The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 19 for rookies; July 26 for veterans
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
1. Can Leonard Fournette make that big of a difference?
When you draft any player fourth overall, he better be good and make an impact right away. In Fournette’s case, he might change the identity of the franchise. It’s clear that new executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin wanted to shape the team a different way, and that’s not a bad thing after Blake Bortles’ struggles last season. Fournette might not be Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth pick of last year’s draft, because Elliott runs behind one of the best lines ever and the Jaguars’ line is … well, it’s not the Dallas Cowboys’ line. But Fournette is extremely talented and a big back who you’d assume can handle a heavy workload. It will be interesting to see how much the Jaguars use him in preseason, because he’ll need to get up to NFL speed but the team won’t want to wear him down in games that don’t count.
2. Can Blake Bortles turn it around?
The Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option on Bortles, so he’s under contract through 2018. Don’t be fooled though. That fifth year is guaranteed only for injury and if Bortles repeats his 2016 season the Jaguars can move on. And if Bortles is as bad as he was last season, the team probably will look in a different direction. Bortles’ 2015 stats looked good but he feasted in garbage time. His numbers in 2016 didn’t even look good. His 78.8 passer rating was nearly a 10-point drop from the year before, and a lot of the Jaguars’ 3-13 record can be blamed on his struggles. One thing Jacksonville has to watch closely in camp is Bortles’ mechanics. He got sloppy last season, with a very long delivery that made him easier to defend. He has worked on that this offseason, but it’s easy to fall back into bad habits when defenders are coming at you.
3. Will Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye help improve a talented defense?
The Jaguars have talent on defense, but that hasn’t necessarily translated to production. They’ve had good drafts and have spent big in free agency, but still haven’t fielded a top defense. So the Jaguars kept spending. This offseason only two non-quarterbacks got at least $13.5 million per year to change teams in free agency: Campbell and Bouye. So we can’t say the Jaguars aren’t trying. Campbell is a massive defensive end, and he’ll pair well on the defensive line with last year’s big free-agent addition, Malik Jackson. Bouye is coming off a great season with the Houston Texans, and he and second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey form a very strong duo. You’d think the Jaguars, with all that talent, will break out at some point. But when?
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