JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars begin the second phase of their season Sunday when they travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts. With a record of 4-5, the Jaguars sit in the cellar of the AFC South. Here are 10 things that I’ve learned about the Jaguars through the first nine weeks of the season.
The locker room culture has taken a major turn. Last year, when the team started to lose games, things went from bad to worse in the locker room. The 2019 version of the Jaguars acts like a team with something to prove and like a group that knows they haven’t accomplished anything. To be honest, the trade of Jalen Ramsey has brought out this aspect of the team’s personality as much as anything. Is it a coincidence? Maybe. But I’m not betting on it.
Gardner Minshew has been the story of the first half but may not see the field again until next year. If the Jaguars have their druthers, Nick Foles will take every snap for the rest of the year. If Foles can play up to the level as he has in recent Novembers, (and December and January) the Jaguars will be in for a treat. There is no guarantee that Foles can replicate the success he had with the Eagles, but the Jaguars are hoping he does. Tip of the cap to Minshew. He did everything and more that you would want out of a rookie backup quarterback. The Jaguars quarterback portfolio is one of the best in the league.
Leonard Fournette is a new man. Fournette has made some gentle allusions to his arrest for driving without a license in April as a significant turning point in his approach to his job. Fournette spent the summer in Wyoming getting in shape, and he has behaved like a leader and run like a veteran on the field. Through nine games, Fournette is on pace for 1,477 yards, which would be the third-best rushing season in Jaguars’ history, behind only Maurice Jones-Drew (1,606 yards in 2011) and Fred Taylor (1,572 in 2003).
The Rookie Class has been outstanding. In addition to Minshew, the Jaguars have gotten excellent production from first-round pick Josh Allen (a team-leading 7 sacks), second-round selection Jawaan Taylor (started every game at right tackle), third-round pick Quincy Williams (5 starts, 7 games played), fifth-rounder Ryquell Armstead (138 yards from scrimmage), even seventh-round pick Dontavius Russell has made a tackle. We’re still waiting to see more from third-round pick Josh Oliver. The tight end has played only two games since a preseason injury. But that’s a pretty impressive group for a franchise has had more misses than it's in the past.
The Jaguars are in need of more help at linebacker. Myles Jack has been the only reliable fixture in the linebacking corps. Injuries and inconsistent performance has plagued that position group this year. When Quincy Williams gets more experience, he looks like a player who can help the Jaguars, but he’s making a huge leap from Murray State to the NFL. Leon Jacobs is certainly a nice story, going from a former seventh-round pick to making the team and starting as a rookie, but he plays a position that is on the field around 30 percent of the time. Najee Good, Austin Calitro, and D.J. Alexander have been used at linebacker to middling effectiveness. This may be a position that deserves more attention this offseason, again.
New faces have stepped up to lead. With the departures of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church last year and the decision by Telvin Smith to not play this year, the Jaguars, especially on defense, were missing some leadership. But players like Myles Jack, D.J. Hayden, and safety Ronnie Harrison have stepped us as leaders this year. It’s a good sign and one of the reasons the locker room has been more cohesive in 2019.
Doug Marrone’s job security. What does Doug Marrone have to do to keep his job? The playoff would almost certainly get the job done, but that’s not the only way Marrone returns. If he can guide the Jaguars to an 8-8 record, considering all of the obstacles the has had to overcome, should be enough. But a lot of the decision figures to be on style-points. In other words, how do the Jaguars look, act and feel over the final seven games? That will give us a good indication of where Marrone’s future will be spent.
DJ Chark emerging. If there is one position group that needed a major emergence this season, it was the wide receivers. And Chark has stepped up more than anyone could have imagined. The former second-round pick was an afterthought as a rookie, but in his second season in the NFL, Chark has exploded for 43 receptions for 692 yards and six touchdowns through nine games. He’s on pace for the first 1,000-yard season since Allen Robinson in 2015.
London Looming. It’s the question looming over the franchise. Will the Jaguars play two regular season home games in London next season. If so, it will dramatically change the conversation around the fan base. There have already been rumblings. We’ll discuss this more in the future, but it’s the biggest off-season story to watch, even bigger than a potential quarterback battle.
Chances for the playoffs? The Jaguars have a shot at the postseason. What will it take? For starters, they must not lose more than one more game the rest of the year. I think it will take at least 10-6 to make it in. The Jaguars hold the 10th best record in the AFC. Six teams will make the playoffs, including the four division winners. Let’s assume for the moment that the Patriots, Ravens, Texans, and Chiefs will win their divisions. The Bills, Steelers, Raiders, Colts, and Titans are ahead of the Jaguars. Conveniently, the Jaguars will play four games against those five teams in the final seven weeks of the season. In other words, the Jaguars can play a big role in determining their playoff chances.