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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars released five players on Friday, headlined by defensive tackle Malik Jackson, a move that will save the team $30 million.

In addition to Jackson, the Jaguars also released safety Tashaun Gipson, running back Carlos Hyde, right tackle Jermey Parnell and long snapper Carson Tinker. The moves were made, in part, to create salary-cap space to sign a veteran quarterback, expected to be Nick Foles.

The Jaguars are expected to release quarterback Blake Bortles at some point in the coming weeks, though he is guaranteed to receive $6.5 million.

Jags CB Jalen Ramsey took to Twitter with his reaction to the moves.

Wow. This business side of things is crazy!

— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) March 8, 2019
Jackson signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract, with $31.5 million fully guaranteed and $42 million in total guarantees, with the Jaguars in March 2016 after four seasons in Denver. He set a career high with 6.5 sacks in 2016 and followed that up with the best season of his career in 2017: 8.0 sacks and four forced fumbles, and his first Pro Bowl appearance.

However, he lost his starting job in November, and his play time decreased significantly over the final month of the season, when he was being used as a third-down rusher. Jackson said late in the season that he expected to be released this offseason. The move clears up $11 million in cap space. Jackson was due to make $13 million and count $15 million against the salary cap in 2019.

Jackson, who turned 29 in January, never missed a game in his four seasons with the Jaguars and only two in his entire seven-year career. He has 32.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, including 18 sacks and four forced fumbles in three seasons with the Jaguars.

Cutting Hyde saves the Jaguars $4.7 million. He was due to have $2 million of his $3.25 million base salary guaranteed, as well as receive a $1 million roster bonus if he was still with the Jaguars on March 15.

The Jaguars sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Browns on Oct. 20 in exchange for Hyde because they needed help, with Leonard Fournette nursing a hamstring injury that would eventually keep him out for six games. Hyde ran for 189 yards on 58 carries in eight games with the Jaguars.

Gipson was due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 17 and had a salary of $7.25 million in 2019. There is no dead money on his contract now, and his release saves the team $7.45 million. Gipson had two years remaining on the five-year, $36 million contract, with $12 million he signed in March 2016.
Gipson has started every game since joining the Jaguars and has six interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 48 games. He has 20 interceptions and 39 pass breakups in seven seasons. He played four years in Cleveland after joining the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2012.

Parnell was entering the final year of the five-year, $32 million contract and was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 17. Parnell was due to make $5 million in 2019, and the move saves the Jaguars $6 million against the salary cap.

Parnell, who turns 33 in July, has started all 57 games in which he played with the Jaguars from 2015 to 2018. He missed one game in 2015, three in 2017, and three in 2018 because of knee injuries.

Tinker’s release saves the Jaguars $835,000, and he was made expendable when the team signed long snapper Matt Overton on Thursday.

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HOUSTON — The formula, at least on Sunday, worked perfectly.

Play physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth defense and pound the football with fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette. The Jacksonville Jaguars used that to beat Houston 29-7 at NRG Stadium, and that’s a sign the Jaguars may finally be starting to make progress in a rebuild that began four years ago.

Fournette ran 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown and also caught three passes for 24 yards in his NFL debut. His longest run was 17 yards, but his ability to get positive yards even when there didn’t appear to be much of an opening was even more important.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette carried 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown to lead the Jaguars over the Texans in his NFL regular-season debut. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire
Fournette scored his only touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line when everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the ball. He finished the run by planting his helmet into the chest of Texans linebacker Brian Cushing.

What Fournette’s success on the ground did was open up the play-action passing for quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 11-of-21 for 125 yards and one touchdown. He was efficient (he had two passes dropped) but still took some shots down the field.

Most importantly, he wasn’t sacked. The Texans’ dominant defensive front of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus got handled by the Jaguars’ offensive line, which had really struggled in the preseason.

The Jaguars’ defense smothered the Texans in the first half, sacking quarterback Tom Savage six times and limiting the Texans to just 52 total yards (23 rushing). Defensive end Calais Campbell had 3.5 of those sacks in the first half (he finished with four which is a career high and the most by a Jaguars player in one game).

