The Jacksonville Jaguars are looked at by many as the abyss of the NFL. Their stadium is halfway full most of the time, there are players that many don’t recognize and it does not seem like a destination for free agents. When owner Shahid Khan purchased the team in December 2011, it was assumed that he would be eventually move the team to Los Angeles. But instead of doing so, it seems he has sunk more money into the facilities in Jacksonville. He has upgraded the practice facilities and stadium there to make it more attractive for fans there. And he also hired a new head coach to run the team. Current interim head coach Mike Mularkey was the first guy Khan tried to run his team. After a 2-14 season where he saw no growth in them, he decided to fire Mularkey after one year and bring in another coach and another voice. This time Khan went to Seattle to find his new head coach. And in January of 2013, Khan and the Jaguars hired Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. It was hoped that he would come in and bring some spirit, passion and attitude to the Jaguars that had been missing since the days of Tom Coughlin there. In the first two years, there was doubt as to whether it could happen. And at the beginning of this season, some still had doubts. But for those that had doubts, Jacksonville made a loud statement on Sunday with their 51-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts at home. Taking a look at their team, they definitely have a growing offensive nucleus they can build on.
The Jaguars' offense begins and ends with quarterback Blake Bortles. The second-year quarterback out of Central Florida has rebounded from a rough rookie season where he was thrown to the wolves. He has gone from one of the worst ranked quarterbacks to a guy that is third in touchdown passes in the NFL with 31. And one other place he has done well is in taking sacks. Bortles only played in 14 games last season and took 55 sacks. This season he is getting rid of the football and has taken only 39 sacks. That may not seem like much of an improvement when you stretch that out over 16 games, but it tells me that he is finding his outlets and also getting rid of the football when he cannot find anyone. Of course he still has hiccups, as any young quarterback would have. But the improvement is evident each time you see him on the field. And with that position stabilized for the team, the Jaguars can work on continuing to build their team without worrying who’s leading it.
Bortles has grown but Jacksonville sure has helped him with the weapons they acquired in 2014 for him to throw to. Wide receivers Allen Robinson (2nd round pick in 2014 NFL Draft) and Allen Hurns (undrafted free agent in 2014) have been great for Bortles. Both are young talents (Robinson is 22 and Hurns is 24) and both are big men, standing at 6’3”. Matching up those two against defensive backs that are usually around 5’10” has caused teams nightmares all season. Robinson currently leads the team in receptions and yards, having already eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving on the season and has 11 touchdown receptions. And as far as Hurns, he is dangerous when he catches the ball, averaging almost 16 yards per catch. Hurns has not reached 1,000 yards receiving yet, but he is on pace for double-digit touchdowns. Combining these talents with tight end Julius Thomas (signed in free agency) is going to make Jacksonville even more dangerous as they grow in the passing game.
But not only is the passing game growing there, but the running game is as well. In 2014, the Jaguars brought in Toby Gerhart in hopes of boosting their running game. Well, so far that experiment has failed and Gerhart has not produced as they thought he may. So in the 2015 NFL draft, the Jaguars took Alabama running back TJ Yeldon in the second round. The hope was that he would be a dependable back that could grow with Bortles. Well, Yeldon has not gotten as many carries as he had planned, but he is averaging at four yards per carry so far in this season. And you could say he would have been a 1,000 yard running back if he had been given the full load in the backfield this season. He runs with vision and purpose, has power when he runs and always falls forward when contact comes. But not only does he help in the running game, but he has hands out of the backfield. Yeldon has 35 receptions out of the backfield and averages almost eight yards a reception. This dimension helps keep Yeldon on the field for more downs and makes the Jacksonville offense more versatile without having to change personnel much.
The Jacksonville offense has gotten better and better over time. And the good thing for them is they are young and productive. Next year, this offense will take another step. With the growth they have shown this season, the Jags offense could be real scary. If they can get some more consistency defensively and draft solidly there, then the Jags could be on their way back to the days when Mark Brunell was playing quarterback for them and the defense was wrecking shop. They still have a ways to go, but things are starting to look up in Jacksonville.