Training camp is finally, finally underway. The past month or so seemed to be a dead zone with the NFL taking its only real break of the year. The three weeks following OTA’s is always a catch twenty two when it comes to news and the NFL. On one hand, we so desperately want to hang on to football, but at the same time, any news gathered in July is usually news involving players and off the field issues (or off the road issues, in the case of a certain Jacksonville running back…). The arrival of training camp, however, breaks that trend and brings with it a multitude of storylines. Of those storylines, these are the five most important that every Jags fan needs to keep a weather eye on.
5. Dante Fowler Jr: Like it or not, there was a reason the Jaguars recently hosted former Panther and Cowboy DE Greg Hardy. It wasn’t just because Hardy is highly talented (his talent alone doesn’t negate the abhorrent off the field issue), but because they probably have lingering concerns over Fowler's knee. The Redskins recent entertainment of Hardy supports this, they only decided to do so after losing Junior Gallette to a season ending Achilles injury. Not only is Hardy talented, but defensive end is probably the third most important position on the field, and while fielding a much improved defensive roster in comparison to last year, Yannick Ngakoue, Bjorn Werner and company don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence on the other side of Fowler. Fowler, and his knee, remain an important thing to keep in mind going forward.
4. Offensive line: Let’s be honest, for much of Bradley’s reign, and a bit before, the offensive line play has been…offensive. In two seasons since Bortles has been drafted, he’s been sacked a whopping 106 times. That’s an absurd amount of time to be spent picking grass out of his teeth, and in today’s league, it’s almost asking for an injury. Part of the problem is that tackle Luke Joeckel has been largely a bust since being drafted in 2013, which is why Jacksonville went out and signed former Steeler Kelvin Beachum. The two will be taking reps at both left guard and left tackle, the winner of the position battle will be the starting tackle while the other will start at guard. This is perhaps Joeckel’s last chance to prove that he has a future in Jacksonville, as his contract will be ending at the close of the season. The other members of the line will be looking to establish continuity in both passing and rushing. If they can even marginally cut down on the number of sacks allowed, Bortles will have a much easier time in the pocket, and perhaps increase his numbers across the board.
3. Bortles’ Turnovers: Speaking of Bortles, while it’s true that he’s made a lot of mistakes due to the lack of protection from the offensive line, there have been many times where he’s made a mistake because of terrible decision making or lack of awareness. Bortles is, in a way, like Brett Favre. For both, you could almost always count on them to make one or two decisions in a game that leave you screaming at your T.V. “What were you thinking?!” Take Thursday, for instance. In the first practice of training camp Bortles made a poor decision, accompanied by a poorly thrown ball, to Julius Thomas who was covered like a blanket. The result was an interception, predictably. In total, Bortles threw two interceptions on Thursday, and while not throwing a pick on Friday, had some more poor throws. It’s training camp, so the turnovers themselves don’t mean too much on the surface. But the decision making behind the turnovers can be alarming, especially since the time for learning is over. People have expectations for now, not for a few years in the future. Bad decision making is a thing of the past, and if it’s not, it needs to be.
2. DB’s vs WR’s: This is one of the most exciting storylines at the start of camp, a sentiment echoed by both the organization and by the hundreds of fans that showed up to both Thursday and Friday’s practices. For good reason too. Jacksonville hasn’t seen this collection of talent on the offensive side of the ball since the days of Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, Fred Taylor, and Mark Brunell. There is an almost electric feeling when watching Ramsey and Amukamara line up across from Hurns and Robinson, or Gipson line up over Julius Thomas. There weren’t any pads involved, but the battles we’ve gotten a glimpse at thus far have been genuinely exciting to watch. Once it’s time to put the pads on, that will only grow. Without a doubt, the competition at the edges will be the most heated during the duration of training camp.
1. Jalen Ramsey: Without a doubt the most important thing to pay attention to over this next month. And it’s not because of his knee. Gus Bradly confirmed on Wednesday that Ramsey is 100 percent going forward (spoiler alert: thus far, that’s shown). Bradley also said Wednesday that Ramsey would see time both at corner and nickel, and that has been the case in the first couple of practices. Rather surprisingly, Ramsey matched up against Julius Thomas frequently and has covered him exceptionally well. Ramsey vs Robinson was fun to watch as well. Ramsey, for his part, was exceptionally comfortable being thrown into the rotation, as he iterated himself after Friday’s practice. Ramsey did everything at Florida State, and it looks like he’s going to do everything with the Jaguars too.