GREEN BAY — The first sellout crowd since October 2014, temperatures expected to climb into the mid-90s and rare optimism at the start of a season could buoy the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday when they meet the Green Bay Packers at EverBank Field.
“The question is whether Jacksonville is ready mentally for the stage,” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said. “They have talent to match up with Green Bay, but can they out-scheme the Packers?
“Green Bay can’t take this young team for granted. Jacksonville can play defense, and they have the personnel to score points.”
That personnel man called it for Green Bay, 27-24. Scouts from two other AFC clubs also saw the Packers, a 5-point favorite, winning by margins of 27-17 and 24-20.
The Jaguars, who as home team can choose their jersey color, have opted to wear white jerseys and white pants. The Packers, in green jerseys, have played in just two games in their 97-year history with the temperature above 90.
EverBank, which seats 66,851, could be flooded by Packers’ fans because the Jaguars’ season-ticket base is only about 45,000.
In three years under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, the streak of non-winning seasons has reached eight. Owner Shahid Khan, who has owned the team since January 2012, gave Bradley a one-year contract extension through 2017 even though his three-year record of 12-36 is tied for the NFL’s worst.
“Are they going to be rewarded for having loyalty?” an AFC personnel man said. “They’ve resisted all temptation to fire those guys. I think they’ve built a nice roster. Now is it a winning roster?”
Quarterback Blake Bortles, the third pick in 2014, hasn’t missed a snap since taking over from Chad Henne at halftime of Game 3 as a rookie.
“He can’t have those ups and downs like he had last year,” one of the executives said. “With every team it’s how does the quarterback play. If he topped out last year then he’s just a very average to below starting quarterback.”
Greg Olson begins his second season as play-calling coordinator. Among his mentors are Steve Mariucci and Jon Gruden. It’s a one-RB, two-TE base set with an emphasis on vertical passing. The run rate last year of just 35% ranked 31st. After three seasons of 100% zone scheme, Olson has introduced some gap-type runs. In 2015, the Jaguars ranked 14th in points (23.5), 18th in yards (348.8) and tied for 22nd in giveaways (28).
With four capable WRs and two good TEs, the Jaguars are stacked. WR Allen Robinson (6-2½, 217) doesn’t have blazing speed (4.52) but finds ways to beat people deep. He uses his 42-inch vertical jump on third downs and in the red zone. With his power and toughness, he’s a complete player. Allen Hurns (6-1, 202), a free-agent find in 2014, doesn’t stretch the field but can be trusted to separate on slants and catch the ball in traffic. Marqise Lee (6-0, 196), a second-round pick in ’14, is a fluid deep threat who also utilizes his 4.47 speed on jet sweeps. Rashad Greene (5-11½, 190), a fifth-round pick in ’15, is a good, solid possession receiver from the slot. TE Julius Thomas, a big-money signing from Denver in March 2015, had a strong summer and appears ready to make amends for a so-so year. Primarily a basketball player at Portland State, he uses his athletic gifts and 4.66 speed to get deep against LBs and safeties. He even seems more interested in blocking this year. Marcedes Lewis (6-6½, 275), the 28th pick in ’06, once was compared to Bubba Franks. Although his hands are soft and his speed isn’t bad, his niche is blocking for run and pass.
The revolving door at all five positions keeps swinging in the weakest sector on offense. LT Kelvin Beachum (6-3, 303), a 39-game starter for the Steelers, is coming off a blown ACL in October and played just 23 exhibition snaps. Despite being undersized and rather roly-poly, he has enough skill and competitiveness to pass block adequately. His run blocking is marginal. He replaces Luke Joeckel (6-6, 320), the second pick in ’13 who failed at LT and played LG for the first time 10 days ago. He’s quick, aggressive and big. It remains to be seen if his height and strength are suitable inside. C Brandon Linder (6-5½, 316), a third-round pick in ’14, started at RG the past two years when healthy. He plays with a degree of nastiness, is strong and runs the show efficiently. RG A.J. Cann (6-2½, 326), a third-round pick in ’15, started as a rookie and was adequate. He can’t run at all (5.48) but is able to bend and has respectable anchor. RT Jermey Parnell (6-6, 311) is a late-blooming free agent who, at 30, still has only 22 starts for four teams. With his size, athleticism and physicality, he might be the best of the bunch.
