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All Change in Jacksonville?

When thinking about what to say about the Jacksonville Jaguars, I was trying to think of a literary reference, something insightful and grand to signify the utter desolation that is this season for the Jags. More so, something that would signify the on-going, crushing grind of the remorseless years as they suffer lost, and losing, season after lost, and losing, season. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past something quite stark and not really all that highfalutin. It’s in my mind as I write this and will reveal what it is at the end of this piece. Let’s talk Jags.

The State of the Jags

This writer was as pro-Jags as anyone, only tempering expectations based on head ruling heart. On these pages, the prediction was a 9-7 season but being pipped to the AFC South post by the Texans on their divisional record. Oh, for those heady days of youth, vigour and a bright North Florida sun.

Let’s run through their numbers as it is instructive. They haven’t won a game at home since December 2015. They haven’t won a game since mid-October. The Jags have double-digit loss seasons in six consecutive seasons, including this one. Since going 11-5 and making the play-offs as a wild card in 2007, the Jags have not had a winning season, are 41-99 since that season and mustered more than five wins twice in those eight seasons plus – they may make five this season but are we backing that?

The Coach

On 26th October, we talked here about the failings of the Jags. Now we have to talk about what is to be done for next season. Th0ugh Gus Bradley may last until the end of the season, Shahid Khan having shown patience thus far, it would be almost incredulous that Gus Bradley and his team will still be in place on January 1st. It is being reported by some, including CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora, that it’s already been decided and Bradley will be out. Not a shock.

Gus Bradley

Gus Bradley

Bradley is a defensive coach who has overseen a defence that has been, at very best, mediocre over the course of his tenure. He has had an explosive offence, but the problem is that explosiveness hasn’t always been positive and this season it truly has blown up, with Blake Bortles the massive pack of dynamite that caused it.

Bradley stands at 14-46 as Head Coach. Being 14-50 after four seasons is truly in play…and that is simply not good enough. Yes, the Jags have bigger, historic systematic deficiencies but they are currently 2-10 and on course for their worst season since Shahid Khan took ownership in 2012, a 2-14 season.

With Bradley out, the Jags will go back to the drawing board. There are a plethora of names out there and who/how they decide to assess their need will be intriguing.

Do they belive they now need a former or current HC? Someone with the ‘been there done that’ credibility? Tom Coughlin holds a lot of respect in Jacksonville from his stint as perhaps the most successful HC they’ve had. Would a return be wise? At 70, Coughlin is said to be hungry to return to coaching, but with a young roster and a weak division, would this be seen as short-termism? Could Coughlin realistically be expected to give more than three years? This beside from the very real ‘there are no second acts in the NFL’ statement that I have very crudely ripped from a completely different context.

Names like Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels, Teryl Austin et all will all be bandied around too. Perhaps the question here is not who the Jags want, but who will view the Jags as an opportunity,  a place to realistically build a team capable of relevance and competing. That’s the harder part.

The Quarterback

Blake Bortles has regressed to the point that his ability to simply throw a ball, something he has done tens of thousands of time since childhood, is impaired. This has been startling and actually quite tragic to watch. This is a young man who has developed a serious case of the ‘yips’. Something mentally is affecting his physical ability to perform his job. It’s a phenomenon that comes from cricket, where bowlers suddenly lose their action and can’t rediscover it.

There is little point here talking stats as, depressing though Bortles’ are this year, it is much more the actual play that is the issue.

It is probably too early to give up on Bortles given both his potential (and previously seen) ability and his high draft cost. The third overall pick from the 2014 draft can probably still recover. Probably.

The issue is technique, primarily but not the only one, I hasten to add. The condition of Bortles remaining with the team should be that he spends the summer working with a QB ‘guru’ such as Tom House to help re-engineer his throwing motion and footwork. Will that be enough? It’s worth a try.

Should the Jags move away from Bortles, it will be the next nail in the coffin for their top 5 draft picks. Since 2012, the Jags have selected in the top 5 of the draft every year (if they do so following this season, it will be the longest streak since the common-era draft began in 1967, per ESPN) and have not hit on a single pick, as things stand. Dante Fowler Jr may buck that trend but if Bortles fails, he goes with Luke Joeckel and Justin Blackmon as huge misses. Jalen Ramsey is the sole top 5 talent from those top 5 picks, as of today. Yikes.

The Front Office

These draft points raise a good question: will the Jags replace their front office too? Caldwell deserves his share of blame for draft class and free agency misses but they have also built coherently within that, and the roster is definitely stronger than their record suggests. It is for this reason that it is likely Caldwell stays and has a hand in appointing the next Head Coach.

Overall

The Jags are too talented to be 2-10 is a statement that feels truthful but the evidence of those 12 regular season games can’t be dismissed. Their D has been decent in spots, loose and sloppy in others. The offence has been, as noted, an explosion of noxious fumes and toxic play. Bortles lies at the heart of this. He must be fixed to allow Robinson, Hurns, Lee, Yeldon and Ivory, none of whom are without their failings and blame, to do better. Like it or not, it starts and ends with the Qube on offence.

This bring us back to the opening paragraph and that literary reference. By the time the Draft rolls round and the Jags have a new HC and they are about to select a top five player, the hype will begin again; young roster, talented guys all around, a new mentality etc etc. Offseason tropes aplenty. I thought of Shakespeare, of Tennyson, of Heaney. Heck, I even thought of something from Neruda and love and loss. But I actually came back to Lord of the Rings and then I came to the films, because it captures it slightly better. Eomer offers this advice to Aragorn, and I offer it to myself next Summer and all Jags fans:

“Look for your friends. But do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

pic credit: realtor.com

Article written by:

Gareth joined the NFLGirlUK.com team in 2016 and covers the AFC South for the site. He has been following the NFL for over 15 years, though first encountered the game through Channel 4’s hourly recap programme in the late 1980s, and over the last couple of seasons begun to write about the draft through his own blog. Gareth tweets from @GDux3 and you can also follow him on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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