Three Jaguars to watch in the second half of 2018
By David Levin
The Jacksonville Jaguars have plenty to play for in the second half of the 2018 season. These three players could help the team turn their fortunes around.
The first half of the 2018 NFL season was as disappointing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Great expectations were doused with injuries and a lack of consistency on both offense and defense.
The five losses the team suffered were damaging to the locker room and the core of the franchise. A herculean effort in the final eight games by the entire 53-man roster will be crucial for this team, led by head coach Doug Marrone, to make a charge to the postseason.
The Jaguars are down, but not out.
Marrone’s message was clear following the 24-18 loss in London when he talked to the media. Everything starts with him and he must look in the mirror first before deciding what is the next step to take in repairing a fractured football team.
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"“It is going to start with me. I’m going to take responsibility for it, and I have to be able to change that. I have to get everyone pulling in the same direction, everyone to understand accountability and what that means and everyone to do their job,” Marrone told the media. “If I can get everyone to understand that, if I can get everyone just to do their job, then there is a great shot that we can pull this thing around. I am not going to make a prediction or anything, but at the same time, I will tell you what I told the players today. There is a story out there about this team. It is an ugly story. But the story hasn’t ended. We can still control how this story reads. When we get away, we have to think long and hard about it. We have to come back and we have to figure out what the story is going to be on the 2018 team.”"
There is a reality that everyone’s pick to dethrone the New England Patriots as the new darlings of the AFC are in turmoil and spiraling toward a place they have been before, a place they do not want to reach. A high draft pick and plenty of doubt are in front of them if the Jaguars cannot turn this around.
With doubt comes change. With doubt comes a possible breakup of how things were last season and how they will be moving forward.
This team still has the ability to right the ship. Players must step forward and the culture in the locker room must improve. There are many who think this is a lost season. Jacksonville’s new mantra should be to prove everyone wrong.
If things are going to change, these players must make an impact over the final eight games of the season.
Leonard Fournette – I said this when it happened. Losing left tackle Cam Robinson was a bigger deal than Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury. Now, I am not so sure as this team cannot block up front and cannot run the ball consistently.
A lot of the running game woes fall on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and game calling. But the onus has been on the running game to continue to “ground and pound” while Fournette has been out. T.J. Yeldon may be the offensive MVP the first half of 2018, but he has had his own issues as well.
The Jaguars ran the ball 11 times last week and are currently ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. No Jaguars running back strikes fear in defenses, including Carlos Hyde. That all could change if No. 27 returns to the field when the Jaguars face Indianapolis next weekend.
A healthy Fournette goes a long way toward a better offense.
Andrew Norwell – The prized free agent signee has not lived up to his huge contract. The former All-Pro guard has looked average at best for the majority of the season.
The offensive line as a whole has been underwhelming, arguably the worst unit on the team. Andrew Norwell gets singled out because so much was expected of him and little has been delivered. A lot has to do with multiple players moving into the left tackle slot [to fill Robinson’s shoes] but the former Carolina Panther must make more of an impression starting next week.
"“There’s always areas you need to improve on,” Norwell said when interviewed by Jacksonville.com writer John Reid. “Each week, I pick a couple of things to work on. It’s day in and day out, working on technique and trying to get better every day.”"
The Jaguars dealt with injuries to the interior of the offensive line last season and still finished first in the NFL in rushing yards per game. It’s one of the reasons the team has become a “pass-first” offense, abandoning the run game.
Marrone must have more confidence this unit, including Norwell, must be able to block well enough to get a yard or two on third down.
Keelan Cole – When Marqise Lee went down with an ACL injury in the preseason, it opened the door for Keelan Cole to walk in and become the go-to pass catcher in this offense. Cole has had a rough time the past three game.
Per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, Cole has had five dropped passes the two fumbles in that time period. More is needed from Cole and the rest of the wide receivers. Cole has 29 catches for 375 yards and a touchdown this season. His speed on the outside, coupled with Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief should have been enough to stretch the field and challenge defensive backs.
You guessed it, they haven’t.
Wide Receivers coach Keenan McCardell must work with Cole and his troops to do a better job of catching the ball and getting separation from defensive backs downfield to give the passing game a chance to be successful.