This weekend the Colts travel to Jacksonville to open the season against the Jaguars. They’ve faced their divisional foe and fared poorly over the past several seasons when on the road, and will be looking for a better start to their 2020 than in previous seasons.
In order to get a handle on what to expect from the Jaguars, I talked with Ryan O’Bleness from Big Cat Country to get an inside look at what the Colts will be up against.
Are there any young standouts who have made a mark in camp for the Jags this offseason
If the Jaguars are one thing, it’s definitely ”young.” The team has 16 rookies — 12 draft picks and four undrafted free agents — currently on the 53-man roster. The name to watch is James Robinson, an undrafted free agent running back out of Illinois State. With Jacksonville somewhat surprisingly deciding to move on from Leonard Fournette, the team named Robinson as its No. 1 tailback on this week’s unofficial depth chart. With Ryquell Armstead on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and Devine Ozigbo recently placed on short-term IR, Robinson likely gets the early down carries, with Chris Thompson coming in on third downs and passing situations.
The Jaguars also just signed Dare Ogunbowale from Tampa Bay, but given the quick turnaround time I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of him this week. Other rookies to watch include wide receivers Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson. I am not sure how much playing time either will get in the first game, but both have flashed their potential throughout training camp and could help Jacksonville with D.J. Chark commanding a lot of attention on the outside.
Defensively, all eyes will be on cornerback CJ Henderson. He was selected ninth overall by Jacksonville and will start immediately as an outside cornerback. K’Lavon Chaisson, who was also taken in the first round by the Jaguars, will likely play more of a rotational role as a defensive end, but I am interested to see how he fares as well.”
How has Gardner Minshew looked so far this offseason, and do you anticipate a sophomore leap for the young passer with the illustrious mustache?
I want Minshew to be “the guy” at quarterback so badly, but there are plenty of question marks. He made a lot of electrifying plays throughout his rookie season, and excelled as a deep ball passer, but also had an issue with fumbles and consistency escaped him from time-to-time. He spent the offseason bulking up and honing his craft, working with performance coach and training guru Anthony Tumbarello.
The majority of reports out of training camp are that Minshew has looked solid, but not spectacular. He’s made impressive throws, but also made his fair share of mistakes — as I’m sure is common with most young NFL quarterbacks — but the feeling is generally positive. What he needs to do to improve is hold onto the football better, become more reliable on short and intermediate throws and prove he can play in the pocket — Minshew was at his best last year when he could scramble around and make plays on his own, which is exciting, but his pocket presence must improve to take the next step. For a more optimistic take on Minshew’s 2020 prospects, I wrote this piece as training camp was beginning.
GM David Caldwell has been in his role since 2013 with the Jaguars, and Doug Marrone has been the head coach since he took over as interim in 2016. How do you feel about the job they’ve done, and do you anticipate they’ll still be around in 2021?
Well, it hasn’t been great, but we’ll always have 2017, I guess. The Jaguars have gone a miserable 36-76 in Dave Caldwell’s tenure as general manager, and Doug Marrone’s record (including interim games) is 22-28, and he is coming off of back-to-back double-digit loss seasons. The caveat here is that Tom Coughlin was also around from 2017 through nearly the end of the 2019 season and he had final say so over roster and personnel decisions.
I like Marrone personally, but both he and Caldwell could find themselves on the hot seat if another losing record happens in 2020. What’s interesting, though, is that the Jaguars are clearly rebuilding. The team either traded away or cut several of its veteran starters from the past couple of seasons. What’s left is an extremely young and inexperienced roster that will undoubtedly have growing pains and struggle to get to five or six wins. Both Caldwell and Marrone claim they don’t have the luxury of another rebuild because they’ll be out of jobs — but it is surprising this is the roster they’re banking their job security on. So, if owner Shad Khan truly isn’t looking at this as a rebuild, then I expect those two to be out in 2021. If this is yet another rebuild in Duval, as it appears to be, they’ll be back and the cycle continues.
Many have said that it looks as though the Jaguars are taking a Miami-like path in order to “Tank for Trevor.” Do you think that is the case, and if so, how do you feel about it?
I hinted toward this above, but there seems to be different lines of thinking from the team and the fans. The optics from the team certainly aren’t matching up with a team trying to win as many games as possible. I don’t think players or coaches purposefully tank — they’re too competitive for that and know they can be replaced at any time. Front offices may choose to tank and rebuild, but Caldwell was adamant that is not the case, recently saying the following:
“We can’t afford a rebuilding year and that’s not our mindset. Our mindset is to put the best team out there to play, to compete, and to win. We feel like these guys, the guys in this locker room, nobody has seen them play together. Nobody has seen them play a game so, like I said, we’re going to know where we measure up.”
Marrone has shared similar sentiments. But if this team is not tanking, what is it doing? This roster, while talented, is not ready to be a competitive NFL team. I don’t know that it is first overall pick in the 2021 Draft bad, but Jacksonville is probably looking at a top-five pick. There is just too much youth and inexperience, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And, like I said, I want Minshew to be the guy, so I am not in the “Tank for Trevor” camp. But I worry that there isn’t enough talent around Minshew for him to be successful. It will be interesting to watch how everything plays out. Maybe Jaguars fans will be pleasantly surprised, but we’re much more used to disappointment.
What are your expectations for the Jaguars 2020 season?
To be honest, pretty low based on a lot of the factors I’ve mentioned already. I think this team has a three or four-win floor, and a seven or eight-win ceiling. My guess for final record is probably along the lines of 4-12 or 5-11. There is an extra playoff spot this season, but I don’t think the Jaguars will be taking it. I am expecting a lot of losses, but I want to see competitive games, improvement from week-to-week and promising signs for the future.
Who wins this week one matchup? What is your score prediction?
I think the Colts win, but it will be closer than you may think. Indianapolis often seems to struggle in Jacksonville, having not won there since 2014. However, the Colts now have Phillip Rivers — who has routinely shredded the Jaguars throughout his career — and just have a much better roster overall. Also, given the lack of a normal offseason without OTAs, rookie minicamps, etc. and no preseason game, Indianapolis is just much better equipped to handle this odd situation. The Jaguars will fight, but I say the Colts win by a final score of 24-17.
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find him on twitter @ryanobleness and find more info on the Jaguars over at Big Cat Country.