For the last several years, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the worst teams in the National Football League. The team was young and lacked direction, and the results were as expected: terrible. Worse yet, the team was constantly ridiculed by national sports media and was not a free agent hot spot by any means.
That all changed last year.
The hiring of head coach Gus Bradley provided instant credibility. This is the same Gus Bradley who helped create the vaunted Seattle defense that shut down Denver in the Super Bowl, and the defense did perform better last season than in previous years. However, progress cannot be achieved without struggle – losing the first eight games certainly counts as that. It would have been easy for fans and players alike to throw in the towel, but that didn’t happen. In going 4-4 down the stretch, Jacksonville showed new life. It wasn’t smooth, but it was something to look forward to. They played gritty and clawed their way to tough victories against Tennessee and Cleveland, and swept Houston for good measure.
A solid second half of last season, along with a good draft and vital free agent signings, has helped to build some momentum, but is 2014 the year that the Jaguars return to the playoffs? No, but this is the art of progress. The rise and fall of a team isn’t measured only by how they improve, but how that success is maintained. Throughout their history, Jacksonville has had meteoric rises to glory and then crashed suddenly afterwards. To ensure continued success sometimes means making some unpopular decisions along the way, ones that don’t make much sense at the time but yield significant results down the road.
The issue of who should start at quarterback is one such tough decision. Unlike many, I agree with Jacksonville’s coaching staff in having Blake Bortles sit for a year. He will be able to learn the offense and be well-equipped to take over the team in 2015. Is he the better quarterback right now? Probably, but that does not matter. What he has seen in the preseason are mostly vanilla defensive packages. The regular season is a different beast altogether. As a fan, I feel much more comfortable with a veteran manning the offense.
Chad Henne will be able to lead this team to their ceiling, which is probably seven or eight wins. Any more than that, and we’re talking about a potential Cinderella story. It starts with establishing the run, vastly improving from the 31st ranked unit last season. Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, and Denard Robinson make for a solid trio, and the offensive line looks to be better equipped than last season. Reaching the middle of the pack in rushing will create a lot more opportunities for Henne and the new-look receiving corps.
In the end, the only thing that matters is the results. Just because a unit looks better doesn’t mean they’ll perform that way. Only fools and yours truly believe this current team will win the Super Bowl, but success is on the horizon. 2014 should be much better than the last several years, and 2015 is when the Jaguars will rise to the top of the AFC South. All they need is progress.