Training camp notebook: Can offense and defense take second-year leap under Doug Pederson?

The Jaguars returned to Miller Electric Center on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. (Kevin Nguyen, KEVIN NGUYEN)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Counting down to game day! Well, preseason game day but a gameday nonetheless. The Jaguars are officially in game week mode.

They play the Cowboys on Saturday in Dallas. The practices haven’t shifted to game prep just yet, but you can start to get the feeling that some of the guys are itching to get on the field. Sunday was an up-tempo type of day as the team got on the field in full pads.

With 10 camp practices under their belt, I’m ready to plant my flag on the Jaguars offense being in the top five this season. Andre Cisco summed it up perfectly when he said, “We got weapons everywhere.”

Trevor Lawrence has been passing out dimes left and right with some absolutely beautiful placements. Then you add in the new weapon for the offense in Calvin Ridley, who made the catch of camp just a great grab on Sunday. Lawrence is the conductor of the orchestra, and every note has been perfect.

“I know what I want. I know what I like,” said Lawrence.

This team is destined to be among the premier attacks in the NFL. I have no doubt of that fact.

The only thing that could derail them is the offensive line. There are some issues. We know Cam Robinson will miss the first four games of the year with a PED suspension, but Walker Little has been fantastic. So, no problems there. But what about right tackle? Anton Harrison has well looked like a rookie.

Harrison has struggled there is no way around it. Maybe the shoulder injury has something to do with it but if he continues to play like that, when Week 5 rolls around, the Jaguars may be looking to slide Little to right tackle with Robinson taking over on the left side. In a vacuum, that isn’t a big deal. But when you look at the fact the Jaguars have been working Little at left guard because they wanted to allow him to possibly slide inside and upgrade that position, it is not great. There are more questions upfront than there are answers right now. When you have a franchise quarterback who should be in the MVP conversation if everything goes well, having questions along the O-line is less than ideal.

The Jaguars defense has their eyes set on being a top unit in the NFL as well.

Last season, the Jaguars defense finished sixth in takeaways. Andre Cisco said that if he would have caught some of the interceptions he dropped last year they would have been higher on that list. But one thing is clear: “We have a standard now,” said Cisco.

The defense has moved into its second year under coach Mike Caldwell. With many of the same pieces back, the same second-year jump many expect for the offense can be said for the defense. Last year in Week 1 against Washington, there were communication issues in the secondary. Those sorts of issues should be things of the past.

Cisco, going into his second year as a starter for the Jaguars, made his mark last season. He finished the year with three interceptions but dropped a few easy ones along the way that would have cemented his name among the top safeties in the league. Cisco has been a takeaway machine since his days roaming the secondary for Syracuse but said that his individual numbers come second to team success.

“I have numbers in my mind, but it is really about the defense,” he said.

Even with the continuity in the secondary, there are a few new faces in rookie safeties in Erik Hallett and Antonio Johnson. Cisco said, “I’m very very impressed.”

Both young guys have done a good job catching the attention of the coaching staff and playing their games out on the field.

📓 Notebook 📓

  • Willie Taylor left practice during 1 on 1′s hopping over the trainer.
  • Christian Braswell spent most of the day running off to the side with the trainers.
  • With Tyson Campbell sidelined, Chris Claybrooks replaced him with the first-team defense.
  • Trevor Lawrence turned down being on the second season of the “Quarterback” on Netflix.
  • Brenton Strange beat Travon Walker down the field for a touchdown catch. Press Taylor said they liked what they have seen from the rookie as he learns to play some of the different tight end spots in the offense. (Taylor mentioned both in-line and full back roles).
  • Cooper Hodges had another great day. He is looking more and more like a lock to make the team. Hodges hypes up the crowd before each practice and approves of his cartwheel being called the “Tugboat tumble.”
  • Since I have been getting questions about defensive alignment, so far through camp in base situations they are still a 3-4. But in nickel, just like late last season, the defense shifts to a 4-3 with Walker, Foley Fatukasi, Roy Robertson-Harris and Josh Allen.
  • What a difference a year can make. Last training camp, I was honestly concerned about Evan Engram catching passes. This year, he has been head and shoulders better. Engram has caught almost everything that has come his way.
  • Up and down sort of day for Walker. He was beaten in coverage, but the ups and downs stretched into his time with his hand on the ground. The ups were two sacks during team drills. Walker he beat Anton Harrison and Walker Little (at guard). The downs were during 1 on 1′s. Some of the last reps looked like replays from last season where if Walker’s bull rush didn’t work, he was lost. My comp at this point for Walker is a slightly more athletic Cam Jordan. I happened to see Jordan as a rookie in training camp. The similarities run deep. Jordan started his career as a stout run defender. In his rookie year, Jordan only had one sack. In Year 2, that number jumped up to right sacks. If Walker can have a career similar arc to Jordan that would be a home run for the Jaguars.

About the Author:

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.