JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Training camp is here. For the Jaguars, the goal is simple: Return to the playoffs after a dismal 2018 season. The roster has had significant turnover since the Jaguars’ 2017 AFC championship game appearance. There are at least five starting positions that are up for grabs heading into camp. Here are the position battles we will be following:
Departed: Jeremy Parnell (currently a free agent)
Candidates to start: Jawaan Taylor, Will Richardson, Cedric Ogbuehi, Josh Wells
In a best-case scenario, the Jaguars will have drafted their right tackle of the future when Taylor fell into their lap in the second round. If he lives up to the expectations, you can plug in the former Gator on the right side for the next decade. However, there is no guarantee that rookies can step in as Day One starters in the NFL. Will Richardson didn’t show much last year as a rookie, never seeing the field. Ogbuehi has started 25 games in the NFL at tackle, all in two years with the Bengals in 2016 and 2017. He’s the safety net. Wells can play right tackle, but is more valuable as a swing tackle, particularly with Cam Robinson coming off an ACL injury.
Cole’s Prediction: Taylor will start on opening day.
Departed: Donte Moncrief (signed with Pittsburgh Steelers)
Candidates to start: Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, DJ Chark, Terelle Pryor, Marqise Lee (once healthy)
I would be surprised if anyone else became an option to start. Clearly, Dede Westbrook showed last season that he needs to be a big part of the offense. Chris Conley impressed during the offseason, but he will have to take a step up from his previous four seasons when he scored a total of six touchdowns for Kansas City. Cole and Chark need to prove they belong in the NFL. Cole had a bad case of the drops last season while Chark rarely flashed as a rookie. Both have the tools to be regular contributors—Chark has the speed to be a difference maker—but this is a big season for both. Pryor is the most intriguing prospect. He is the only Jaguars wide receiver with a 1,000 yard season in the NFL. He may have to show he can also help on special teams to make the team. Lee isn’t expected to see the field in the preseason.
Cole’s Prediction: Westbrook and Conley will be the starters on opening day. Cole, Chark and Pryor will be the other three until Lee is healthy, then, there could be a move made.
Departed: Telvin Smith (taking a year off)
Candidates to start: Leon Jacobs, Lerentee McCray, DJ Alexander, Najee Goode, Quincy Williams
In the course of just a couple of years, this position has gone from one of the strongest in the league to one with great questions. Myles Jack and Telvin Smith used to play the outside linebacker spots. Then Jack was moved inside and Smith took a leave of absence. It’s not as vital to have three linebackers on the field at the same time—the nickel defense is used more than the base defense in the modern NFL—but the Jaguars need to fill Smith’s role especially. Jacobs plays the strong-side linebacker role and if he is the starter, he’ll see the field on about a third of the snaps or less. But the weakside linebacker, Smith’s position, must be filled with a player the Jaguars trust. McCray is mostly a strongside linebacker/defensive end, so don’t expect him to fill the role. Alexander and Goode were brought in from Philadelphia and Indianapolis as free agents, but the Jaguars would like to have Williams show that he can hold down the position. Coming from a small school, the third-round pick has a big step to make.
Cole’s Prediction: I expect Alexander to start on opening day, but we could see Williams gain more playing time as the year goes on.
Departed: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (currently a free agent)
Candidates to start: Geoff Swaim, Josh Oliver, Ben Koyack, James O’Shaughnessy
This is a position that has been overhauled over the past two seasons. No Marcedes Lewis, no Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Expect to see more two tight end sets with the Jaguars this season. There are no fullbacks on the roster and new offensive coordinator John DeFillipo likes an inline tight end and a move tight end. The Jaguars signed Geoff Swaim from the Cowboys in free agency and brought back Ben Koyack. They also spent a third-round pick on Josh Oliver. James O’Shaughnessy showed some flashes last year, but doesn’t look like a starter.
Cole’s Prediction: I’m expecting Swaim inline and Oliver as the move guy.
Departed: Tashaun Gipson (signed with the Houston Texans)
Candidates to start: Jarrod Wilson, Cody Davis
This isn’t really as much of a competition for the starting spot as it is a chance for Jerrod Wilson to prove that he isn’t a liability. While Davis is best known as a special teams player, he may be called upon if Wilson falters. There is also a chance that the Jaguars could move Ronnie Harrison from strong safety to free safety in a pinch, which would another player into the role of strong safety. Perhaps CJ Reavis. It’s a fairly thin position if you are looking for experience.
Cole’s Prediction: They’ll go with Wilson, but they should keep an eye on the waiver wire for more depth at the position.