The Jacksonville Jaguars certainly weren’t playing in the 2014 NFL Super Bowl last night, but the game still gave this man some hope for the future. The New England Patriots, the newly crowned victors of their fourth Super Bowl in 14 years, had key contributions from two rookies on Sunday night. One of those rookies, safety Malcom Butler, provided the key play, intercepting Seattle QB Russell Wilson with 20 seconds left in the game. The other, center Bryan Stork, was largely overlooked.
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Both of them, however, have me hopeful for the future of the Jaguars.
Before diving in, let’s be clear that the Jaguars are not the Patriots. Rookies on the Jags don’t have the luxury of being inserted in roles surrounded by some of the best veterans in the business. Instead, they all flounder together. They struggle to learn the game and progress together. Stork and Butler are surrounded by premier talent instead and are making plays while being buoyed by superb play around them.
That said, the Patriots turned to a fourth round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft to be their starting center in the Super Bowl. That’s a big stage and that’s a big role for a rookie. Stork played well all season, seeing almost every snap starting in week four. He allowed just one sack the whole year, keeping quarterback Tom Brady clean.
Seattle is a big defense to trust to a rookie in the middle of the line, though. While Pro Football Focus didn’t grade Stork super well (-2.5), he didn’t allow a sack and was only credited with allowing Brady to be hurried two times and hit once.
Like I said, though, Stork is largely unnoticed. He’s an offensive lineman and those big guys are often overlooked.
At least when they do their jobs well.
When they don’t, they get a lot of attention. The Jags’ offensive linemen all know that. They struggled through constant changes and some terrible games while trying to find an alignment that was suitable for the team to even compete. But rookies like center Luke Bowanko and guard Brandon Linder are the future of that line (for now) and both of them had some positives to build on. Left tackle Luke Joeckel also left a lot to be desired during his full first season with the team. For those of us who watched the line struggle, it’s good to know that there are some positives to build on.
Players like Stork provide some inspiration there. Hopefully Bowanko and Linder don’t have to become household names due to poor play. Hopefully they will one day be able to play with the team in big moments and nobody will have to learn their names because they are doing such a good job.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
In the defensive secondary, by contrast, we want to know who is making plays.
Undrafted rookie free agent Malcolm Butler shot to stardom on Sunday night with his first career interception, securing his team the victory in “that play.” In a game featuring Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman – considered the two best corners in the game right now – it was the man off the bench who made the big play. It was the play of a lifetime and not one he is ever likely to forget. Hell, we may never forget it.
It’s that type of play that wins championships. It’s that type of play that makes a superstar (maybe a bit too early for Butler, though). It’s that type of play that lends hope to everyone watching the Jaguars.
Butler was slotted in on a pretty damn good defense. He knew his role and he knew how to make the play. That’s good instincts, good coaching, and good preparation. The Jags also have players with good instincts and (hopefully) good coaching and preparation. The secondary for the Jaguars is incredibly young and they are still growing, but they need to make some statement plays to progress as a defense. If Butler was a half second later that would have been a touchdown. He took a risk and he came away with the critical play of Super Bowl XLIX.
The Jags have struggled to make those plays. They are frequently too late or out of position. But there is hope that as the team develops and they gain more experience they can put together a veteran defense that frees up players to make plays in critical situations. While we celebrate (or lament) the great play by Butler, we need to look at the Jaguars and wonder if there are players on the team who can do what he did in the future. Can role players excel as the rest of the defense solidifies into a solid unit. Is Aaron Colvin that guy? Will it be someone else.
The way I see it, there’s a lot of hope.
These two Patriots rookies helped me keep that in perspective as the 3-13 Jaguars reset to 0-0 for the offseason.