JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Looking over the 75 players who were vying for the 56 final roster spots on the 2016 Jaguars, Head Coach Gus Bradley declared this team “bigger, faster and stronger,” than teams he’s’ coached in Jacksonville in the past.
“It’s an exciting time,” Bradley continued, talking about the cutting process. “We have some really good football players we’re going forward with and that’s exciting.
While agreeing with Bradley that it was “exciting,” General Manager Dave Caldwell had a slightly different take.
“Exciting because in the past few years we’ve been looking at guys being cut from other teams,” he said with a laugh. “This year, we’ve got our guys right here.
Even making the final 53 on Saturday didn’t mean you were around for game one. Joe Banyard was cut and Josh Wells put on IR to make room for other free agents who could help right now.
“Yeah we had some very tough decisions. Very tough decisions,” Bradley said on Monday. “To us that is a good thing. When you are getting down to those last four or five cuts and you have multiple discussions about what role everyone can play. I think from top to bottom without a doubt this is the best team we have had, personnel wise.”
It’s not always the starting 22 that have to be adjusted. The Jaguars will have 14 new players on the roster this year, all will be expected to contribute on special teams (except QB Brandon Allen. Getting what you’re looking for on special teams means sometimes it comes down to just what a guy ‘looks’ like.
“That is hard. It is hard,” Bradley said, explaining part of the process. “I think that you are looking at what roles people fill and what we are looking for at certain positions. At times we need length. When you lose a guy like Ryan Davis we had Clay Harbor and that size and length is what we were looking at. I think sometimes it is body type what you are looking for and it might not mean that they can go elsewhere and be a good special teams player.”
When it comes to deciding between two players, it can be a ruthless process. Coaches have to be overly-analytical to find the smallest thing that will make the difference between being on the squad or looking for a job. Josh Johnson is a good example of how easily it is to be out of the league and how hard it is to make your way back in. Johnson was playing in the CFL when the Jaguars brought him in for a workout. His performance on special teams and his versatility as a defensive back helped him earn a spot on the 2016 Jaguars.
“Josh Johnson is a guy that’s obviously production has earned him to be on this team,’ Caldwell explained. “He's around the ball, he makes plays on the ball when given the opportunity. Not only that but he’s been a sure tackler. He’s been a good blitzer, he can play both nickel inside for us and outside, and on special teams, he is an emergency returner for us. So it was a difficult decision. Nick (Marshall) is more of just an outside corner for us and Josh brings a little bit more versatility for us.”
So it’s a little of this and a little of that that can help you get into the league. And when it comes to the competitive part of it, you have to shine or generally you’re gone. Sometimes it’s just that other guys played really well. That’s the case for the Jaguars in deciding between Ryan Davis and Chris Smith.
“It was some of the guys like Chris Smith playing really well, Dan Skuta using him and our surplus of guys that’s interior rushers; Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Odrick all can play inside,” Caldwell said after the cuts were made. “Then you got three LEOs there and then you got some flexibility with Hayes Pullard and Myles Jack in terms of MIKE, WILL and OTTO. And then it came down to special teams too and then who was going to be up so that was really the thing that came down to was special teams and not really having a great fit for him anymore.”