The 10 biggest questions facing the Jaguars as training camp approaches

The Jaguars begin training camp in just over a month. We look at 10 of the biggest question the team faces entering camp. (The Associated Press, The Associated Press)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars won’t be back on the field together until they report for the start of training camp on July 24. After consecutive seasons that ended with the Jaguars holding the first overall pick in the draft, there are hopes for better days ahead. But there are still many questions facing the team. Here are the 10 biggest questions facing the Jaguars leading up to training camp

Will Trevor Lawrence take a big step forward?

During his rookie season, Lawrence not only had to learn about the life of an NFL quarterback during his on-the-job training, he had to do so despite a head coach with no history in or business coaching in the NFL. Lawrence’s 12-touchdown, 17-interception season wasn’t what most envisioned when the Jaguars drafted him with the first pick of the 2021 draft. So, what should we expect in year two?

Lawrence has a more experienced and successful NFL coach in Doug Pederson. He has better weapons at his disposal and an offensive line that added a Pro Bowl caliber player in right guard Brandon Scherff. He also has a year under his belt. Lawrence should do more than just flip the touchdowns-to-interceptions numbers this year, but we’ll know a lot more about his career trajectory in six months.

Will the Jaguars have a 1,000-yard receiver?

In the history of the Jaguars, there have been 16 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Thirteen of them have been by either Jimmy Smith or Keenan McCardell. The only other players to top the plateau are Allen Robinson (1,400 yards in 2015), Allen Hurns (1,031 yards also in 2015) and DJ Chark (1,008 in 2019).

Does someone join that list this season? Marvin Jones did what he always does; catches about 70 passes for around 800 yards and a handful of touchdowns (Jones went 73-832-4). Is there a reason to think with added weapons that Jones will do more? Probably not.

So, what about the new faces? Christian Kirk has never had a 1,000-yard season, but he was close last year when he totaled 982 yards for the Arizona Cardinals. He was not the primary pass catcher on the team. He likely will be this season for the Jaguars. Zay Jones has a reputation for catching the ball, but he’s never had a 700-yard season, so a jump to 1,000 seems a bit much. And what about tight end Evan Engram? Again, his best season came as a rookie when Eli Manning was throwing him the ball. He finished with 722 receiving yards. It would be more surprising if the Jaguars had a 1,000-yard receiver than not.

Will Laviska Shenault make the team?

Shenault had a bad case of the drops last year. He also wasn’t always put in a position to utilize his unique blend of skills. With the additions of Kirk and Zay Jones, with Marvin Jones a solid pro to be counted on, and Laquon Treadwell seeming to have recaptured something in the last half of the season, there is no guarantee that Shenault makes the squad. He will certainly be given the opportunity to do so.

Offensive coordinator Press Taylor appears to like the flexibility that players like Shenault, Kirk and Travis Etienne can bring to the offense, but that doesn’t make Shenault a lock for the roster. I suspect that Shenault will make the team with a specific role in mind, but he has to show that he has put the drops behind him.

Who starts on the offensive line?

It’s clear that Cam Robinson is going to start at left tackle and Brandon Scherff will be the right guard. Other than that, there are three positions up for grabs once camp begins. At left guard, Ben Bartch has the most experience at the position in a Jaguars uniform. He filled in for Andrew Norwell last year, starting a total of 11 games on the offensive line. The former college tight end-turned tackle-turned guard will have competition from third-round pick Luke Fortner and/or veteran Tyler Shatley.

Shatley and Fortner figure to compete for the starting center job, replacing the retired Brandon Linder. So two of the three will be starters and the other will be a backup. If Bartch is beaten out, he doesn’t have the same experience at center, so there could be some musical chairs on the interior in case of injury.

Then, there is the right tackle position.

