The Jacksonville Jaguars, not for the first time, have confused outside observers.
In the wake of hiring Tom Coughlin as executive vice president of football operations, the signing of general manager David Caldwell to a contract extension that will supposedly keep him in his current post through the 2019 season seemed a bit odd.
There’s no question who’s in charge here. It’s possible, though, that Coughlin simply wanted or needed someone to fill him in on what he was inheriting with this team of underachievers. Who better to do that than the man who brought them all to Jacksonville in the first place?
It’s possible then that Caldwell could still have some say in who eventually makes up the Jaguars’ 53-man roster, but the likelihood is that Coughlin will do most of the decision making there, and when you consider the Jaguars went 15-49 with Caldwell calling the shots, that’s probably a good thing.
The tricky part is that Coughlin hasn’t had this much control since he last coached the Jaguars back in 2002. Sure, he had some say in making up the rosters when he was coaching the Giants but never as much as he’ll have now that he’s back in Jacksonville.
That could make for some interesting and perhaps controversial decisions. With that in mind here’s a look at what the Jaguars’ 53-man roster could look like coming out of their first preseason with Coughlin in control… and Caldwell more or less in an advisory role.
Analysis: The Jaguars didn’t add a quarterback through free agency or the draft. To the surprise of some, they picked up the fifth-year option on Bortles’ contract. It means the Jaguars are committed to Bortles, at least in the short term, though he still has to prove he’s worthy of retaining a roster spot for the long haul. If he fails the Jags can turn to Henne, but a good preseason could earn Allen a promotion to the backup slot.
Running backs: 5
Analysis: Coughlin wants the Jaguars to make greater use of a fullback as they become more of a power running team, so they’ll make room on the roster for Bohanon. The veteran will edge out rookie Marquez Williams, who will probably earn a place on the practice squad. Fournette will be the team’s workhorse, of course, but the Jags have to think long-term with him. As much as they’ll want to lean heavily on Fournette they have to avoid wearing him out, so they’ll keep Ivory and Yeldon as backups at least through the early going. Grant will be a part of the team as well, but his primary role will be as a return specialist, though he could eventually force Yeldon off the roster.
Wide receivers: 6
Analysis: Barring injuries of course, Robinson, Lee and Hurns (slot) will almost certainly start the season as the regulars in the Jaguars’ base three-receiver sets. It’s a potentially dynamic trio, but Robinson and Hurns both have to play better than they did a year ago. Westbrook will make the team because he adds a speed element the likes of which the Jaguars haven’t had in a while, and because he can work either outside or in the slot. Westbrook will probably earn a spot just ahead of Greene on the depth chart at receiver, but Greene will hang on as insurance because he’s a slightly better option for the return game. Benn has carved out a niche as a special teams standout, but he can help the passing game in a pinch as well.
Tight ends: 3
Analysis: The Jaguars are expected to go with something of a tight end by committee approach, using Lewis as the blocker in the running game and Rivera as the top pass catcher in the passing game. Rivera will get a chance here to re-establish himself as a red-zone threat after he became lost in the Raiders’ attack the last few years. Koyack will edge out Neal Sterling for the final roster spot here. He could wind up making an impact if he can develop more as both a blocker and pass catcher.
Offensive line: 9
Analysis: The biggest question here is not who will make the team, but who will start and where when the season begins. The Jaguars have a lot of options. They spent the offseason toying with a lot of different possibilities, including working Robinson at guard and moving Linder permanently to center. Both could happen, but a lot depends on the players around them. If Albert shows up to camp in shape and ready to play, he’ll be the starting left tackle, while Linder moves to center and Cann stays at right guard. That will leave Bowanko and Omameh to battle for the left guard spot while Robinson and Parnell fight it out at right tackle. Josh Wells was a favorite of the previous regime and he could earn a spot as a swing tackle, but Coughlin signed Watford because he can play right guard as well as right tackle, so look for him and Shatley to win the final two roster spots, where they can provide added depth along the interior.
Defensive line: 9
Analysis: The Jaguars are planning to work at least a couple of platoons here led by Ngakoue, Jackson, Jones and Campbell, whose ability to move inside on passing downs adds valuable versatility to the unit. That starting four will be backed up respectively by Fowler, Charles, Day and Smoot, the team’s third-round draft pick. The heavy use of a rotation should allow the Jaguars to get the most out of what is certainly a talented group. Fowler, who is trying to earn more snaps and justify his third-overall draft position, will be one of the more intriguing players to watch during camp. McCray is a core special teams contributor who will edge out Mallciah Goodman for the last spot while Day gets the nod as Jones’s primary backup ahead of Michael Bennett.
Analysis: The biggest decision here was made before offseason workouts began, when the Jaguars moved Posluszny into the two-down strong-side role and moved Jack permanently to the middle. The hope is that the more athletic Jack will team up with Smith to turn this unit into a big-play takeaway machine. As long as everyone stays healthy the reserves won’t get a lot of work here, but Cole, Brown and McNary were all brought in primarily to help out on special teams — they’ll all make the team in that capacity.
Analysis: Ramsey, Bouye and Colvin (slot) are slated to be the starters in nickel situations, but the potential for lingering problems stemming from Ramsey’s core muscle surgery and Colvin’s ankle problem will force the Jaguars to keep five players here instead of four. The biggest battle will be between Myrick, Grant and Josh Johnson, but Myrick’s speed will earn him a spot as a special teams contributor. Grant, who can also return kicks, will continue to play slightly better than Johnson, just as he did during OTAs.
Analysis: Church and Gipson are set as the starters. Thompson’s place is secure because he can play either safety spot as well as slot corner. The camp battle to watch here will be between Wilson and the oft-injured James Sample, but Wilson will win out because of his value on special teams. Church and Gipson are the key players here, but the one who bears watching the most may be Thompson. If Gipson doesn’t play better than he did a year ago, Thompson could slide into his spot and gain more playing time.
Special teams: 3
Analysis: No one here is what you would call special, but instead of bringing in competitors for their jobs, the Jaguars decided to build around them in an effort to get more out of the coverage units. Myrick has a big leg, but he has to be more accurate on his field goal tries after hitting 27 of 34 (79.4 percent) last year. Nortman was solid early on last season, but he faded a bit down the stretch, so the Jags will simply be looking for more consistency from him.
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