Predicting Jacksonville Jaguars Starting Lineup After 1st Free-Agent Signings
It's all change up front for the Jacksonville Jaguars after the first wave of free agency, particularly on defense. Head coach Gus Bradley has poached two former Seattle Seahawks to make his mixed-front philosophy work.
Offensively, the big news is the team having a different ball-carrier in the backfield for the first time in nearly a decade. The other notable surprise is that things appear to be staying the same under center.
Here's how the Jaguars look after the first flurry of activity in free agency.
A Brief Overview of the Depth Charts
The Jags haven't just used free agency to perform a radical makeover of their starting units. Bradley and general manager David Caldwell have also snared a number of key rotational players to bolster the depth charts.
For instance, ex-Seahawks Chris Clemons and Red Bryant aren't the only new faces on the D-line. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Ziggy Hood (pictured) has also been added, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union. Meanwhile, veteran rush end Jason Babin was retained, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco.
Jacksonville is now nearly two-deep at every position along its defensive front.
The team's latest arrival, wide receiver Tandon Doss, reported by O'Halloran, is unlikely to be counted on as a starter. But he will be in the mix alongside Cecil Shorts III, Mike Brown and Ace Sanders.
At tight end, an interesting competition is brewing between veteran Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor. The latter has the potential to offer a greater penchant for big plays from the position.
Depth has been made stronger at linebacker, following the arrival of ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer Dekoda Watson.
With a stronger depth chart at four positions, here's how the more high-profile new arrivals will impact the starting lineups.
Starter: Chad Henne
No sooner was the ink on his signature drying that Bradley declared the veteran would likely be the team's starter, regardless of if the Jags draft a quarterback, per John Oehser of Jaguars.com.
Despite the rapid endorsement from Bradley, Henne shouldn't plan to stay under center for long. Owner Shad Khan has previously stated his team will target up to two quarterbacks this May, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
Since there is no cover behind Henne, who threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (13) last season, he should expect to be shaking hands with his heir apparent in a little under two months.
Starter: Toby Gerhart
After four years as Adrian Peterson's deputy, Toby Gerhart is finally getting his chance to lead a rushing attack by himself. The 26-year-old will bring his own punishing brand of running to the Jacksonville ground game.
He posted a strong average in 2013, rumbling for 7.9 yards per carry. Of course, he only had 36 carries all season.
But the ex-Stanford man is a workhorse who can handle a greater burden. He will definitely have to because depth is not strong.
Jordan Todman is a useful speedster but is strictly a change-of-pace option rather than an every-down replacement. Meanwhile, 2013 fifth-round draft pick Denard Robinson is a sub-package weapon who will take only a few touches away from the featured back.
Carrying the bulk of the rushing chores is firmly Gerhart's responsibility. The Jaguars will be hoping he can do the job even half as well as longtime hero Maurice Jones-Drew.
But Gerhart and this rotation face a tough task of replacing the man who exceeded 8,000 yards during eight seasons in Jacksonville.
Starter: Will Ta'ufo'ou
Things are set at fullback in the form of Will Ta'ufo'ou. The 5'11", 247-pounder will be form one-half of a formidable sight by leading the way for Gerhart's thundering strides behind him.
Gerhart's arrival signals a continued reliance on power-based running. That should mean more playing time for Ta'ufo'ou, who made only seven starts in 2013.
Starters: Cecil Shorts III, Mike Brown, Ace Sanders (Slot)
Wide receiver is one position where things staying the same might not be such a bad thing for the Jaguars. Starters Cecil Shorts III and Mike Brown are capable playmakers.
While they aren't dominant in any single area, they boast speed and the ability to gain yards after the catch. 2013 fourth-round pick Ace Sanders provides the X-factor.
This 5'7", 178-pound tiny terror can be an invaluable "Joker" in the passing game. He can work the slot or the screen game and even take a handoff.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch should continue to use Sanders in a variety of way.
New arrival Tandon Doss does add physicality at the position. The 6'2", 207-pounder will vie for playing time, but he has so far only made his mark as a returner.
