For the second straight year, tight end Josh Oliver has suffered an injury setback in camp. Doug Marrone told the media on Monday that Oliver sustained a broken bone in his foot during non-contact work.
It's a crushing blow for Oliver, who has yet to enter an NFL season healthy after being drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He's got the athleticism and catch radius that teams covet, but he simply hasn't been available.
But the show must go on. So, what is the state of the Jaguars' tight end group without Josh Oliver?
Fortunately, the Jaguars weren't going into the season with Josh Oliver as their only hope at tight end. This offseason, GM Dave Caldwell spent a pretty penny on former Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert. The oft-injured tight end is one of the more talented guys in the NFL when healthy. He played in all 16 games for the Bengals in 2019, and the Jaguars are hoping he can do so again in 2020. He'll undoubtedly be the featured tight end in Jay Gruden's offense. And while he has the ability to serve as a functional pass and run blocker, his primary role will be as a receiving threat.
Tight End coach Ron Middleton spoke with the media on Tuesday and shared his thoughts on Eifert and his role in the offense. "I went back and I looked at my write-up on him and I was like, "Man, this guy can run every route in the book," said Middleton. "He is an accomplished route runner and he hasn't disappointed. He's shown some physicality. We've got to be smart, as coaches, to put him in the position where's he going to best serve or best give us the most that he's got to give. We didn't bring him here to put him in the backfield and lead up on linebackers. We expect him to be split out, running those routes that we know he can run and doing those other things that make him such a valuable part of the offense. I've been very impressed with him. He's a great a guy. We've gotten along extremely well. He's stepped in and I look forward to working with him. I look forward to working with him this year, I really am."
Eifert isn't the only show in town either. James O'Shaughnessy was having a breakout campaign in 2020 before he tore his ACL in week five. O'Shaughnessy and QB Gardner Minshew had an apparent connection as he caught 14 passes for 153 yards and two scores through less than a third of the season. Like Eifert, O'Shaughnessy can serve as a blocker or pass catcher. But with Eifert seemingly in line to function mostly as a receiver, Shags might be a blocker with more regularity in 2020.
The Jaguars also have two young guns at the tight end spot.
Charles Jones was a 2019 undrafted free agent. The Jaguars' coaching staff really like what they saw from him as a blocker. He got on the field sparingly during his rookie year, but with the injury to Oliver, he'll need to be ready to suit up on a week to week basis.
Dave Caldwell and company added Tyler Davis in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and UConn Husky had an interesting college career. During his final year at UConn, he found the endzone six times. He then transferred to Georgia Tech, a program that rarely features any tight ends. He made a name for himself there and caught the eye of Jaguars' scouts at his pro day, where he ran well and showed off his athleticism. At 6'4" and 252 pounds, Davis has plenty of size for the position. He's a developmental guy at this point, but he could see action in his rookie year if he earns the third tight end spot.
Coach Middleton has been impressed with Davis so far. "I've been very pleased with Tyler's performance thus far," said Middleton. "He's very smart. He's one of the best interviews I've ever had with a kid [when we were] deciding on the preliminary stuff whether we were going to take him or not. [He's] one of the smartest guys football-wise that I've ever interviewed. Then, his work ethic proved it wasn't a fluke. He's a hard worker. He's very talented. He's big. He's bigger than you think he is. You get up next to him and he's thick. He can run. He's got some athleticism. The thing I wanted to see is when the pads got on, was he going to shy away from contact? Was he one of these cerebral guys [that] just wanted to do it on the board and read about it? He hasn't backed down from contact yet. We still have to work on his techniques. There's a lot of stuff he's got to learn but so far I'm really pleased with his progress thus far."
While the Jaguars could've used Oliver's ability to stretch the seam in 2020, they've still got plenty of talent at the tight end position. Eifert is the guy here, but with O'Shaughnessy as the number two and Davis and Jones competing for reps behind him, the Big Cats are still in good shape at the position.
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