The Jaguars enter the 2021 season with an entirely new coaching staff, at least 10 new starters, and a rookie quarterback. On paper and in reality, this is a rebuilding team. But don't tell Urban Meyer that. He wants to win and win quickly. He's not looking at this as a rebuilding year, or a season measured by player development. No, Meyer's idea of success is all about wins and losses. He's doing everything he can to win in 2021. With than in mind, here are the top questions the Jaguars will need to answer this season.
How Quickly does Trevor Lawrence elevate the entire team?
We all saw what Trevor Lawrence can do in the preseason finale against the Cowboys. Yes, I know; it was against backups. But he was making some plays that no defender on earth was going to be able to stop. This is a truly generational talent at QB. The question is, how quickly can he play like the unbelievable talent that he is. I have no question about his ability to operate the offense reasonably effectively early on. But when will he be transcendent? How long will it take? If he can adapt to the NFL game in the first quarter of the season, this could become a dangerous football team. If he goes through the usual ups and downs that almost all rookies experience, there will be plenty of rough patches during the middle of the schedule.
Tyson Campbell, CB Depth
Long. Fast. Sticky. The 33rd overall pick is all of those things. He has excellent length, track speed, and an innate ability to stick with receivers. So, what's the problem? Campbell struggles to play the ball in the air down the field. Short or intermediate? No worries. But when covering deep passes, Campbell has not shown the ability to turn, locate, and get his hands on the football. After the Jaguars traded Sidney Jones, Campbell became an immediate starter in nickel and dime, defensive looks the Jaguars are going to run a ton. Tre Herndon is still recovering from a sprained MCL and isn't likely to be ready for week one. So, you've got a rookie in the starting lineup with an apparent deficiency and virtually no depth behind him. If I'm an offensive coordinator facing the Jaguars' defense, I'm looking to isolate Campbell in coverage deep down the field as much as possible. If Joe Cullen doesn't prevent that from happening schematically, Campbell will need to improve dramatically in that area. And with the lack of depth in the room, an injury to CJ Henderson or Shaquill Griffin could be devastating.
The Jaguars' O-line is a bit underrated as a whole. Each player on the interior played at an above-average to excellent level throughout the 2020 season. On the left side, Cam Robinson played better than given credit for, especially when you factor in that teams knew the Jaguars were going to pass the ball in 2020. My question here comes at right tackle. After a promising rookie year, Jawaan Taylor failed to develop in pass protection last season. He gave up more pressures than any other tackle in football last year and struggled to find any consistency. He's had his fair share of highs and lows this summer, making it difficult for me to project him developing into the consistent pass protector that he has the talent to become.
Joe Cullen is going to be able to manufacture some pass rush with his blitz-heavy scheme. Still, you need your edge players to win one-on-ones and your interior defenders to get some push up the middle. This is another one where I think these Jaguars can get the job done, but I haven't seen it yet. Josh Allen would be a starting edge rusher on just almost any team in football. He's that good. But after an injury-plagued sophomore season and being placed on the COVID list for a couple of weeks during training camp, we haven't seen Allen all that much. K'Lavon Chaisson turned it on down the stretch last year, regularly pressuring opposing QBs, but he's going to need to show he can finish. Dawuane Smoot is a more than capable third edge rusher, and with Jihad Ward, Adam Gotsis, Jordan Smith, and Lerentee McCray, there's some decent depth. Still, for a team coming off of a dismal 18-sack campaign, we need to see it on the field.
Joe Cullen has called exactly three games as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, each coming this preseason. I have confidence in Joe Cullen's aggressive, man-blitz style approach. I believe in his ability to teach and connect with his players. The question here is how well Joe Cullen can manage a game. From playcalling to substitutions to situational football, there's a massive amount of responsibility on his shoulders. The mere fact that he's never done this before makes it a question mark. I think we'll look back at the hiring of Joe Cullen as an excellent decision, but he must prove it on Sundays during the regular season.
Bonus: How will Urban Meyer handle imperfection?
The Jaguars are not going to go undefeated. They likely won't win ten games. How will Urban Meyer handle losing so often? He puts a ton of pressure on himself and is ultra-competitive. Heck, he was having a hard time losing during the preseason. Of course, you want your coach to hate losing. But he'll have to walk a fine line. You don't want him to damper his competitive fire, but Urban also needs to be able to manage losing games. I tend to think he knew that he would have to go through some growing pains in the NFL, and that losses would come, but it'll still be something to keep an eye on throughout the season.
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