Super expectations for Jaguars as most anticipated season in years begins

From left to right, Trevor Lawrence, Travon Walker, Calvin Ridley and coach Doug Pederson. (Associated Press, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville opens its season Sunday at Indianapolis, the first step in the most anticipated season in years. The Jaguars had a blistering second half of the season, won the AFC South and reached the divisional playoffs. What do they do for an encore?

The Jaguars have won back-to-back divisions titles just once, all the way back in 1998-99 when they played in the AFC Central. But they are positioned for success not only this season, but for the foreseeable future as well.

The reasons for the booming expectations are plentiful.

Doug Pederson won a Super Bowl in his second year in Philadelphia. Trevor Lawrence was sensational in the second half of the season, and showcased the skills that made him one of the most elite quarterback prospects ever coming out of college.

The team added Calvin Ridley in a trade, giving it a true No. 1 receiver for the first time since Allen Robinson in 2015. Travis Etienne was a home run-type of running back, and now has a complement to his style in the form of rookie Tank Bigsby.

If its defense can take a big step and get increased production out of 2022 first-round picks Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd, the Jaguars could be positioned for their first Super Bowl trip. For Pederson and the Jaguars, Week 1 is where it all starts.

“You still get those nervous feelings; you get those butterflies just like you did as a player,” Pederson said. “You just go into it with confidence, but you feel the emotion. We’re on the road, it’s going to be a great crowd there. Excited for our team, it’s a new team and a new year. Everybody is kicking off the season this weekend and you still feel all that emotion.”

Those bullish expectations aren’t without their own sets of questions though.

Offensive line questions

The offensive line wasn’t exactly the league’s best last year, and it lost starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor in free agency. Pro Football Focus ranks the Jaguars a having the 26th-best offensive line in the NFL, down seven spots from a year ago. Jacksonville was the worst-graded run-block team in the league.

Jacksonville drafted Anton Harrison in the first round and has him in Taylor’s right tackle position. Cam Robinson, the team’s best offensive lineman, is out for the first four games of the season due to a performance-enhancing drugs suspension. That means Walker Little will continue to hold down the left tackle position until Robinson can return. A unit that was well below average last year, on paper, is even worse last year.

Will pass rush improve?

The pass rush is another soft spot. Josh Allen ranked fourth in the NFL in total pressures, coming in behind Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Haason Reddick. Allen had a career-high 77 quarterback pressures but managed just seven sacks. Can he finish those plays this year? There’s also increased expectations on Walker, the No. 1 overall pick last year.

He had a disappointing 3.5 sacks, but both Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke said they were pleased with Walker’s all-around performance as a rookie learning a new position. If — and it’s a big if — Allen and Walker produce like the regime expects them to, that pass rush won’t be as big a deal as the numbers suggest.

Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen (41) celebrates after sacking Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

For the Jaguars, self-inflicted issues and starting quickly are the biggest things to focus on. Jacksonville’s No. 1 offense had two turnovers in five drives in the preseason, something that can’t carry over into the regular season.

“Our biggest thing is that we can’t beat ourselves. I think every head coach probably says the same thing, just don’t create a mess for yourself. The critical errors, turnovers, things like that. You just got to stay focused on you and what you’re doing,” Pederson said. “I think our team has heard that enough now that they’re kind of speaking that same language in the locker room. Just understanding that it’s a long season, it’s a one-day and one-game at a time approach.”

The first look

Against the Colts, there’s no Jonathan Taylor to worry about in the backfield this time. Taylor, the extremely talented running back, has requested a trade and won’t play in at least the first four games. That centers the attention around rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who enters the NFL as a bit of an unknown as a passer.

“That’s the thing about him. He’s a great athlete and he’s developing into a quarterback; you see him make great throws at times,” defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said. “The wildcard is that you never know where he’s going to be. He can scramble at any time, they can use him in many different ways. The unknown is there, we’ve gone back and tried to study it as much as we can as far as what they like to do with young quarterbacks and how Florida used him.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.