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Jacksonville Jaguars

2018 Jaguars Training Camp: A Look Into The Wide Receiver Battle

Zach Goodall

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Jun 14, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole (84) runs with the ball during mini camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

After much shakeup to the position during the 2018 offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars are left with a lot of question marks at wide receiver.

At training camp one year ago, the group was headlined by Allen Robinson, who at that point was on the brink of receiving a contract extension, the always-reliable possession receiver Allen Hurns, and the finally-comfortable-in-the-offense, speedy receiver Marqise Lee.

One of those three receivers remain on the roster today, that being Lee.

Lee signed a four year, $34 million extension with the team in March. After tearing his ACL in week one of the 2017 season, Robinson and the Jaguars couldn’t see eye to eye in contract negotions, leading him to leave Jacksonville and sign a three year deal with the Chicago Bears. Hurns was released shortly after free agency to shed $7 milion in cap space. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys within days.

The Jaaguars’ wide receiver corps is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years after all the shakeup. Who will be serving what role during the 2018 season and beyond?

Who’s back?

While Lee is the household name among the returning Jaguars’ receivers, there are a couple of talented ball-catchers returning to the offense as well. Second-year receivers Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole look to take massive strides after their solid rookie seasons.

Cole, who truly broke out later in the year, silently led the team in receiving yards with 748, and recorded an average of 17.8 yards per catch. The undrafted receiver out of Kentucky Wesleyan flashed in training camp last year by consistently making plays on 9-routes (streaks up the seam and go-routes outside), and added to his deep route-running arsenal as the season went on. If he can continue to sharpen his routes and become a threat in the short and intermediate levels of the field, he can become the team’s most versatile receiving threat.

Westbrook was originally perceived as the team’s future deep-threat with his 4.34 40 yard dash, but Cole appears to have taken that role on. That isn’t to say Westbrook won’t be utilized as a field-stretcher, but he will have to grow in other areas in order to consistently see the field, one being as a possession receiver in intermediate level of the field, and in conversion situations.

Shane Wynn, the 5-6 training camp wonder from the past two offseasons, is looking to bounce back from a leg injury that sidelined him for the entire 2017 campaign. He provides the ability to return punts and made flashy plays on numerous occasions during training camp last offseason. Wynn appeared to have an inside track to make the 2017 roster before suffering his leg injury,

Jaydon Mickens, the flashy punt returner who played slot receiver near the end of the season last year, has an uphill battle to face in training camp. Westbrook, Wynn, and rookie receiver D.J. Chark have experience returning punts and could unseat Mickens from that gig, and at that point there might be too many bodies at wide receiver unless Mickens can win a sixth-receiver spot.

The oft-forgotten Rashad Greene is fighting for a role in the offense as well, and like Mickens, he’s on the roster bubble. Greene hasn’t seen the field since December of 2016, and has found himself on the injured reserve twice since. However, he reportedly looked impressive during the Jaguars’ voluntary workout phase last month.

Who’s new?

This is where things get interesting.

The Jaguars signed former Indianapolis Colts’ receiver Donte Moncrief to a one year, prove-it style deal worth $9.6 million in March. Normally, prove-it style deals can be disregarded if the player fails to compete from Day 1, but the price tag on Moncrief’s contract is seemingly too big for him not to have a significant role in the offense, at least early in the year.

Following free agency, Jacksonville used their second round pick in the NFL Draft on LSU receiver D.J. Chark. Chark, who at 6-3, 199 lbs, ran a 4.34 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine and recorded a 40″ vertical jump. Like Cole, Chark is far from a complete receiver. He has a lot to clean up technically, including breaks on routes and eliminating body catches, but his measurables and ability to win contested catches provide the potential for him to become a game-changer.

The team signed undrafted free agent WR Allen Lazard after the draft as well. Lazard fits the mold of a tight end, standing at nearly 6-5, 227 lbs with a 4.55 40 time and a 38″ vertical, but he will likely compete for a sixth receiver spot with Greene, Wynn, and Mickens. Those three receivers can all return punts, unlike Lazard, but Lazard is much more of a red-zone threat with his size than the other roster-bubble receivers.

How will the wide receiver roles shape out?

Lee, Chark, Moncrief, Cole and Westbrook are locks to make the 53 man roster, and Greene, Mickens, Wynn, and Lazard will all battle for a potential sixth-receiver spot, if the team chooses to keep six WRs on the roster.

Lee has found himself to be quarterback Blake Bortles’ most trusted weapon. He saw a team-high 96 targets in 2017, hauling in 56 of those passes. Lee is mainly utilized in the short areas of the field, mainly on crossers and slant routes to convert, and will likely continue seeing that role in the future.

Moncrief and Chark will likely be given the most “50-50” targets of the entire group, as they both stand at 6-3 and provide the ability to adjust to outside passes away from defenders. This will be beneficial in the red-zone passing game and 3rd-and-long situations.

Even if he adds more routes to his arsenal, Cole’s knack for hauling in deep balls will be a big part of the passing game, and can take pressure off of the run game with the ability to keep defenses patient. He has the ability to become the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver quickly, but his long-field game can not be forgotten about in his development.

Despite fans being excited for Westbrook last year, he has a lot to prove this year. He missed nine games to start last season and has several receivers around him who provide the same skills that he does. Westbrook’s growth among all levels of the field from year one to year two may be the most important of all the receivers in order for him to earn reps.

While there’s a general idea as to what each receiver provides, nothing is concrete about the Jaguars’ WR corps. The depth chart could pan out several differentv ways and none of them would be overly shocking.

There’s certainly a lot of talent to go around at the wide receiver position in Jacksonville. The question is, what will the team do with it all?

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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