At the moment, count on Shorts, Brown and Sanders handling most of the pass-catching duties.
Of course, the outlook for this position could change if indefinitely suspended star Justin Blackmon were to make a comeback.
He can be reinstated on the eve of the new season, but Caldwell sounded cautious about the idea last month, referring to a possible Blackmon return as a "luxury," according to Nate Davis of USA Today.
Starter: Clay Harbor
If Fisch wants more dynamism at tight end, he'll give ex-Philadelphia Eagle Clay Harbor the starting job. As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco notes, a calf injury slowed Marcedes Lewis in 2013.
But the truth is Lewis isn't quite himself and hasn't been since 2009. Harbor can offer more.
Despite just 24 catches last season, he made enough of an impression to earn a new two-year deal. He can stretch the seams vertically and also work the outside.
Armed with his new contract, Harbor should have a bigger role in the offense. He provides one more way of expanding a passing game that must deliver more.
Starters: Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, Patrick Lewis, Will Rackley, Austin Pasztor
Caldwell and Bradley still have major work to do along the offensive line, particularly at center. But their minds can be eased considerably by the arrival of a Pro Bowl guard, along with the return to health of last season's second overall pick.
The key to this line will be the left side. That means Luke Joeckel, the team's first-round pick a year ago, has to live up to his college billing.
Sadly, the former Texas A&M standout had few opportunities to do that in 2013. He began the campaign out of position at right tackle.
After Eugene Monroe was traded to the Baltimore Ravens, Joeckel slid over to the left. No sooner had he returned to his natural spot before disaster struck.
He suffered an ankle injury in Week 5 that kept him out the rest of the season. He needs to bounce back strong and make the left tackle position his own.
He should be buoyed by the presence of scrappy veteran Zane Beadles. The Jaguars smartly poached the ex-Denver Bronco, who will line up next to Joeckel, according to CBS Sports reporter Will Brinson.
Beadles went to the Pro Bowl last season and immediately raises the profile of an otherwise suspect interior trio.
The biggest issue is at center, following Brad Meester's retirement. Patrick Lewis is merely a placeholder in this article. Expect the Jaguars to bolster this position either via free agency or the 2014 draft.
Things are clearer on the right side, where a fully healthy Will Rackley can help. The capable right guard was hindered by a knee problem in 2013, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco.
Next to Rackley, Austin Pasztor can develop into a serviceable tackle.
Depth is OK after Caldwell brought back swing tackles Cameron Bradfield, who could push Pasztor, and Sam Young.
But Jacksonville needs to do more to improve this group.
Starters: Chris Clemons (Leo), Sen'Derrick Marks (3-Technique), Roy Miller (NT), Red Bryant (Elephant)
Offenses in the AFC South will likely have a little more fear ahead of facing the Jaguars this season. That's because Bradley has reshaped his defensive front into an intimidating group.
He has done it by bolstering the two most important positions in his defensive scheme. He has found his hybrid, "Leo" pass-rusher, along with his brute force, 5-technique "Elephant."
Bradley raided former club the Seattle Seahawks to plunder two of the stars of his old defense. Both will be starters in 2014.
Chris Clemons has signed for four years to occupy the vital Leo spot, the mixture of linebacker and defensive end. He has played the position in Seattle since 2010.
He is a dangerous roving pass-rusher, despite being far from his best in 2013. His recovery from a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 playoffs, which limited him to just 4.5 sacks in the regular season.
But he steadily improved during Seattle's Super Bowl run and was back to very near his destructive best in the Super Bowl. The 32-year-old gives this defense a legitimate edge-rusher whom quarterbacks won't fail to notice.
Opposing blocking schemes are unlikely to miss another former Seahawk in Red Bryant, who also signed a four-year contract after being ditched by the Seahawks.
Bryant specializes in using his 6'4", 323-pound frame to absorb double-teams on the other side of the D-line. He will be the focal point of a run defense that will be much tougher in 2014.
