There is a quiet calm at EverBank Field. Players are on hiatus for the next couple of weeks. The stadium is receiving improvements to help enhance the NFL experience for fans. The city is still excited about what it saw at minicamp and the Draft that produced a solid nucleus of talent. To say this wasn’t a team on the rise would be a lie.
To say the Jacksonville Jaguars are a franchise and organization on the rise would be a flat lie. There is so much excitement, so much hope. It is like it is 1995 all over again and the team is just beginning to get its feet wet in the NFL.
NFL.com is running a piece on its website about players taking the next step and listing 25 players who will be a splash with their teams this season. I want to take this a step further. The Jaguars need to collectively take a step up and do their job. But these players listed here are the ones we should focus on as having the most impact on the team’s success this season. These five players will make or break the Jaguars season.
Which Shorts will we get? The one who led the team in receptions, but could not stay healthy over the whole season? Or, will we see an inspired receiver who will play better than before in the final year of his contract? Head coach Gus Bradley challenged Shorts to be better this season and a leader for the rookies who were drafted. This could be a special season for the Mt. Union star.
Chris Clemons/Andre Branch
They are the reason – along with Ryan Davis and rookie Chris Smith – that Jason Babin was released again. There has to be justification in letting your sack leader go. There supposedly wasn’t going to be enough playing time for everyone. Clemons was a pass rusher signed in free agency and Branch is a third-year player who has steadily improved. No matter what the reasons, both of them had better come out the start of the season firing on all cylinders.
This is not to take a shot at Henne. He is the starter and should be. The point is Henne must win games and win them early. Blake Bortles needs a year to understand this system. If the team falls backwards and retreats, then the fans will be calling for the rookie to come in and rally the troops. Last time I checked, Bortles was not Dan Marino and Henne is better than David Woodley. Something must be severe for Bortles to play this coming season.
He played well last season, but there are plenty of younger players ready to take his place. Ball needs to not only play well, but become the leader in the secondary. Think of how well Jonathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz could be this season and think of how well the unit could be if there is real veteran leadership. The secondary is a unit on the rise for this team.
No rookie may face more pressure than Linder this season. As a third round pick, he is being asked to come in and play guard on the right side and help solidify this offensive line. Linder was a surprise pick of the Jaguars, but there is no doubt the kid comes to practice and works hard. It all must translate into solid play during the season.