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The Jaguars also forced a pair of fumbles, including one that defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. returned 53 yards for a touchdown.

The defense was so stout that the Texans benched Savage at halftime for first-round pick Deshaun Watson. He didn’t have much better luck. Though he did throw a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, he threw for only 102 yards and was picked off once.

The final defensive tally on Sunday: a franchise-record 10 sacks, 203 total yards allowed, four takeaways (they forced only 13 turnovers last season), and the Fowler touchdown.

The Jaguars committed to the Fournette/smothering defense formula when they hired executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone in January. It was their best chance to be competitive in the AFC South and it’s even more critical now with the uncertainty surrounding the left knee injury to receiver Allen Robinson.

The 6-foot-3 Robinson is the Jaguars’ best downfield playmaker and has made a living on 50-50 balls. If he’s out for a significant amount of time, the Jaguars will have to be a little more conservative on offense, and that likely means even more Fournette.

And, the Jaguars hope, more big plays on defense.

 

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 2. Here’s a final 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACK (3): Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen

Bortles has been named the starter for the season opener after beating out Henne, but he’ll have little leeway. He must cut down on his turnovers, but coach Doug Marrone says Bortles has looked the best he has seen since he won the competition. Mobility is key at this spot because of the offensive line’s struggles, so that’s partly why Allen sticks around.

RUNNING BACK: (4): Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant

Don’t be surprised if Ivory actually starts the opener against Houston, but Fournette is certainly going to be the feature back. Yeldon has been dealing with a hamstring injury, but he’s by far the best pass blocker of the group and that makes him valuable. Grant has an element the others don’t — blazing speed — and he can be the kickoff returner, too.
Keelan Cole has five receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. AP Photo/Steven Senne
FULLBACK (1): Tommy Bohanon

Seventh-round pick Marquez Williams has been hurt a lot in camp and he’s a practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Arrelious Benn, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook

Rashad Greene, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2015, doesn’t make the team after a good rookie season as a punt returner. Cole has been one of the stars of camp even though he has dropped touchdown passes in back-to-back preseason games. He’s a help on special teams coverage units and can return punts as well. Robinson has had a monster camp in a critical contract season. Westbrook is dealing with a core muscle injury so don’t be surprised to see the Jaguars put him on IR. If that were to happen, Shane Wynn probably would take his spot on the roster.

TIGHT END (3): Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack, Alex Ellis

Lewis, who is entering his 12th season with the Jaguars, will be used heavily as a blocker. Ellis can do some fullback work, too, so that gives him an edge over some of the others. Mychal Rivera hasn’t practiced since July so it’s hard to see him making the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Cam Robinson, Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann, Jermey Parnell, Luke Bowanko, Tyler Shatley, Josh Wells.

This unit has really struggled in the preseason and that was one of the reasons Marrone said he went with Bortles, who has better mobility than Henne. Failing to make upgrades to this unit the past two offseasons has been the team’s biggest mistake, and it’s going to cost the Jaguars a chance to be competitive in the division. QB has been a major issue, too, but the line’s breakdowns make it hard for whichever quarterback starts.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10): Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Abry Jones, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler Jr., Sheldon Day, Stefan Charles, Malliciah Goodman, Michael Bennett, Dawuane Smoot.

This unit has surprisingly struggled against the run in the preseason. In fact, it got pushed around pretty good by the Bucs and Panthers. We knew there would be issues in the pass rush. Campbell is the only proven pass-rusher and he’s not a speed edge rusher. Ngakoue and Fowler have to deliver. The Jaguars haven’t had a player record double-digit sacks since Bobby McCray in 2007.

LINEBACKER (6): Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, Paul Posluszny, Lerentee McCray, Hayes Pullard III, Blair Brown

Posluszny playing middle linebacker on first and second down and Jack moving to the spot on third down and in nickel situations was the move the Jaguars should have made instead of putting Jack in the middle and sliding Posluszny to strongside linebacker. McCray is working at strongside linebacker, too, but he’ll be a key special teams performer.

