Jacksonville Sports Day

NFL: Training Camp Looms for Jaguars and New Era (Again)

PHOTO BY NANCY BEECHER/Tampa Sports Day

The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin training camp with as much enthusiasm as in recent years.

Sure there was optimism a year ago when the team was coming off a successful season offensively, but there were still a number of question marks about the defense. Turns out those two units had contrasting successful seasons.

A defensive that included many new faces came through better than expected as the Jaguars suddenly became tough to move the ball on or score against. But it didn’t take that many points beat Jacksonville because the offense was a major disappointment, with scoring and passing numbers taking a huge hit.

It looks like 2017 could be a different story.

Once again, there are new faces on both sides of the ball. But those new players have either proven themselves or have the markings of being elite.

The defense returns several regulars and has strengthened some of its weak areas. The addition of cornerback A.J. Bouye, strong safety Barry Church and defensive end Calais Campbell should make significant improvements in the defense. If the experiment of moving middle linebacker Paul Posluszny to strong-side linebacker, and shifting the talented Myles Jack from outside to the middle, is successful, the defense has the horses to make this an elite group.

There is talent on the offensive side but it comes with too many unanswered questions heading into training camp, the biggest of which is who is going to start on the line. There are a number of good options but none is in the elite category, ready to challenge for All-Pro honors.

There’s solid competition at four spots on the line. It’s always good to have strong competition for a starting job as it should make the eventual starter even better. The bad news is the competition can curtail the amount of time a unit has to develop as a group.

Beyond the offensive line, there is still doubt about the ability of quarterback Blake Bortles to turn the Jaguars into a winner, let alone a playoff contender. Bortles worked hard with a pair of quarterback coaching gurus in California during the offseason in hopes of fine-tuning his mechanics and overall game.

Two off-field additions could also have an influence as to whether this team can reverse its doldrums. The franchise has suffered through six consecutive losing seasons, was last at the .500 mark in 2010 and hasn’t seen a winning record since 2007, when it went 11-5 and made the playoffs.

Doug Marrone takes over as the team’s head coach, having served as the interim head coach for the final two games of last year’s 3-13 debacle. And returning to the franchise is Tom Coughlin, the team’s original head coach (1995-2002) who is now the executive vice president of football operations.

Coughlin was the leader of the franchise during this year’s free agency acquisitions and the Jaguars draft movement, one that was geared to enhancing the areas around Bortles.
It’s a different atmosphere permeating throughout the locker room and onto the field with Marrone and Coughlin now spearheading Jaguars’ fortunes after four seasons with Gus Bradley as the head coach. Marrone and Coughlin are both old-school — strict on discipline and rare to sing the praises of players, at least publicly.

Coughlin was especially a stickler for adhering to rules, time-codes and locker room embellishments. Marrone is built from the same mode and showed such during the team’s final two games in 2016 and through last spring’s OTA workout sessions.

Bradley always touted the positive spin of the Jaguars’ efforts, while Marrone is inclined to point out flaws and weaknesses that the team must improve on. Perhaps that style could lead to more than five wins this season; that hasn’t happened since 2010.

Jaguars Give Linder Extension

The Jaguars signed center Brandon Linder to a five-year contract extension.

The team did not release details of the extension, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported the deal is worth up to $51.7 million and includes $24 million guaranteed. Linder is now the NFL’s highest paid center in terms average salary per year, according to Rapoport.

“It means the world to me,” Linder said in a statement. “I’d love to play here my whole career. I fell in love with this city and we have big things coming, changing the culture, and now we start tomorrow for training camp. I couldn’t think of a better place to play my career.”

Linder started all 14 games in which he played for the Jaguars last season.

Fowl Play

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., on charges of simple battery and mischief. Fowler, 22, was arrested in his hometown by St. Petersburg police for the misdemeanor charges at 9:02 p.m. and released at 1:43 a.m. Wednesday on $650 bond.

Fowler struck a man and then stomped on his prescription glasses after a brief verbal confrontation, according to the police report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Fowler got out of his car to confront the man after he made a comment about Fowler’s driving, according to the report. Police said Fowler then “took the victim’s grocery bag, with recently purchased liquor, and threw it in a lake.” Police said the victim was not injured.

The Jaguars issued a statement Wednesday morning: “The Jaguars are aware of the situation involving defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and are currently gathering more information. The team has been in communication with Dante. No further comment will be made at this time.”

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fowler, who was the third overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida, missed his rookie season after he tore the ACL in his left knee during the first minicamp workout. He recorded 32 tackles and four sacks in 16 games for the Jaguars last season

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