The Jaguars were a dangerously buzzy team last offseason, only to stumble and bumble their way to an ugly three-win campaign. One year later, Jacksonville is still seen by many as a club ready to turn the corner.
The optimism begins with a loaded young defense led by Jackson, pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell and one of the best young corner duos league-wide in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
The team’s website noted Albert was working with the first string throughout most of training camp so far, making the decision all the more strange. Without question, the heaviest burden falls on rookie second-round pick Cam Robinson, who likely will start the season off as the team’s left tackle.
The Jaguars’ offensive line has been a work in progress throughout the Dave Caldwell era. After watching former first-round pick Luke Joeckel falter, the hope was that Albert could come in and provide a bridge to Robinson, one of the highest-regarded offensive linemen in this year’s draft. Should Robinson live up to expectations, quarterback Blake Bortles won’t have to worry about anyone crashing down on him from the blindside.
Bortles’ outing with the first-team offense was so underwhelming that Marrone sent backup quarterback Chad Henne out at the end of the first half and start of the second half with the starters. Henne’s entry on Thursday appears now like a prelude of what is to come at Jags camp.
Through two preseason games, Bortles is 11 for 18 for 81 yards with no touchdowns and no picks, while Henne is 11 for 16 for 183 yards with one TD. Third-stringer Brandon Allen was the most impressive signal-caller, and Jacksonville’s leading rusher, on Thursday night; he is 15 for 22 for 229 yards with two TDs through two exhibitions.
The 2015 third-round pick was suspended for the first game of this season after violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. He made an appearance in last week’s win over the Bengals in Cincinnati but logged just 20 snaps on offense and nine on special teams.
The move is likely a reflection of Jacksonville’s struggling passing game. Beyond Allen Hurns, the Jaguars have been searching for consistent performances out of their complementary receivers. Marqise Lee has seven catches on 16 targets for 76 yards. Rookie Keelan Cole has two catches on five targets for 13 yards and Arrelious Benn has one grab for 12 yards.
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While the Jaguars’ defense got the deserved credit for Jacksonville’s 29-7 romp over the Texans, its offense wasn’t too shabby, either. Quarterback Blake Bortles doesn’t inspire confidence in most, but he wasn’t the major hurdle he tends to be in Week 1. Plenty of that had to do with two new factors: rookie running back Leonard Fournette and a retooled offensive line.
After one game, it’s already apparent Fournette is going to make this offensive line look better than it might actually be, which is already above average. When Houston’s designed slants and stunts jammed up running lanes, Fournette used his eyes to find an alternative path, often resulting in gains of four yards or more. It happened on an iso play that was headed left into a mass of human, as Fournette spotted a backside opening thanks to the Texans flowing with the play.
NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah identified the Jaguars back in January as one of the teams that needed to draft a QB this year, but he pointed to a middle-round pick as the likely route of adding competition for Bortles.
Watson is expected to go no later than early in Round 2, but the Jaguars are still interested enough to spend one of their 30 alotted pre-draft visits with the former Tigers star, who rates as NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock’s No. 2 QB in the draft.