Along with Clemons, Bryant will allow Bradley to continue mixing 4-3 personnel with 3-4 fronts.
The Jags are just as strong on the inside. Sen'Derrick Marks earned a lucrative four-year deal after impressing as a pass-rushing 3-technique in 2013.
He should double last season's 4.0 sacks thanks to Bryant occupying multiple blockers and Clemons providing a more consistent threat off the edge.
Next to Marks, Roy Miller is a solid nose tackle. He had trouble staying healthy last season, but he is a natural two-gap force over the center.
Depth is stronger than it has been in years following the arrival of Ziggy Hood. He can rotate with both Bryant and Marks thanks to his time as a 3-4 end in Pittsburgh, along with his underrated pass-rush skills.
Speaking of pass rush, that rotation is now very deep. Clemons will lead the way, but the team also made sure Jason Babin is still a Jaguar.
Babin and Andre Branch, the two most prolific pass-rushers on last year's defense, give Bradley even more options up front.
Expect to see some pressure packages with Clemons, Babin, Branch and Hood all on the field together.
Watch out, Andrew Luck.
Starters: Paul Posluszny (MLB), Geno Hayes (OLB), Dekoda Watson (OLB)
The linebacker corps is led by Paul Posluszny, the outright quarterback of this defense. On-field defensive signal-callers don't come much better than the player who logged 162 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 2013.
The scary thing is that even with greater size along the front, Posluszny could be even more productive in 2014. The same is true for "Will" 'backer Geno Hayes.
Russell Allen manned the other outside spot in 2013, but new arrival Dekoda Watson has a great chance to supplant him. Watson is a little stouter and more of a threat as a pass-rusher.
Starters: Johnathan Cyprien (SS), Winston Guy (FS)
The safety position features one budding star and one major question mark. The former is 2013 second-round draft pick Johnathan Cyprien.
He has legitimate breakout potential in 2014 as a complete strong safety. He made 104 tackles last season, as well as deflecting six passes and intercepting another.
Expect him to be just as active this season, although his run support might not be counted on as much thanks to a stouter front.
The picture is murkier at free safety. Josh Evans played most of last season, making 58 tackles in 11 starts. But the 22-year-old deflected only one pass and produced no interceptions, forced fumbles or sacks.
By contrast, former Seahawk Winston Guy made 29 tackles, notched a sack, broke up a pass and forced a fumble in only two starts. Those starts came in the last three games.
Guy's connection to Bradley, along with a greater flair for playmaking, makes him the more likely starter at this point.
Don't rule out further action at the position either.
Starters: Will Blackmon, Alan Ball, Dwayne Gratz (Nickel)
Bradley has three underrated cornerbacks who all boast the size he covets at the position. Outside starters Alan Ball and Will Blackmon both enjoyed solid first seasons in Jacksonville.
They can press receivers at the line and stay clamped on. As another former Seahawk, Blackmon knows Bradley's physical coverage concepts well. Re-signing him was something of a coup.
Last season's third-round pick Dwayne Gratz gives Bradley another tall and stout cornerback. He should see time in the slot in nickel packages.
This is a very solid position group heading into the new season. The starting trio fits what Bradley wants to do with his coverage schemes, and each player showed improvement as the 2013 campaign progressed.
Josh Scobee (Kicker), Bryan Anger (Punter)
Bradley won't want Bryan Anger leading the league in punts again, although the 2012 third-round pick did handle the heavy workload well.
He kicked 95 punts, per stats from NFL.com. Importantly, he put 31 inside the 20. That's a decent number. His ability to pin offenses deep against a formidable-looking defense could prove crucial.
Josh Scobee expertly handles the placekicking chores. The steady veteran was good on 23 of 25 attempts in 2013, including a 55-yarder.
The Jaguars have used free agency well so far. They have bolstered their ground game and offensive front but did their best work in the defensive trenches.
Bradley's defensive front has a fearsome look to it ahead of the new season.
It would still be nice to see another wide receiver and interior O-lineman added. But the Jags already look much stronger than they did in 2013.