018 Draft and hoped Daerus would shore up their run defense, which he did: The team went from ranking last in the NFL to 21st by season’s end after Dareus’ acquisition (9 games).

We will update this story as more details emerge.

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