Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Healthy Jaguars ready to improve on 2017 success

The Jacksonville Jaguars are ready to open the 2018 season with the hope that a pattern established a year ago will produce similar if not better results than in 2017.

A year ago the Jaguars had a solid training camp, one in which there were no significant injuries to any of the projected 22 starters. Unfortunately, on the first offensive series of their opener at Houston, the team’s leading wide receiver, Allen Robinson, suffered a torn ACL and was out for the rest of the season. Fast-forward to this year’s training camp. Once again, Jacksonville had a relatively injury-free training camp with the only injury of note being a torn ACL to Marqise Lee who led the Jaguars in receptions last year. Otherwise, all 53 players on the current roster, including all 22 starters are healthy and ready to open the 2018 season against the Giants on the road on Sunday.

The Jaguars used that good health status last year to post 10 wins and then record a pair of postseason wins against Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Their good fortunes ran out after that however, as they surrendered a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 24-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game.

Many of the same players who helped the Jaguars post a seven-game improvement in the win column (3-13 in 2016) are returning this season to try and propel the Jaguars one step further, an appearance in their first Super Bowl game ever. There have been few changes in the starting lineup since the team first reported to training camp in late July.

The offense needed replacements at just two positions — tight end and guard. Those spots were addressed in free agency when the Jaguars signed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins away from the Jets and inked former Carolina All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell to a multi-year deal.

The defense had just one hole to fill, replacing retired linebacker Paul Posluszny. The Jaguars found their man in seventh-round draft pick Leon Jacobs who beat out veterans Blair Brown and Donald Payne for the outside linebacker spot.

Jacksonville knows that in order to reach the game’s elite status of playing in a Super Bowl, quarterback Blake Bortles must sharpen his game. Bortles has a career 59.1 completion percentage, a figure that needs to be closer to the mid-60s. Ask Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone what he wants to see Bortles improve on and he leaves little doubt what it is.

“No turnovers! Zero turnovers,” Marrone declared emphatically. “But I say that with anyone on our team that touches the football. That’s the one thing that is the biggest cause of winning or losing games. We talk about ball security for our quarterbacks, our backs, our receivers — anybody who touches the ball. If you turn the ball over, it’s hard to win football games. Turnovers will lead to more losses than an increased number of touchdown passes (will lead to wins).”

Defensively, the Jaguars will look for a similar start to the 2018 season as they experienced in last year’s regular-season opener. That came in Houston where the defensive unit exploded for a franchise-record 10 sacks including 4.0 by Calais Campbell in a 29-7 thrashing of the Texans. That total dominance by the defense that allowed the Texans just 203 total yards, set the tone for the rest of the season. Jacksonville used that effort to finish among the league leaders in several categories, including fewest average pass yards allowed per game.

“It’s important to get off to a fast start in this league,” Campbell said. “We know we have a tough test coming up because they are a talented team with a lot of big play-makers on offense.”

Marrone knows that the Jaguars will have a tough test on Sunday in containing the Giants offense.

“Odell Beckham is a great player but he’s part of 11 for them,” Marrone said. “When you go out on the field, you’re trying to stop 11 players on the opposing team. If you focus on one, someone else is going to beat you. They have good skilled people with solid players, including a two-time winning Super Bowl quarterback (Eli Manning) who’s been in the league a long time and has seen a lot of things. He’s going to be very well prepared for us.”

SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 3-3. Home team has won all six games in the series. Teams last met in 2014 with Jaguars earning 25-24 home-field win. Four of the six games decided by a touchdown or less including all three games played in New York. This is the Jaguars first season-opener on the road since 2010. This marks the fourth time the teams have met since 2006, one time in each of four-year cycles.