Jawaan Taylor did not play well in 2021. This season figures to be his last to prove himself. The former second-round pick played well as a rookie (for a rookie), but hasn’t taken a step forward the past two seasons. Another former second-round pick, Walker Little, will be given ample opportunity to win the job. As with the interior, if Little is the backup, he can play both left and right, but if Little wins the starting position, Taylor is limited to right tackle (or perhaps a move to guard). It’s a position battle worth watching during the preseason.

What impact will the defensive draft picks have?

The Jaguars used five of their seven draft choices on defense. That includes a pair of first-round picks. Travon Walker, the first overall selection, is penciled in at outside linebacker, opposite Josh Allen. While Devin Lloyd is set to play inside linebacker, next to free agent addition Foye Oluokun.

But they aren’t the only rookies on that side of the ball. Chad Muma, another linebacker, seemed to be a luxury pick, but a good value in the third round. Two defensive backs were taken in the late rounds, Ouachita Baptist corner Gregory Junior and Arkansas corner Montaric Brown. They’ll be in the mix to provide depth to a defensive backfield with a lot of young players.

Can James Robinson look like the pre-injury James Robinson?

Robinson injured his Achilles in December, so he’s hoping to follow the lead of Los Angeles Rams’ running back Cam Akers who needed just over six months to return to the field after a similar injury. If Robinson can return during the preseason and be ready for the start of the regular season, it could provide a big boost.

In his past, Doug Pederson has used running backs in multiple ways, and Robinson has been best as a runner in a zone blocking offense. Give him the choice to find his hole, and then go. We’ll see if he has the same opportunities under Pederson as he did in his rookie year under Doug Marrone when Robinson topped the 1,000-yard mark.

Can the Jaguars contend this year?

Ultimately, this is the question that every team asks this time of year. I think contending is a little too strong of a hope for the Jaguars, if by that we mean contending for the playoffs. However, contending for respectability is certainly within grasp. With a proven, veteran head coach and a quarterback ready to take a step forward, the Jaguars could be a team that isn’t eliminated from playoff contention as the games kick off after Thanksgiving. That’s been a rare state for this franchise over the past 14 years.

Will Travis Etienne be the kind of playmaker he was in college?

Before his injury in the preseason last year, Etienne showed rare quickness and speed with the ball in his hands. It remains to be seen if he can get back to that point a year later, but if he can, and if he can hold up to the pounding of an NFL season, it will be like getting an extra first-round draft pick in 2022.

His explosiveness and ability to impact the game as a runner and a pass catcher have rarely been seen in Jacksonville. There are a lot of “ifs.” But if the answers to those “ifs” are positive, the Jaguars could see a huge improvement on offense. Last year, the Jaguars had explosive plays on only 8% of their offensive snaps. The worst in the league was 7%. That has to change.

Can Josh Allen build on last season’s sack numbers?

There were moments last year when Josh Allen looked like he was never going to impact a game again. Then there were times where he looked like an All-Pro (see, Josh Allen dominating Josh Allen in the Jaguars’ win over Buffalo). It’s clearly in him. This year, Allen has taken on another role: mentor to Travon Walker. Just as Calais Campbell took a rookie Allen under his wing, Allen is doing the same for Walker.

Some of the additions on defense should help take some pressure off Allen, but the other aspect that could help Allen’s production is the improvement on offense. If the Jaguars can get a lead from time to time, Allen’s (and Walker’s) chances to get to the quarterback go way up. Allen ended the season with 7.5 sacks. Double digits should be in reach for the first time since his rookie season.

Will the first-year coordinators experience growing pains?

Despite the experience that Doug Pederson brings to the table, his two coordinators are in their roles for the first time. Offensive coordinator Press Taylor had some OC-like responsibilities last year in Indianapolis when he was the senior offensive assistant on a staff with an offensive coordinator. We’ll see how Taylor does working under a former quarterback and offensive coordinator as he did in Indianapolis. Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell has been a linebackers coach for more than a decade. Now, he steps into a new role. How will they work out? Big questions to be answered.