Jacksonville Jaguars Coloring With Teal: Winning the 1996 offseason

Oct 2, 2016; London, ENG; Jacksonville Jaguars fans cheer on their team during the third quarter of the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2016; London, ENG; Jacksonville Jaguars fans cheer on their team during the third quarter of the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that we are in the “dead zone” of the 2017 offseason, CWT wants to take a look at the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars’ offseason from a slightly different angle.

Take my hand for just a moment, and let’s take a small trip, shall we?

Close your eyes, and picture it — Monday, June 24, 1996. Bill Clinton is president and competing with Bob Dole for re-election. Alanis Morissette and Hootie and the Blowfish are dominating the airwaves. The Dow Jones is cruising past a new high of 5700 points. The first Mission: Impossible is finally making it to the “dollar” theater and Ghostbusters II was just released on VHS. America OnLine (AOL) is still the reigning dial-up service and Friends is still dominating Thursday nights on NBC. Social Media hasn’t matured enough to be given that name yet, and people still interact online in something called “chat rooms.” Phones were still bound to walls by curly cords and a camera’s only job was to take pictures and videos.

And, the Jacksonville Jaguars are coming off of a 4-12 debut season as an expansion franchise in the NFL.

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Author’s Disclaimer: What follows is what I might have written around this time in 1996. Here I try to ignore the history we know, a.k.a the “Cinderella Season” and only use the information that would have been available at the time. Due to the difficulty in finding contemporary articles available on the internet in 1996 after 21 years, I will use any resources and my best judgment to give an accurate reflection of what excitement for the team might really have looked like 21 years ago. Bear with me. Stats reported in this article come from Wikipedia.com or NFL.com stats.

June 24, 1996

Mark Brunell feels better about the offense following the conclusion of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ second-ever minicamp last month.

After a tumultuous first season which saw the Jaguars replace faltering quarterback Steve Beuerlein with young left-handed Mark Brunell. Brunell went on to finish the season with 2168 yards, 15 Touchdowns and 7 interceptions, ranking 29th overall among passers last season.

To hear it from offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride (by way of this Washington Post article), it was all they could do just to put those numbers together:

"“For a while {last year}, he was just trying to know the patterns,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “Then it was that they were in a certain coverage, and so it’s this pattern, that’s where the ball should go, and he pretty much looked there. If it wasn’t there, he skedaddled. “Now, he looks, reads and knows where he should go with it. If it’s not there, he’s willing to take it to the next read. Sometimes, he’ll take it to the third read, which is a giant step forward. Once that becomes second nature to him, he’s going to be the complete quarterback.”"

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The benefit of going into an offseason knowing you are the unquestioned starter means that you can focus on settling in and becoming “one” with the offensive scheme and players.

“There is a lot about this relatively young football team to be excited about”

Before we go any further, let’s be forthright here: no expansion team in NFL history has had its first winning season any earlier than its third season. Expansion sister team, the Carolina Panthers, came close last season with a 7-9 record. However, the chances that they will beat us to a winning record is not terribly daunting considering they will have to face the ever-sure 49ers and several reliably middle-of-the-pack teams in the NFC West division. Thus the Jaguars can count on another season to develop players and hope to contend for the postseason in 1997. But never mind those guys.

At any rate, the Jaguars are coming off a solid second free agency, earning a “B” from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King over the two free agencies combined. Head coach Tom Coughlin brought in seasoned vets on the defense, including Green Bay tackle machine defensive tackle John Jurkovic. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell, a former 12th-round pick by the division rival Cleveland Browns, was brought in to hopefully upgrade the receiving corps over last year’s paltry 53-reception, 589-yard showing by leading catcher Willie Jackson. McCardell alone posted 709 yards on 56 receptions last season.

According to the same Washington Post article, Tom Coughlin is pleased with these changes. On offense, they appear to be aiding the development of the Steve Young-like Brunell:

"Said Coughlin: “He certainly has generated leadership in the huddle. He’s taken command of packages and audibles, things of that nature. And the more he’s thrown, the better he’s become. He’s been in the pocket throughout camp, which has been really good.”"

Known for his taskmaster ways, Coughlin’s somewhat glowing review of his signal-caller lends credence to the development Brunell is achieving in his first full offseason with the Jaguars.

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A strong draft in the early rounds earned the Jacksonville Jaguars more defensive help and a “B” from The Buffalo News. First round pick linebacker Kevin Hardy, combined with second-round defensive end Tony Brackens and third-round cornerback Aaron Beasley look to help boost a 27th-ranked defense in the team’s second season.

Of his picks following the draft, official team website Jaguars.com quotes Coughlin as saying:

"“We started with the idea that we would go heavily to defense, because we had a definite need there,” said Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin. “We feel very good about coming away with two outstanding defensive picks, what I consider two first-round picks; an all-purpose linebacker in Kevin Hardy and Tony Brackens, who’s an outstanding pass-rush prospect who I think will develop into an every-down player.”"

At the end of the minicamp, Jaguars.com then quoted the Jags head coach:

"“We’re a better football team right now,” said Coughlin, … “That doesn’t mean we’ll play that way. But we have better chemistry. We have a better complement of people. There will be better competition this year, which means the better we’ll be at various positions.”"

In short, the offense is expected to be improved, and the defense is almost certain to be better than last season’s unit.

Looking at the Jags’ own division, there’s even a chance the team can challenge for one of the top three spots. With the perennial powerhouse Steelers likely to defend their AFC Central division crown, the other three teams the Jags have to take seriously are the Bengals, Oilers, and Browns. The Bengals had a better-than-usual season at 7-9 after several 11-plus-loss seasons. The Browns had their fluky winning season in 1994 after scratching 7-9 for a couple of seasons, but reverted to their sub-.500 ways with a 5-11 season in 1995.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars /

Jacksonville Jaguars

The only major obstacle to second place in the division these Jaguars seem to face are the Houston (or should we say “Tennessee”) Oilers. They bounced back from a 2-14 season to record a 7-9 1995 under head coach Jeff Fisher, and starting quarterback Chris Chandler is nothing if not a steady game manager. One thing to our benefit is the distraction of their pending move to Tennessee.

Ultimately, I am looking forward to our second NFL season. We’re still a month away from training camp (which is taking place here in Jacksonville this year!) and the preseason, so we’ll have to wait a while before we can cure our Jaguars Fever.

I don’t know about you, but there is a lot about this relatively young football team to be excited about. We may not break .500 this year, but I think the Jacksonville Jaguars have what it takes to improve on last season’s 4-12 record, and become more than just an “expansion team.”