Year 2 of the Doug Pederson era begins on Tuesday when the Jaguars report to training camp where the most significant expectations in years will greet them at their shimmering new practice facility.
Jacksonville’s unexpected run to the AFC South title last year stomped the accelerator down on Pederson’s rebuilding project with the Jaguars. A major reason for Jacksonville’s sky-high expectations is the growth shown by Trevor Lawrence.
He was one of the league’s best quarterbacks in the second half of the season, and a completely different player than he looked under Urban Meyer as a rookie. Lawrence is in the same system for the first time in his NFL career. And Pederson’s work with quarterbacks is well known.
Nick Foles delivered Pederson a Super Bowl as a backup in 2017. Lost in the celebration after that win was how starter Carson Wentz was playing at an MVP-type level before an injury that paved the way for Foles’ Cinderella story. It is not a stretch to think that Lawrence takes a major step forward like Wentz did in his second year with Pederson.
The biggest changes
Those come on the offensive and defensive fronts. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor and edge Arden Key both left in free agency. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson, who ended last season on injured reserve with a meniscus tear, is out for the first month of the regular season due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Guard Ben Bartch, who suffered a severe knee injury and missed most of the season, will start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Those are the most notable differences for the 10-7 Jaguars. The shuffling on the offensive line means that rookie first-round pick Anton Harrison will open the season at right tackle while Walker Little starts at left tackle. There’s not an obvious replacement for Key, but Jacksonville will try and get more meaningful reps out of K’Lavon Chaisson and perhaps finally see if Jordan Smith can stay healthy and make it on the field. Rookie edge Yasir Abdullah is also a wildcard in the pass rush mix.
The Ridley factor
Jacksonville’s receiving foursome last season — Jamal Agnew, Marvin Jones Jr., Zay Jones and Christian Kirk — was stronger than previous iterations. But it still lacked the sizzle. Kirk is a very good wideout, but he’s better suited as a strong No. 2. Enter Calvin Ridley.
The Jaguars traded for Ridley at the deadline last season and he was reinstated by the league after a gambling suspension earlier this year. Ridley is a bit of an unknown at this point, but the returns from minicamp and OTAs have been resoundingly positive. A foursome with Ridley, Jones, Kirk and Agnew, on paper, is much stronger than last year’s top four.
Camp schedule for fans
The Jaguars have 13 open practices for fans to attend at the brand new Miller Electric Center, that’s the good news. The bad news is that unless fans have already reserved their free tickets, there aren’t many days left to get those.
Open practices on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, July 31, Aug. 1-2-3, 6 and 7 have already been filled. The only options for fans to reserve tickets on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10. There’s a military appreciation day on Aug. 5 on the field in EverBank Stadium, but that is limited to local veteran and active-duty military members. Fans can nominate a veteran to attend the event free.
Preseason dates to know
Rookies and quarterbacks reported to camp last week and the remainder of the team reports on Tuesday. The first open practice is Wednesday. The Jaguars play three preseason games this August. Here’s a look at the schedule.
Aug. 12, Jaguars at Cowboys, 5 p.m.
Aug. 19, Jaguars at Lions, 1 p.m.
Aug. 26, Dolphins at Jaguars, 7 p.m.
Big roster change
One big change the league made this year is the elimination of multiple rounds of cuts. This year, NFL teams can carry 90 players throughout camp. There will be just one big cutdown date — Aug. 29. That’s when rosters have to go from 90 to the regular season mark of 53. Instead of waves of cuts, that means a staggering 1,184 players will hit the waiver wire on roughly the same day.