As the Jacksonville Jaguars look to put together their first winning season since 2007 and their first 8-win season since 2010, the franchise will need to see a big improvement at quarterback, a position that has been hampered by struggles on the offensive line.
Quarterback play has clearly been an issue for Jacksonville in recent years, and I have not been the nicest to Blake Bortles so far as I've previewed the AFC South in various pieces.
Here I said "Bortles simply hasn't done anything to warrant his third overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft." Here I said Blake Bortles is a "mediocre quarterback" and also said "Blake Bortles is probably not a very good quarterback." Here I said "a winning team needs a winning quarterback, and that just hasn't been Blake Bortles so far." Here I said "Blake Bortles has not been a good quarterback so far in his career."
Actually, when I look back on it, I think I've been pretty fair about my critiques of Blake Bortles. He's a capable starting quarterback, but has not played like a third overall pick and has not been a winning quarterback. The Jaguars have just 11 wins in the past three seasons while Bortles has been the starting quarterback. He has two road wins in his career
But here I am to say it's not all Bortles' fault. His offensive line certainly hasn't helped the cause.
Sine 2007 and David Garrard, no combination of Jacksonville quarterbacks has put together a winning season. Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne and now Bortles have all failed to lead Jacksonville to a winning record.
Some of that certainly falls on the quarterbacks. Chad Henne is a decent backup at this point, but Gabbert has been a total bust and Bortles isn't helping his own cause.
But the offensive line instability has been a huge hindrance to the progression of the Jaguars, and in turn, the development of young quarterbacks.
Here's how the offensive line has looked the past three years (with a projection for this year)
|LT||Luke Joeckel||Luke Joeckel||Kelvin Beachum||Cam Robinson|
|LG||Zane Beadles||Zane Beadles||Luke Joeckel||Earl Watford|
|C||Luke Bowanko||Luke Bowanko||Brandon Linder||Brandon Linder|
|RG||Jacques McClendon||Brandon Linder||A.J. Cann||A.J. Cann|
|RT||Cameron Bradfield||Jermey Parnell||Jermey Parnell||Jermey Parnell|
The Jaguars have no starters on the offensive line who were starters just three years ago in 2014 when Bortles first hit the field. They'll head into the 2017 season with their third different left tackle and left guard in as many seasons.
Jacksonville tried to add a solid left tackle to replace Kelvin Beachum — who went to the Jets in free agency — and traded tight end Julius Thomas to the Dolphins for Branden Albert this offseason. Albert, a nine-year pro, just retired before ever playing a snap for the Jaguars.
The right side of the line has a bit more stability — Brandon Linder returns for his second season at center and his third season as a start (right guard starter in 2015), Jermey Parnell will start at right tackle for the third straight season and A.J. Cann should start at right guard for the second year in a row.
When the longest tenured member on the offensive line is heading into his third season as a starter, it's usually not a good thing for the team.
Since 2014 the Jaguars line has gotten better in one aspect — sacks allowed. In Bortles' rookie year the Jaguars gave up a league-leading 71 (71!) sacks, 13 more than the second-worst team. In 2015 they improved that to 4th-worst (51 sacks) and last year they took a step forward, allowing just 34 sacks (18th worst).
Jacksonville has three good receivers (Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee), a veteran, capable tight end (Mercedes Lewis), a younger tight end on the rise (Mychal Rivera), and an exciting rookie running back (Leonard Fournette). Blake Bortles might not be a world beater, but he's good enough to leverage those weapons into something better than a 5-11 season, which is the peak of his three-year career so far.
The offensive line simply has to be better, or Bortles might be destined to follow in Blaine Gabbert's footsteps, which is something no one wants to see.