CORNERBACK (5): Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Aaron Colvin, Tyler Patmon, Brian Dixon

Ramsey, Bouye and Colvin have all dealt with injuries and missed time in camp and the preseason so it makes sense for the Jaguars to carry a fifth corner. Patmon has been very impressive — he has at least six interceptions in camp — and has locked up the fourth spot. Dixon gets the nod over seventh-round pick Jalen Myrick, who has really struggled.

SAFETY (4): Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson, Peyton Thompson, Jarrod Wilson

Marrone said the on-field communication between Church and Gipson has been exceptional and that should result in fewer blown coverages. Church is much more consistent than Johnathan Cyprien so the Jaguars have upgraded there. Thompson is also a key special teams player.

SPECIALISTS (3): Brad Nortman, Jason Myers, Matt Overton

No surprises here.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey will make his first appearance of the preseason when the Jaguars host the Panthers on Thursday night at EverBank Field.

Ramsey missed the Jaguars’ first two preseason games in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a core muscle injury and isn’t expected to play very much against the Panthers, who likely will have quarterback Cam Newton on the field for the first time this preseason as well.

“Our plan is to get Jalen in there,” coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday. “We feel like we’re going to put him in there so we’re excited about seeing him. He’s had a good week. Without anything happening between now and the game, he should be playing.”

Ramsey came off the physically able to perform list on Aug. 12 but was mainly limited to to individual work in the first week. He also did not play in the Jaguars’ preseason game against Tampa Bay on Aug. 14.

Ramsey started every game as a rookie in 2016 and finished with 65 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions.

 

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After an awful performance Saturday night, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles responded with a solid practice Monday.

Bortles had fewer than five incompletions during 11-on-11 drills (not including spikes to stop the clock) and had perfect throws to running back Corey Grant on a wheel route and receiver Marqise Lee down the sideline. It was just what Bortles needed after he threw five interceptions Saturday night, the last time the Jaguars were on the practice field before Monday.
After throwing five interceptions during Saturday’s practice, Blake Bortles was on target Monday, something the Jaguars will need to see much more of. AP Photo/John Raoux
That makes three of four training camp practices in which Bortles has performed well, which has been one of his biggest issues since he became the Jaguars’ starting quarterback in Week 4 of the 2014 season. His lack of consistency, which is directly related to his turnover problem, is keeping him from becoming the team’s franchise quarterback — and keeping the Jaguars from winning games. If he doesn’t solve the issue, neither of those things are going to happen.

“I thought he bounced back well [Monday], which is something that you obviously want to do,” coach Doug Marrone said. “I think the first two days there were some good things he was doing out there. I think on that third day … it’s what we talked about before: making good decisions.

“I think there are some things around him that need to be improved, some mistakes, not selling a play [action] enough to get the backers to come in. It wasn’t just the one person, but it is the one in the quarterback position that needs to make sure the ball doesn’t go to the other team.”

Bortles threw two interceptions in 7-on-7 drills and three others in 11-on-11s on Saturday, one of which linebacker Telvin Smith returned for a touchdown. None came on a tipped pass. They were either bad decisions, or Bortles stared down his receiver. His interception-free Monday marked the third time in four practices that he didn’t turn the ball over.

 

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“He had a much better day,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “Whatever it was, rust or whatever happened with pads on for the first time [Saturday], it is what it is. Rather we get it all out in practice and be ready to go in a month.”

Turnovers have been a problem for Bortles since he entered the league in 2014 as the third overall pick. He leads the NFL in turnovers (63) and has thrown the second-most interceptions (51) the past three seasons. That includes 11 pick-sixes, which also is the number of victories he has as a starting quarterback.
Bortles had a breakout season in 2015, when he set franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing TDs (35), but he followed that with a terrible 2016. Bortles threw for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles’ Total QBR (49) and completion percentage (58.9) were the third-worst among qualified QBs last season. He also threw a league-high 10 interceptions on third down and completed only 20 percent of his passes that were 20 or more yards downfield, which was the second-worst percentage in the NFL, ahead of only that of Brock Osweiler.

In 2015, Bortles had the sixth-best completion rate (41 percent) on those same passes.

Bortles has to find consistency in 2017. The Jaguars won’t be able to win games if he doesn’t.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation for a year after a district court judge in Oklahoma accepted his guilty plea to DUI on Wednesday afternoon.

