JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It has been a wild offseason filled with virtual meetings and very little actual football.
Finally getting out on the field, rookie first-round picks CJ Henderson and K’Lavon Chaisson are ready to roll and help usher in a new era for the Jaguars. They are being counted on to significantly bolster a defense that was all over the place last year and provide a foundation for a franchise that is in desperate need of an image makeover following a turbulent 2019.
Jacksonville was plagued with turmoil last year and well into the offseason. There was former cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s very public griping and eventual trade to the Rams.
There was Yannick Ngakoue’s social media ranting and eventual holdout. There was Tom Coughlin’s taskmaster ways that led to his eventual firing. Former cornerback AJ Bouye said in an interview this summer that he’d never seen anything like what went on in Jacksonville’s locker room.
An infusion of young players, headlined by Henderson and Chaisson, hope to be at the forefront of a change and new era in Jaguars football history.
“First and foremost, I am excited to be here. The last time I’ve been on a football field was Jan. 13, so it’s been a long time, so being here is a blessing,” Chaisson said. “I am excited to be doing everything we have going on. My main thing right now is just being in shape and taking care of my body. Obviously, we don’t have preseason games this year. Just really taking care of my body for the extended training camp that we have this year and for the long season.
Currently, that actual football remains somewhat in a very odd spot with layers upon layers of safety precautions due to COVID-19.
Henderson, drafted ninth overall out of Florida and widely considered the second-best corner in the draft behind Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah (he went third to the Lions), said that the adjustments in a COVID-19 world have been challenging for all players.
“It’s been crazy. We are learning how to adapt and live in these strange ways. I don’t know, it’s just different for everyone, so we are just trying to find a way since it’s new for all of the guys here.”
Rookies reported last week and Jacksonville has an abundance of them in camp. Along with its 12 draft picks, the Jaguars have 18 undrafted rookie free agents on their roster.
Henderson and Chaisson are the two biggest of those newcomers and could open as Week 1 starters for a team that is undergoing both a youth and roster overhaul. Jacksonville has 42 players on its roster who are 23 years old or younger.
“I was prepared a lot for this,” Henderson said. “It’s pretty much the same scheme, it’s just a little bit faster and a little more plays but I think they have the same mindset, the same progressive mindset and they like the players on the same defense so it’s not too difficult for me to adapt to.”
Chaisson could find himself in a similar spot as second-year player Josh Allen was in last year. Allen only started four games as a rookie but played in all 16 and made the Pro Bowl following a 10.5 sack season. Chaisson could see a significant playing time increase if Yannick Ngakoue continues to hold out or is eventually traded.
Allen, a linebacker at Kentucky, moved to end with the Jaguars in their 4-3 defense. Chaisson has the potential to do the same. He could start at outside linebacker or move down and fill Ngakoue’s open position.
“We have been talking a lot. We actually worked out a few times as well with each other,” Chaisson said of Allen. “I kind of look at him as the role model, someone to follow, after all of the success he had.
“I can say that people have bragged about his character and the way he’s displayed around the facilities as someone that I want to be looked at like that as well. Like I said, I look at him like a big brother and he’s kind of helped me welcome my way into the league and try to be a pro as best as I can.”