The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday to face the AFC South Division rival Indianapolis Colts (6-4). JagsInsider Publisher Charlie Bernstein, who has covered the NFL for more than a decade, answered five questions about the Jaguars.
1. How has Blake Bortles progressed? Have you seen enough to be encouraged that he's a quarterback the Jaguars can build around?
Blake Bortles certainly has showed great quarterback tools and an ability to make plays, but like most rookies (not named Andrew Luck) he's turned the ball over far too often. Bortles has seemed to regress in the past few weeks, but part of that might be the injuries and lack of talent around him. He has elite quarterback abilities, but he needs to improve the mental aspect of his game to realize his potential.
2. Denard Robinson has put up some decent numbers. Is he a keeper at running back or perhaps, down the road, being utilized in a versatile role that also includes him as a wide receiver?
In what has been one of the biggest positive surprises in an otherwise negative season, Denard Robinson has looked like a fixture at running back. Robinson's vision has improved significantly over last season and he runs hard through the tackles and shows explosiveness. He had been the team's most productive back since preseason and when he finally received his starting chance he's made the most of it. Robinson's days as a wide receiver are finished.
3. Who's been playing well on defense and provided hope that they can be long-term contributors?
You've seen the Jaguars' defensive statistics and they are every bit as bad as the stat sheet reads. Sen'Derrick Marks has been the best player on the defense as he's explosive and can get into the backfield routinely. Rookie Telvin Smith has flashed but still bites on play-action far too often and cornerback Dwayne Gratz, recently arrested, is the team's best cover guy. The safety position has been a major letdown as Jonathan Cyprien can make highlight type of plays, but often misses the routine tackles. Cyprien has elite abilities so he'll be in the long-term plans, but aside from those four players there isn't a player on the defense that can't be replaced in the offseason.
4. We know how fans get restless when a team loses, but is it fair to say the Jaguars knew this was going to be a long-term rebuild and Gus Bradley would be given time to turn it around?
The Jaguars organization knows the score, so to speak, and this wasn't just a rebuild, it was a ‘gut job.’ Former general manager Gene Smith was one of the worst personnel men in NFL history and it's going to take time to undo his mess. The organization is completely behind Gus Bradley and he's not being judged on wins and losses right now. With that said, his in-game management is something that needs to improve greatly.
5. What are the most important needs for this franchise, moving forward after this season?
It's tough to designate a certain position or group of positions for improvement, as the team needs more talent across the board. While good NFL teams have 53 NFL players and 22 NFL-caliber starters, the Jaguars simply do not. The Jaguars probably have about 35 to 40 NFL players on their roster and maybe 10 to 12 NFL starters. They have plenty of money to spend in free agency and owner Shad Khan has vowed to have an open checkbook in the offseason. Still, the only way they're going to get back to respectability is with productive drafts and improvement from Blake Bortles. The offensive line is poor, the receivers are talented but young and there's no playmaking tight end to go along with one of the worst backfields this side of Indianapolis. Defensively, they can rush the quarterback, but the safety position has one NFL starter and one player who wouldn't be employed by another team. This keeps the Jaguars in shootouts and the offense doesn't have the weapons to compete in shootouts.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.