With the Colts facing the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Big Cat Country's Ryan Day about the Jaguars and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Ryan's responses follow.
1. I think Colts fans are really interested in how the Jaguars look for the future - with that in mind, what are your impressions of Blake Bortles so far this season?
He's the best hope at quarterback we've had in a while. I type that and realize it's not saying much, but when you've been beat over the head with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne for the past few years, even an inconsistent rookie like Blake Bortles -- who flashes incredible potential -- is an oasis in the middle of the desert.
I don't think I'm alone in having bigger expectations for him this year, especially after the preseason where he played lights out in nearly every snap he was given. He's cost us at least one game against the Miami Dolphins, and I wouldn't be surprised if it happens again this year, but when I look at the physical tools he possesses and his ability to shrug off bad throws and learn from them, I'm encouraged. I realize now he needs another offseason, especially considering he wasn't given as many reps in training camp and preseason as Chad Henne. Maybe it would have hindered his development. I don't know how increased practice and game experience could have, what with all the patience they have with him and the coaching staff.
This year, I want to see Bortles play less like a rookie as the season progresses. And, slowly, he's doing it. He's making more reads, and better reads, pre-snap. He's going through his progressions a little more quickly. What are my impressions of Blake Bortles so far this season? I'm hopeful for next season.
2. One of the more surprising developments for Jacksonville as the season has gone on seems to be the emergence of Denard Robinson at running back. How do Jaguars fans feel about him?
I'll admit -- I was hesitant to much faith in him after one or two big games. But as of right now, Denard has strung together four very good games.
But it's not just box scores. I think the biggest thing Jaguars fans were concerned about with Denard coming out of college and making the switch to running back was his ability to run the ball up the middle. Well, he's had 27% of his carries straight up the middle and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. I think there's still a little bit of hesitancy there, but we're encouraged.
3. Allen Robinson has had a great season - how much will the loss of the receiver hurt the Jaguars?
Huge. I don't think it's a stretch to say he was the most talented receiver on the Jaguars roster, especially on third downs. I expect a veteran like Cecil Shorts III to be able to fill that third down conversion role, but Robinson had already found a rhythm with Bortles through the first half of the season and I don't know if Shorts, or undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, will do as well as Robinson did.
4. Statistically, the Jaguars' defense is among the bottom of the league. Are there any encouraging signs from the defense going forward?
Quite a few, especially along the defensive line. Sen'Derrick Marks is undoubtedly having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, Tyson Alualu is showing he's a capable role player in our system, and free agent pickup Red Bryant is doing things no 323-pound lineman should be able to do. He's creating pressures, running down backs, and even dropped into coverage a few times.
Among the linebackers, rookie Telvin Smith has flashed. He still has a ways to go in learning the position, and needs another season to bulk up a little bit more, but his athleticism in the weakside linebacker position has given us speed and the ability to cover the pass where previously, well, we just didn't have it.
The secondary is also encouraging. Alan Ball was flying under the radar, but he was putting in a solid season. He had only allowed 51.2% of the receptions to be completed where he was targeted, with an average of just 31 yards given up per game before he went on injured reserve in October. However, the silver lining is that it forced young cornerback Demetrius McCray into action and he's looked like a starter. He kept Antonio Brown in check, he had success against Dez Bryant, and it'll be interesting to see how he does against the Colts receivers.
5. Do you think Gus Bradley is the right man for the job still, despite another dismal record?
I truly don't know. At the beginning of the season, if you'd have told me the Jaguars would be likely headed towards 1-10 at this time, I'd have slapped you. There's no way, I would have told you. But here we are... one game away from the first 1-10 record in franchise history.
I get that the rebuild that is happening in Jacksonville is a three-year plan, at minimum. I get that the coaches didn't have their quarterback until Year 2 of that rebuild. In the first year, with everything torn down and nearly the entire roster scrapped, I expected bad things. We got four wins, and that was 2-3 more than we probably should have gotten.
But to be headed towards 1-10 by Sunday afternoon, and no winnable games for the rest of the season except for maybe Tennessee at home? I don't know if Gus Bradley is the right guy, but I do know he's our coach for 2015, and that's the third year of this three-year plan, so I'll reserve judgment until then.
Bonus: What's your prediction for the game?
I think we lose, but I don't think it's the blowout we saw in September. I'll say 33-23, with the game being within one possession until the end of the fourth quarter.
Thanks again to Ryan Day of Big Cat Country for taking the time to answer these questions!