After defeating their AFC South rival Houston Texans 27-20, on Thursday night, the Jacksonville Jaguars have now won four of their last five games. This is not a fluke. Heed these words NFL fans, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a team on the rise. Now is the time to jump on the bandwagon.
Their rally of late season victories started with the Tennessee Titans in Week 10 and continued, defeating the Cleveland Browns and Houston (twice). Their one lost since their bye week came from the 7-5 Arizona Cardinals. Their wins, you might say, came from lesser opponents. Some may agree but there is more then meets in the eye in Jacksonville.
After starting the season 0-8, in the first year of what looked to be a lengthy rebuilding process, the Jaguars seemed to be in the drivers seat for the first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. That has since changed in the Jags second half of the season. This coming from a new mindset established by their first year head coach Gus Bradley and first year GM David Caldwell.
“Our guys just really believe,” Bradley said to the Associated Press, after the Thursday night victory.
Currently at 4-9, the Jaguars have proved a foundation is being laid and there is a growing team unity. Under the direction of Bradley and Caldwell, the two have begun to establish a mindset that Jacksonville is a place where victory can be achieved.
“For what they’ve gone through and to stick to it and have some results go their way, it’s pretty cool,” Bradley continued. “Our team continues to show that they’re sticking to it, believing and making plays at critical times.”
Both coming from winning programs, Bradley from Seattle and Caldwell from Atlanta, they formed a unified vision on how to right the ship. The tandem started by bringing in players that could make a difference on the field, not the stars fans are so inclined to demand, because as wise football minds know — stars don’t put fans in the seats, winning does.
Low level veterans such as linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, running back Justin Forsett, and defensive tackles Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks were brought in to make a difference while big, high priced names Terrence Knighton, Derek Cox, Eben Britton, and Rashad Jennings were allowed to leave Jacksonville via free agency.
Hayes is third on the team in tackles with 77. Ball locked down a starting position and has tallied 40 tackles and an interception. Forsett provided a nice pair of hands out of the backfield with 15 receptions but is headed to the IR with a foot injury. Miller and Marks are entrenched in the middle of the d-line and have tallied a combined 46 tackles and Marks has three sacks on his own.
Then came the next phase of rebuilding: the draft.
Caldwell was a vital part of the front office that helped build the Atlanta Falcons to prominence. In his time there, his drafts included quarterback Matt Ryan; offensive linemen Sam Baker, Lamar Holmes, Peter Konz, and Garrett Reynolds; running back Jacquizz Rodgers; receivers Harry Douglas and Julio Jones; safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore; defensive linemen Kroy Biermann and Corey Peters; and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. All of whom are current starters.
With the second overall pick, Caldwell selected the man many predicted to go first overall — Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. The mammoth tackle would play on the right, while premier left tackle Eugene Monroe would stay on left giving the team a pair of first-round, bookend tackles to stabilize the line.
Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien and UConn cornerback Dwayne Gratz were then selected in the second- and third-round, respectively, in attempt to improve their 22nd ranked pass defense.
Caldwell, then moved back in the fourth-round to gather more picks. With the 101st selection, Bradley and Caldwell selected the mini-speedster Ace Sanders from South Carolina to round out the top of their draft.
Joeckel appeared better then advertised, leading the Jaguars to trade Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens for a fourth- and fifth-round draft pick in next year’s draft. Of course, the next game following the trade (Joeckel’s first on the left side), the rookie was lost for the season with a high ankle sprain.
Cyprien and Gratz, however, remain bright for the Jaguars. Both are starting and Cyprien is second on the team in tackles with 89, while Gratz is tied for a team high in interceptions with two.
The pass defense, which is now ranked 7th in the league, got an added bonus with the emergence of sixth-round pick Josh Evans who won over the free safety position.
As for Sanders, he is second on the team with 39 receptions. A pleasant surprise after 2012 first-round selection Justin Blackmon was suspended for the year due to off-field troubles. Sanders, who stands 5’7″, is also managing punt return duties and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass on Thursday.
Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars are ranked 28th in total defense. And yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars are ranked 32nd in total offense. But there is reason to be hopeful and even, dare I say it…, excited for what the future holds in Jacksonville. With 11 picks already in the Jaguars hands and a franchise tag eager to be used on Pro-Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew, there looks to be bright days on the horizon for the Jaguars.
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