JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville's rebuilding project is entering its key phase.
Under new general manager Dave Caldwell and first-year coach Gus Bradley, the Jaguars already purged the roster and signed a few stop-gap free agents.
Now comes the really important part: the NFL draft.
Caldwell and Bradley want to build through the three-day draft, which begins Thursday night. It's the new regime's first real chance to put its stamp on the small-market franchise.
Jacksonville has seven picks, beginning with the second overall selection. With holes on both sides of the ball, the Jaguars could go in just about any direction at No. 2.
Trading down, though, seems to be a long shot.
"I'd be surprised if we don't draft second," Caldwell said Monday.
Offensive tackle, defensive line/outside linebacker and cornerback are the team's most pressing needs. Quarterback and safety are positions expected to be addressed, too.
The Jaguars have their top pick narrowed down to two guys - presumably whichever player Kansas City doesn't take - but Caldwell and Bradley didn't offer any clues as to who it will be.
Since the Jaguars have had one of the league's most inept pass rushes over the last five years, averaging 24 sacks a season since 2007, many believe Oregon's Dion Jordan or BYU's Ziggy Ansah could be capable cornerstones. Both would play the ultra-athletic "Leo" position in Bradley's revamped defense.
But Jordan is coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and Ansah has stamina concerns after playing just one full season as a starter.
While Caldwell and Bradley have no pressure to win right away - the Jaguars are in the first of what is considered a three-year rebuild - some wonder whether they would want to take any risks with the most significant decision of their tenure.
Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, both offensive tackles, seem like safer selections.
"It makes our run game better, it makes our pass game better, it makes our defense better," Caldwell said. "If you can bolster our offensive line and give our quarterback the opportunity to have 3 1/2 seconds versus 2.4 seconds, that makes our team better, makes everybody around him better."
The Jaguars already have a solidified starter at left tackle with Eugene Monroe, but Bradley and Caldwell admittedly talked about scenarios in which they draft Joeckel or Fisher and move the rookie to the right side.
"There's some conversation of doing that," Bradley said. "It'd be a good situation up front. You'd like to think if he's that high of a draft pick and that talented, they should be able to flip over to right tackle."
Caldwell and Bradley still plan to add a quarterback to the mix, but they stopped short of guaranteeing they would draft one. Former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are competing for the starting job, and a newcomer could have an equal shot at being under center this fall.
The Jaguars explored acquiring quarterback Matt Flynn, but opted not to trade for the former Seattle backup. Flynn ended up in Oakland.
Jacksonville sent several coaches and front office executives to watch quarterback Geno Smith's pro day at West Virginia, but that may have been a smoke screen to entice trade options. No one bit, leaving the Jaguars with the No. 2 pick.
Jacksonville could see more interest in its second-round selection.
"The 33rd pick will be a valuable pick," Caldwell said. "I think what happens is every team kind of sees how the first round unfolds and then you come into the second round and everybody has their game plan to see who's still available. There's always one or two players that are going to be available and teams say, 'Wow, I didn't think he'd fall through the first round.' Hopefully that's the same this year."
Regardless of what happens this week, the Jaguars realize this team is not a one-year fix.
Following the worst season in franchise history, owner Shad Khan fired general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey. Caldwell and Bradley cleaned house, parting ways with about two dozen veterans and several starters.
They avoided signing any high-priced free agents, instead opting to build slowly over the next three drafts.
The plan requires patience, but more importantly, the necessity to hit on draft picks - something Smith failed to do often enough in his four seasons.
It begins Thursday, but where?
"Any way you can affect the quarterback or protect the quarterback, that's big in this league," Bradley said. "Just the teams that I've been on, both in Tampa and Seattle, we tried to build through the offensive and defensive line. My experience is that."
Jaguars' first-round draft picks
|1997||21||Renaldo Wynn||DT||Notre Dame|
|2000||29||R. Jay Soward||WR||USC|
|2012||5||Justin Blackmon||WR||Oklahoma State|
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