Blake Bortles (6-5, 235) has given a lousy team hope for the present and the future. With his height, he can see over the line. His arm is above average, and his deep-ball accuracy has been remarkable. His delivery is somewhat elongated, and he doesn’t throw a tight spiral. Bortles, who scored 28 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, still reads defenses like a young player. He can be fooled, and although he probably threw into coverage less often this summer, bad balls remain a problem. Having absorbed an NFL-high 106 sacks in two seasons, he has demonstrated durability and toughness. He likes to extend plays and, with 4.91 speed, has run for 729 yards (6.8) in two years. His passer rating is 80.0. Backup Chad Henne (6-3, 220) is 18-35 with a rating of 75.5.
T.J. Yeldon (6-1, 227), a second-round pick in ’15, and Chris Ivory (5-11½, 228), a 1,070-yard rusher for the Jets in ’15, form an impressive tandem. Yeldon is quick for a big man, runs 4.54 and can make tacklers miss on cutbacks. Much improved as a receiver and pass blocker, he figures as the third-down back. Ivory, 28, dishes out punishment and once ran 4.47.
Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive specialist, fired coordinator Bob Babich in January and promoted defensive line coach Todd Wash to replace him. Wash, a career line coach, has added more man coverage to fit an improved secondary. Bradley had used his Cover 3 concept from Seattle. With the pass rush disappointing in camp, Wash figures to blitz more. Last year, the Jaguars ranked 24th in yards (375.0), tied for 25th in takeaways (18) and 31st in points (28.0).
It could be one of the NFL’s deepest units. At 3-technique, Malik Jackson (6-5, 300), Sen’Derrick Marks (6-1½, 309) and rookie Sheldon Day (6-0½, 285) all get after the passer. Jackson, given $42 million guaranteed to depart Denver, is a blend of power, speed (4.86) and tenacity. Marks, a 60-game starter for the Titans and Jaguars, is back from season-ending injuries. He has long arms (34½ inches), tries hard and can be disruptive. Day, a fourth-round pick, is short but he’s also quick. NTs Roy Miller (6-1½, 318), a 78-game starter, and long-armed Abry Jones (6-3½, 318) are OK plugger-uppers. Strong-side DE Jared Odrick (6-5, 298), the 28th pick in ’10, is a 57-game starter for the Dolphins and Jaguars with 22 sacks. He’s just a solid pro. The key is getting some rush out of weak-side DEs Dante Fowler (6-2½, 250) and rookie Yannick Ngakoue (6-2, 246). Fowler, the third pick in ’15, missed his entire rookie season (ACL). He can run (4.59), play with leverage and attack. However, Fowler hasn’t done much other than get pushed by the passer. Actually, Ngakoue, a third-round choice, probably has outplayed Fowler in games. He ran 4.71, goes hard and has held up against the run surprisingly well.
If Myles Jack (6-1, 247) develops rapidly, a weak area could become a strength. For now, the multi-talented rookie is feeling his way behind MLB Paul Posluszny (6-1½, 232) and WLB Telvin Smith (6-3, 218). Jack flashes great speed but seems bogged down by the system and isn’t making much happen. Posluszny, a second-round pick in ’07, remains an every-down player even though declining speed is an issue in coverage. He reads fast, hits hard and is difficult to trick. Smith, a fifth-round pick in ’14, has been an average-to-below starter. He buzzes around with blazing speed (4.50) but isn’t gap-sound, makes few impact plays and can be fooled in coverage. SLB Dan Skuta (6-2½, 252), a former Bengal-49er, isn’t much of a factor.
