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New coach Marrone notes team's shortcomings
NFL teams that have not won more than five games in any of the last six years had better be working hard during the offseason to change their fortunes.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the few teams that fall into that classification. The question is, did the Jaguars do enough during their offseason workouts, the 10 OTAs and the just-completed three-day, veterans minicamp?
The team could only practice in shorts and helmets, which means the turf wars that go on between the interior linemen on offense and the front four on defense are anything but ferocious.
Without pressure on the quarterback, it appeared the offense had the upper hand with the Jaguars, where linebackers couldn't make jarring hits to force fumbles, and defensive linemen couldn't physically overpower an offensive guard or tackle.
Yet hearing Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles' assessment of OTAs and the minicamp you're left with the feeling the Jaguars' offense is still a work in progress.
"There's still a bunch of little mistakes that we're making that we have to get fixed," Bortles said. "I think it's going to be a lot on guys this next month coming up and what they do with their time by themselves; how much time they put in, how much work they do and how much better they try to get. When we show up back at the end of July, it's time to get rolling and we can't necessarily make the mistakes that have been happening over the last couple of weeks."
There is also a new attitude and atmosphere that permeate the Jaguars facility. The past four seasons under head coach Gus Bradley, there appeared to be a lack of urgency. Bradley rarely called out any players and almost always found something good to talk about, even in defeat. When Bradley was asked on a Friday how the week's practice went, his reply was always "great practice this week. The guys looked good, focused, ready to play." But on Sunday, the Jaguars looked anything but ready to play, as 13 losses would indicate.
That's not what has been touted during this season's OTAs and minicamp under new coach Doug Marrone. Players have harped on the need to get better and that they aren't where they need to be at this time. And in Marrone's final press session with local media on Thursday, he echoed a similar message.
Asked whether the foundation for a tough, physical football team has been set, Marrone said, "I don't think we're there yet. I don't think you can do that without actually being out there and doing it. For us, we want to be tough, we want to be physical. The first thing and I'm a big believer in this statement and I have talked to the players about this fatigue makes cowards of us all. I believe in that statement. For us, in order to be a tough, physical team, the first thing you have to do is you have to be in shape. You have to be strong. You have to withstand the mental toughness because in this profession the day you walk in is probably the healthiest you'll be and the day you start practicing everyone has something.
"There is going to be some type of discomfort that you play with. I think early on in camp we'll have a window of about five straight days I talked to the players about it this morning where we are going to be in full pads. It's going to be a tough deal. During that time I think a lot of questions will be answered to see how we are. I don't think it will be the final exam to say where we're at, but I know where we'll be starting and how far we'll have to go."
It's hard to predict if this team has the talent to turn things around under the new coaching regime. The defense looks to be better with the additions of end Calais Campbell, safety Barry Church and cornerback A.J. Bouye.
Campbell and Church bring instant credibility and leadership to the defense, having played in the NFL for nine and seven years, respectively.
But other than starting outside linebacker Paul Posluszny, who is in his 11th NFL season, all other projected starters have been in the NFL five years or less. If they all improve, the defense will improve.
The status of the offense starts with Bortles. He had a good offseason and minicamp and appears to have benefited from his work with quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux, who have worked with Bortles the past couple of seasons.
Bortles indicated that he was headed back to California after miniamp and would spend the majority of the next five weeks on the West Coast working with his two personal instructors.
No one is under more pressure than Bortles. The final year of his rookie contract was picked up by the Jaguars (roughly $19 million for the 2018 season), but it's only guaranteed for an injury. If Bortles doesn't have a banner year in 2017, he could be released by the Jaguars, who would owe him nothing.
Bortles has been the spokesman for the team the last several years, and no one is more tired of losing than the Jaguars quarterback.
"Guys are sick and tired of being below average and not being successful when we feel as though we have the ability to be a good team," Bortles said. "We haven't been successful. It's time to make a change. It's not going to happen overnight. You have to do something about it.
"My goal for us and our team is to be extremely successful. This is what I do. This is my job and my passion so I'm going to do and exhaust every resource I have to try and make this thing work and get it rolling."
If it doesn't get rolling in 2017, Bortles may be looking for a new home, fans will be more restless than ever and the Jaguars will have to go through another rebuilding year with a new quarterback.