Jacksonville, Home for The Undrafted
"This time of year is always the hardest because we spend so much time together in offseason, OTAs, camps and a lot of these young men are giving you everything you're asking for," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "We'd like to keep them all but we understand, everybody does, that there's going to be a final cut, we're going to be 53 guys and in the end it's our responsibility to keep the guys we think give us the best chance to win. So there are always a few cases that are more difficult than others to say goodbye to."
As surprising as those names on the final roster are, perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised? Ever since Jack Del Rio took over as head coach of the Jaguars in 2003, Jacksonville has been a home for the undrafted as the team has found a home for several of these players. An undrafted free agent rookie has earned a roster spot in every one of Del Rio's seasons except one.
"What we work very hard at is providing an opportunity for the undrafteds to have a legitimate shot in our camp," Del Rio said. "I talk to the guys the day they get here and let them know that we're an organization that's going to evaluate everybody here, and if you're in our camp, you have a chance, and it's a real chance."
As the summer progressed, a would-be long-shot to make the roster in offensive tackle Kevin Haslam turned into a roster lock. The undrafted rookie who spent much of his college career at Rutgers overshadowed by first-round pick Anthony Davis has stepped up as a member of the Jaguars.
"I'm just trying to make the team," Haslam said earlier last week when we caught up with him. "I'm just going to work as hard as I can and do whatever the coaching staff asks of me."
Haslam worked hard and became one of the most reliable backup tackles the Jaguars had, making their decision to keep him rather easy.
Jacob Cutrera finished his up and down camp and preseason very strong and the Jaguars decided to take a flyer on the former LSU Tiger. Something that may have played into the decision to go with Cutrera could have been the success the team found with former undrafted rookie Russell Allen a year ago. Allen played well a season ago and has the ability to play each linebacker position.
When you play in a division full of Pro Bowl quarterbacks, a pass rush is a certain necessity. The Jaguars finished last in the league in sacks a season ago and spent much of the offseason trying to improve their rush. Undrafted rookie Aaron Morgan from Louisiana-Monroe may not have prototypical size (6'4", 238), but he showed an ability to rush off the edge and get to the passer in camp and the preseason. When it was time for final cuts, the Jaguars went heavy at defensive end with a group that included the former Sun Belt star.
Aside from the three undrafted rookies that earned roster spots, the Jaguars decided to keep a pair of first-year players in running back Brock Bolen and tight end Zach Potter. Bolen made the team based on a fantastic preseason in which he led the team by scoring three touchdowns.
"He's done a nice job," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of Bolen. "He's been a good football player. Last year he caught our eye and put him on the practice squad and brought him up late in the year."
Zach Potter plotted away during preseason, never really standing out either positively or negatively. Potter's three catches in four games was hardly noteworthy, but his blocking and ability to do whatever which was asked of him made an impression on the coaching staff. Potter may have benefitted from being in the right place at the right time as the Jaguars could be worried about Marcedes Lewis' ankle, which is said to be healed. Since Lewis is the only real blocking tight end on the Jags roster, their running game would've suffered if they didn't have a player like Potter to step in.
Some may point to the Jaguars lack of talent on the roster as a reason why so many undrafted players have made the roster. Although that may be true, the team is truly giving each and every player they invite in a real look and that will allow the team to continue to be a destination for those talented players who were overlooked in the draft.
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