Blackmon also was told to perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine plus court costs, according to the District Attorney’s Office in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Blackmon initially pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI in April and was scheduled to be sentenced in June, but the hearing was delayed until Wednesday because Blackmon was in the process of completing court-ordered alcohol abuse courses.

Authorities arrested Blackmon at 5:45 a.m. ET on Dec. 19 in Carter County, Oklahoma, after his vehicle was pulled over and he failed field sobriety tests. That was Blackmon’s third alcohol-related arrest and fourth arrest overall.

Blackmon was arrested July 23, 2014, when Edmond (Oklahoma) police officers stopped him for a traffic violation and said they could smell marijuana coming from his car. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor marijuana possession, and a charge that was later reduced to disorderly conduct for which he had to play a $454 fine.

Blackmon’s attorney said Blackmon completed a voluntary drug rehab program in 2014.

Blackmon also was arrested in Texas in 2010 on a misdemeanor DUI charge (later reduced to underage alcohol possession) after police officers caught him speeding outside of Dallas. He was arrested again in May 2012 — less than a month after the Jaguars drafted the former Oklahoma State standout with the fifth overall pick — during a traffic stop in Stillwater, Oklahoma, after a breath test allegedly showed his blood alcohol content to be three times the legal limit.

That arrest put him in the NFL’s substance abuse program.

Blackmon caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2012, but he failed an offseason drug test and was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season. Blackmon returned for Weeks 5-8 and caught 29 passes for 415 yards and one touchdown before the NFL suspended him indefinitely following his third violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Blackmon must apply for reinstatement and then go through a nearly two-month vetting process before he can get back on the field.

Blackmon remains on the Jaguars’ roster and GM Dave Caldwell has said numerous times that the team does not plan to cut him. Blackmon’s spot on the reserve/suspended list means he doesn’t count against the roster limit or salary cap, and the Jaguars do not have to pay his salary. His contract paused upon his suspension, so he would have two and a half years left on his deal with the Jaguars if he were to return to the NFL.

 

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Michael DiRocco breaks down the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2017 draft class.

Round 1, No. 4 overall: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

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My take: The Jaguars have averaged the fewest yards per game and rushed for the second-fewest touchdowns in the NFL the past five seasons, so fixing that was a huge priority. The 6-foot, 228-pound Fournette — the third running back Jacksonville has taken in the first round, after James Stewart (1995) and Fred Taylor (1998) — was incredibly productive at LSU: He ran for 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry in three seasons. That included a monster season as a sophomore: 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. Jaguars executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin loved Fournette’s knack for finding the end zone and, after the pick, said emphatically that was a huge draw. The Jaguars have rushed for just 13 touchdowns the past two seasons, and quarterback Blake Bortles has five of them. Fournette is a physical pounder, which will certainly address another weakness: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars’ 1.4 yards after contact per rush average ranked 28th in the NFL last season.

The top four: General manager Dave Caldwell revealed that the top four players on the Jaguars’ draft board were defensive end Myles Garrett, DE Solomon Thomas, Fournette and safety Jamal Adams. Caldwell said he didn’t get a single phone call about trading the fourth overall pick, and the team sent Fournette’s name into the NFL within three minutes. That meant a quarterback wasn’t in play at No. 4, despite Bortles’ struggles in 2016. Coughlin said the team did consider a signal-caller earlier in the draft evaluation process but obviously didn’t have one rated high enough to take. However, that doesn’t mean the Jaguars won’t address the position in the second round.

Pricey backs: Fournette’s selection means the Jaguars will have a pretty good hunk of their salary cap tied up in the position. The team signed Chris Ivory to a five-year, $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed in 2016, and 2015 second-round draft pick T.J. Yeldon is playing on a four-year, $5.9 million contract with $3.7 million guaranteed. Fournette’s deal is expected to be in the $27 million range, fully guaranteed. That means the Jaguars will be giving out approximately $41 million in guaranteed money to the three players.

