What to look for in the 2017 season

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 17: Head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the action during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 17: Head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the action during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

It’s August, and the Jaguars have a quarterback competition.

This is never good news for a football team. When the two competitors are a career journeyman and a former first round pick going into his fourth year who can’t put it together it’s even worse. It’s no surprise many Jacksonville Jaguars fans feel the season is over before it begins. Worse, with no entrenched signal caller the franchise feels headed for more long-term obscurity.

Whatever optimism that could surround incumbent starter Blake Bortles and his revamped throwing motion went out the window in the wake of the team’s preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the following post game press conference, head coach Doug Marrone confirmed that the starting quarterback spot was “up for grabs.” The competition is between Bortles and league journeyman and former Jaguars starter Chad Henne.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go.

With his first round pedigree, Bortles’s talent should have won out and he should move the offense with ease.  Instead, the ball stagnates in his hands and he’s having issues staying on the same page with his talented if unproven receivers.

If this is showing shades of 2016, it should. For all intents and purposes, the 2016 campaign was over by week six in a devastating loss to the Oakland Raiders. Most fans feel an understandable sense of hopelessness. Even with improved coaching and a maturing roster, it’s unlikely a ship without a captain finds the shore. In the wake of this grim news, some fans are giving up on the 2017 season.

It doesn’t need to be this way. There are things to look for in the coming football calendar that could lay the foundation for long-term success in Jacksonville in addition to providing an entertaining year. Note that this article assumes that Chad Henne wins the starting job. If it’s wrong, well, stay tuned for a completely different post.

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With average quarterback play, the team could get a much better idea of where the roster is talent and development wise.

John Oesher of Jaguars.com explained in his mailbag that there are three types of quarterbacks. Some can win you games, most can perform adequately enough to allow the team to play to its overall talent level, and still others will lose you games.

The past three seasons, the Jaguars endured the third type in hopes that he could become the first type. Since it no longer appears that can happen, we turn to Henne who is probably in the second set.

This is good news for Jaguars fans. For too long we have heard that the roster has potential. Optimists could point to close losses and a defense on the rise. Just as easily, observers could counter with the team’s inability to finish or pull out close games. Was this a result of coaching or poor quarterback play? Is it possible the roster is not as talented as many believe?

With serviceable if not outstanding quarterback play, fans and observers should get a much clearer idea of where the roster is. This is important because

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Outside of quarterback, we need to know the Jaguars roster is in good shape.

With Henne’s more conservative style of play eliminating turnovers, the Jaguars should look at seven to nine wins this year. Realistically, this puts them out of range of one of the premium passers in the upcoming draft class.

Consequently, the Jaguars will need probably need to bundle picks and trade up to grab a quarterback. Any followers of the NFL draft will tell you this is expensive. Look at what the LA Rams gave up to acquire Jared Goff, or even all the Chicago Bears had to sacrifice to move up one spot for Mitchell Trubisky. A young signal caller is expensive, and the Jaguars front office needs to know that this team can withstand a couple of years of small draft classes.

In order for this to happen, Jalen Ramsay needs to continue his progression into an elite player. Myles Jack must prove he can be a long-term solution at linebacker. Telvin Smith needs to maintain his high level of play. Of Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr., at least one needs to prove they are a consistent pass rusher. The combination of Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Dede Westbrook and company need to show they can turn into a consistent and effective receiving corps.

Hopefully all goes well and the Jaguars prove a talented team outside a deficit of quarterback. This helps the salary cap situation. With a smaller draft class to sign, the front office will have more freedom to lock up core players. With luck, there are plenty come the end of the year worth signing.

Can the running game help a young quarterback ease into the NFL and develop at his own pace?

If the Jaguars give up the farm for a young quarterback, it won’t mean anything if they’re forced to throw him to the wolves again. It’s no secret that Marrone wants to run the ball. This is helpful because nothing can help a young quarterback quite as much as a strong running game. More relevant, a strong running game could be a sign the offensive line is coming together. Of course, this could help keep a rookie passer upright.

Is DeShone Kizer the man in Cleveland?

OK, so this isn’t about the Jaguars but it’s just as important. Say the Jaguars feel the roster is in good shape and are willing to make a mega-deal in the draft. This won’t help at all if there’s no one to play ball with.

The Browns still look several pieces away from a winning season and they love compiling draft picks. Look for Kizer to establish himself under center so coach Hue Jackson isn’t tempted by next year’s quarterback class. If he’s happy with his signal caller, the Browns could easily trade down for more draft picks. This allows the Jaguars to move up from the middle of the draft board.

This of course assumes the Jags have a better year than the Browns. That doesn’t feel definite at this point.

Most Jaguars fans went into the off-season accepting that the Blake Bortles experiment probably wouldn’t end well. Just because it ended sooner than expected is no reason to abandon all hope.