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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Jacksonville Jaguars: A Season of Lost Chances

COMMENTARY – If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to reach the plateau both general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley have for this franchise, the rebuilding process the two figure heads have for the team may take a bit longer than expected. While wins are what determines visual success in the NFL, maybe fans here in town should take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook and just RELAX.

On Tuesday, the day after “Black Monday,” these Jaguars began a new path toward success when they terminated the contract of their offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch, and will go into the new year searching for the man who will make quarterback Blake Bortles and the rookie-heavy roster better for 2015. This is not an over-night fix and judging by what Caldwell said on Tuesday at the end of the season press conference at EverBank Field, this is a team that is right on course with what he, Bradley and team owner Shad Khan had set before the start of 2013.

The 7-25 record in two seasons is a reflection of youthful play, lack of continuity and injuries playing a major role in the success/failure of the Jaguars. Even with a 3-13 record, there is still a belief this team is better than last year and next year has been targeted as moving day for Jacksonville to become relevant in the NFL again. For these fans and the media that continually criticizes the team, that move cannot come soon enough.

Hopefully the removal of Fisch, who has been the target of much of the blame for the offensive woes this season, will be viewed as a step in the right direction.

There are many roads this team must travel and many questions that must be answered before the NFL Draft in April and then afterward to get a true sense of what will happen with the running game and the offensive line. The defense was good this season, especially the final seven games – but the play up front is misleading when the back line was deficient and in need of another big play safety and a cover corner.

The play of rookies like Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marquise Lee, Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko on offense only proves to us that there is a foundation being built and for those who are impatient with progress, then the train will most likely leave them at the station. Seattle, New England, Pittsburgh and even Cleveland have all used the draft to better themselves and used free agency to fill in pieces that fit and maintain depth.

The Jaguars are following that process. While teams like Cleveland and Minnesota and Houston are doing it better than these Jaguars, I dare to say this franchise will better in the long run – say five years from now – than those teams currently.

Caldwell was very candid in the fact this is a team that needs to get better on the offensive line, needs to find help in the running game and needs to remain stable on the defensive line. He also said this is a team that will look to spend money in free agency and hopes to make a splash in the offseason. That is all fine and well, but you can only offer the money for players to come to Jacksonville. Players have to want to come to Jacksonville. Doug Free and Bryan Bulaga would be welcomed additions on the offensive line as would Charles Clay at tight end and maybe Randall Cobb on the outside – but Jacksonville has to become an attractive destination. Right now, we may be an afterthought even with the exuberance of Bradley and the fire he ignites within the locker room.

To say this is a team at a crossroads in its NFL tenure is a serious understatement. But the fix we all want will not happen overnight and may not happen all at once in 2015. I said a few days ago this franchise needs to win nine games next season and I still believe that. Jacksonville is still paying for mistakes from seasons past like selecting Blaine Gabbert and not JJ Watt or making Bryan Anger a fourth or fifth round pick when other needs were more pending. Caldwell and Bradley are helping Jaguars brass learn from that and expect there to be a better core of players next season.

Aaron Colvin, Demetrius McCray and Telvin Smith played better than expected and J.T. Thomas filled in well for Paul Posluszny, who wants to come back next season and will renegotiate his contract.

Leonard Williams, Todd Gurley and possibly Nick O’Leary can help through the Draft, but until the team finds the right formula through everything they work with, there will not be a playoff run or winning season.

I was all ready to ay Bradley needed to win next season or he would be gone after 2015. Now, I am not so sure. The one thing that must happen in 2015 is a giant step forward. There is no more excuse for youth, and in this town, there is certainly no more excuses for losing tough, close games that we all know experience would have been the difference.

Let’s stick to Caldwell’s game plan, but let’s also see four or five more wins next season. That is the only way we will know this “plan” is really working.


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