Even without suspended CB Aaron Colvin, a solid starter, this overhauled unit looks much improved. Everything changed when CB Jalen Ramsey (6-1, 207) fell to Jacksonville at No. 5. He mans the right outside in base and the slot in sub, but it’s possible he could match on Jordy Nelson. He’s smart (Wonderlic of 24), extraordinarily athletic and fast (4.38). Davon House (6-0½, 200), who departed Green Bay in March 2015 for $10 million guaranteed, or Prince Amukamara (6-0, 202), the 19th pick in ’11, will start at LC. House, the No. 1 corner last year with a club-record 23 passes defensed, is a press-man specialist with inconsistencies at the ball. Given a one-year, $5.5 million deal to leave the Giants, Amukamara has all the tools but isn’t physical and gets outmuscled downfield. FS Tashaun Gipson (5-11½, 210) received $10 million to leave the Browns and has been an enormous upgrade in center field in terms of range and tackling. SS Johnathan Cyprien (6-0½, 217), a second-round pick in ’13, can be a force as an in-the-box run player. However, he’s a liability in space.
Former Badgers P Brad Nortman, a Brookfield Central grad, left Carolina after four years ($1.65 million guaranteed) to replace Bryan Anger. His four-year net is 38.9. Jason Myers, the second-year kicker, found a way to miss seven of 39 extra points. He did make 86.9% of 30 field goals and kicks off well. WR Rashad Greene would have led the NFL in punt-return average (16.7) but his 18 attempts were too few to quality. LB Hayes Pullard is a key cog for coach Mike Mallory, whose units were excellent in ’15.
Of the first 11 wide receivers drafted in 2014, three will be on the field Sunday. They are Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee (sixth), Green Bay’s Davante Adams (ninth) and Lee’s teammate, Allen Robinson (11th). Jaguars GM David Caldwell made a wise move when he gave the 49ers a fifth-round pick to move up nine slots and select Robinson at No. 61. After a solid rookie season, Robinson led the NFL in receptions of 20 yards or more with 31. His numbers — 80 catches, 1,400 yards (17.5), 14 TDs — made him the best player on the team.
K Jason Myers missed seven — yes, seven — of his 39 extra-point attempts last season. In contrast, Mason Crosby made all of his 41 tries, counting playoffs, in the first year kicking from the 33 instead of the 20. Myers, 25, came out of Marist College in 2013, was ignored by the NFL and spent portions of the 2014-’15 seasons in the Arena Football League before going to Jacksonville and supplanting Josh Scobee. Myers made 26 of 30 field goals, including game-winners of 28 and 53 yards. However, he also missed a pair of game-winners (48, 53) at Indianapolis. His kickoffs are tremendous.
The Packers were one of many teams that bypassed UCLA LB Myles Jack in April before the Jaguars traded a fifth-round choice to Baltimore for the No. 36 pick they used on him.
As it turned out, the Packers’ medical staff didn’t like the looks of Jack’s right knee in which he suffered meniscus cartilage damage in late September. Two days before the draft, he told reporters that microfracture surgery might be necessary.
Jack’s off-season was reduced to a pair of mini-camp practices because of UCLA’s class system. He has been healthy throughout camp, and in four exhibition games finished with a team-high 13 tackles.
In 122 snaps, however, Jack hasn’t made a single play that really stood out.
“I don’t think he has near the speed and the explosion that he once had,” an AFC personnel director said after studying the Jaguars’ first three games. “He’s looked OK. He’s just coming back, and maybe it will pop at some point. He’s still athletic. He doesn’t have that great explosion and speed he once had.”
Jack, who turned 21 this week, has his entire career ahead of him. There’s no telling what type of player he might become. All that can be said now is Jack wasn’t tearing it up this summer.
Jack worked behind veteran Paul Posluszny in camp before spending the final week on the weak side in the 4-3 defense. The question is, what will his role be Sunday?
The best guess would be that Jack takes some of Telvin Smith’s snaps in the nickel package alongside Posluszny.
Fans who wanted GM Ted Thompson’s head on a platter will be watching for No. 44 just as they will be watching NT Kenny Clark, who went to Green Bay nine slots before Jack.