With training camp coming up in a few short weeks, and the preseason right around the corner, the defending AFC South champions have a lot to look forward to. Here are five reasons why fans should be excited:
1. Proving the Haters Wrong
Heading into last season, almost nobody expected the Jaguars to finish above .500, yet alone reach the AFC Championship Game. A year later, it seems like the expectations haven’t changed. Despite the fact that the Jaguars have re-vamped their roster with upgrades and young talent across the board, many analysts and sportswriters alike seem to think the 2017 campaign was a fluke. Most seem to feel that the team will take a step back after having their most successful season in years.
Luckily, the locker room seems to carry a much different attitude. Despite the fact that the team was a quarter away from reaching the Super Bowl, they’ve kept that underdog, hungry mentality that got them so far in the first place. Rather than riding last year’s success, the team has used the bitter, heartbreaking, taste of defeat to achieve greater success and silence their doubters in 2018.
2. Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette, and Yannick Ngakoue
After drafting several high profile, seemingly low risk, players that busted badly, from Justin Blackman to Blaine Gabbert, the team has struck gold the past two seasons. The 2016 draft yielded two Pro Bowlers in Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue. Ramsey – who has drawn comparisons to his mentor and fellow Florida State Seminole Deion Sanders – plays with that fiery sense of intensity and energy. He has quickly evolved into not just arguably the best cornerback in the league, but one of the best players period. He is guaranteed to provide a headache for opposing wide receives every time he steps on the field.
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Ngakoue has made leaps and strides in his short time in the NFL playing alongside veterans Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson. His explosiveness coming off the line of scrimmage is what makes him special. Last year, Ngakoue ranked 8th in the league in sacks, and 1st in forced fumbles. For a defense that lives and dies on taking the ball away, that’s HUGE.
Leonard Fournette, will be the team’s ground-and-pound back for the foreseeable future. After enduring several injuries, and some maturity issues in his rookie season, Fournette has set the tone for this season after showing up to OTAs eight pounds lighter. The former LSU Tiger has previously stated he wants to be remembered as one of the best ever, and he seems motivated to make good on his word.
With playoff experience under these guys’ belt so early on in their young career, the team seems to have found a young nucleus of players that will be ready to lead in the locker room for years to come.
3. The Offense
In 2017, the Jaguars ranked 2nd in the league in total defense. Their formula for winning was simple: shut down the opposition on defense, win the field position battle, and pound the rock on offense. The team ran the ball on 50 percent of their offensive snaps, making their game-plan very predictable. The Jags faced eight man boxes more than any other team in the NFL, making it a miracle that Fournette was able to run for over 1,000 yards last season – behind a mediocre offensive line at that. This time around, all the tools are in place for their offensive attack to take off in 2018.
Blake Bortles seems to have found a new sense of confidence playing in a system that he’s finally comfortable with, the team has added intriguing pass catchers to a already talented receiving core in LSU product D.J. Chark and newly signed Donte Moncrief, and the offensive line has received a much needed upgrade at left guard in All-Pro Andrew Norwell. Now the Jaguars can utilize the upgrades, establish a multi-dimensional offensive attack, and keep defenses on their heels next year.
4. Head Coach Doug Marrone
For years the Jaguars had a revolving door of coaches and front office executives. Every change that was met with a sparkling sense of optimism turned into demise within a few years. And even after Doug Marrone’s ability as a head coach has been put into question, he is undoubtably the right man for the job. Marrone has completely changed the culture in Jacksonville, creating a sense of accountability and pride within the locker room that hasn’t been present in years.
He is an old school coach who isn’t afraid to punish players and push them to their limits, but will also have their backs through thick and thin. If anything has been learned from his brute honesty and overly dry and sarcastic sense of humor at press conferences, this man is all about business.
He cares about instilling a winning culture in Jacksonville, which is why he’s preached progress over complacency throughout the offseason. In the process, Marrone has earned endorsements from the veterans and the respect of the locker room. In a league that’s more self driven than ever before, that’s hard to come-by. If there’s anybody who’s going to help this team reach their full potential it’s this guy.
5. Who Has More Fun Than these Guys?
If one thing became clear about the Jaguars in 2017, it was that they love playing the game of football. After enduring years of lackluster effort in Duval County, this was something that was refreshing to watch. Although the team’s interception and post sack celebrations got out of hand at times, it became clear that they enjoyed being out their with each. The defense fed off each others intensity and energy, and did everything to shift the momentum to the offense. Every time cameras from the television broadcast focused on the Jaguars sideline, the defense was both engaged in the game and having a ton of fun interacting with each other.
If anything was learned from the 2017 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, it’s that having fun is an important part of being successful in the NFL. Although their may be a fine between having fun and competing, the sheer enjoyment of the game is what helps teams play loose.