Depth charge: Jaguars ratchet up competition with talent

Sports Xchange

June 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Only 34 players who were members of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 90-man roster entering the 2013 training camp were still with the team as minicamp opened Tuesday.

And eight of those 34 players were draft picks selected by the team just months before in April 2013. That means just 26 players who had spent at least a year in the league and were with the Jaguars a year ago at this time, are still a part of the Jacksonville franchise today.

That in part explains why the Jaguars lost eight straight games to open last season before settling for a 4-12 overall record which netted them the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft. It marked the seventh consecutive year that Jacksonville had a top-10 draft pick, a sure sign of futility.

It appears that could be a sign of the past. No longer are the Jaguars looking at keeping reserves at wide receivers, the defensive line and the secondary whom they were hesitant to insert into the lineup. Jacksonville has built more depth on the current roster by dissecting the previous roster and replacing players with solid draft selections and quality free-agent signings.

In general manager Dave Caldwell’s two years with the team, he has drafted 17 players, all of whom are still with the team. By comparison, only eight drafted players remain on the roster as picks by the previous administration, and two of the eight are place-kicker Josh Scobee and punter Bryan Anger.

Second-year head coach Gus Bradley has made it clear how much better he likes this team talent-wise compared to the squad a year ago.

“I just feel like we continually have gotten better all through OTAs and when you do that, you have a chance overall as a team to be better,” Bradley said. “We’ll see what takes place but it just feels good, it feels like more of the guys are getting better at one time. And again, I think it goes back to understanding what their roles are and their responsibilities.”

The Jaguars want to be in a position where the final cuts to the 53-man roster are tougher to make. Unlike a year ago when most of the 37 released players from the original 90-man roster were not claimed by other teams, that could be different this season. The franchise is going to part ways with some talented players when it begins making cuts in August. It will likely result in a number of players being re-signed by other clubs.

It’s one reason why Bradley has made attempts to get a lot of players opportunities to perform with the No. 1 offensive or defensive units during OTAs and the team’s mandatory minicamp going on this week. It’s also a reason why he’s more optimistic about what he has seen in the team’s OTAs this year.

“I think we accomplished things in both OTAs, but I think what seems different this year is they have a better handle of the offense and defense and special teams scheme we’re asking them,” Bradley noted. “We have new players but when you have new players the guys that have gone through it once, already are helping them. It’s been a more efficient OTA I would say.”

But the biggest question that Jaguars fans continue to ask and don’t get an answer to, is when will quarterback Blake Bortles be ready? The Jaguars invested big in selecting Bortles as the No. 3 overall pick in the draft after many analysts had the former Central Florida star rated lower.

Bradley has yet to have Bortles operate with the No. 1 offensive unit. He has indicated that the rookie may get a chance in the minicamp, but only two days of camp remain until the Jaguars disembark for five weeks and resume in late July with the start of training camp.