Round 2, No. 34: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

My take: After failing to re-sign Luke Joeckel, the Jaguars were in search of a franchise left tackle and believe they have found one in Robinson. He’s a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder who moves very well and has room to get even bigger. The thing the Jaguars really liked is that Robinson started as a freshman at Alabama and had success against some of the conference’s best pass-rushers. Robinson’s ability to stay healthy has been impressive too. He started every game in three seasons (43 games), and that durability is something the Jaguars need because Joeckel missed 25 games in four seasons. The Jaguars missed on Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, and they’re chasing that mistake with Robinson, but numerous analysts believe Robinson could be the long-term answer.

How he fits: The Jaguars are keeping Robinson at left tackle instead of moving him inside to guard, though he certainly would be an upgrade for the Jaguars at left guard. He will compete with Branden Albert, who has not attended the Jaguars’ voluntary offseason conditioning program nor returned calls from head coach Doug Marrone, for the starting job. One thing the Jaguars really like about Robinson? His nastiness, which fits into the team’s quest to become tougher. Executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin has made some pointed comments about the team’s lack of toughness in 2016, and Robinson and first-round pick Fournette should help in that area.

Round 3, No. 68: Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois

My take: Caldwell said this was a value pick, and the Jaguars chose Smoot instead of continuing to address the offensive line or adding a tight end because they couldn’t pass him up. Pass rush is a significant need for the Jaguars. Defensive end Calais Campbell is the only proven rusher on the roster (56.5 sacks in nine seasons), and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is on the verge of being considered a bust. The third overall pick in 2015 had just four sacks last season after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL and was surpassed on the depth chart by rookie Yannick Ngakoue, whose eight sacks set the single-season franchise rookie record. Whose record did he break? Tony Brackens’, who is the best pass-rusher in team history. The Jaguars could have gone offensive line with this pick too because the team still doesn’t have the left guard position settled. Dan Feeney was still on the board at the time of the pick and would have been a solid pick.
Defensive end Dawuane Smoot had 13 sacks for the Fighting Illini the past two seasons. Mike Granse/USA TODAY Sports
How he fits: Smoot weighs 264 pounds and has the ability to play inside and outside, but Caldwell said Smoot will back up Campbell at the strong side defensive end. Smoot also can get work as an inside rusher on passing downs. The Jaguars now have filled out their eight-man defensive line rotation: Ngakoue, DT Malik Jackson, DT Abry Jones and Campbell will be the starters backed up by Fowler, DT Sheldon Day, DT Michael Bennett and Smoot. Smoot’s sack production dropped off in 2016 (he had five after having eight as a junior), but he did have 10 additional quarterback hits, forced a pair of fumbles and had 15 tackles for loss.

Round 4, No. 110: Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

My take: The Jaguars took a gamble on a player with character issues. Westbrook was twice arrested for domestic violence. In the first case, the district attorney’s office declined to pursue charges. In the second case, the charges were dismissed because the state could not locate Westbrook’s accuser. The Jaguars have a long history of troubled wide receivers. Ace Sanders, Matt Jones, R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams, Jimmy Smith and Justin Blackmon have dealt with drug or alcohol issues.

How he fits: Westbrook should get every chance to be the Jaguars’ punt returner. Rashad Greene had a solid season as a rookie (16.7 yards per return) but struggled with injuries in 2016 and averaged just 6.3 yards on 21 returns in eight games. Westbrook returned only five punts at Oklahoma last season, but he took one back for a touchdown. He has very good speed — Caldwell said Westbrook ran a 4.4-second 40 — and he averaged 18 yards per catch in two seasons at OU. He can help stretch the field vertically to take some pressure off Marqise Lee.

Round 5, No. 148: Blair Brown, LB, Ohio

My take: The Jaguars are hoping to repeat the Telvin Smith pick of 2014, when they took the former Florida State standout in the fifth round. Smith developed into one of the Jaguars’ best defensive players. Blair Brown also plays weakside linebacker and made a lot of plays for the Bobcats. His best trait, according to various draft analysts, is his instincts, which helps him make up for a lack of ideal size. The Jaguars are now at the point in the draft where they’re selecting players based on secondary attributes to fill specific roles.

How he fits: Brown played middle and weakside linebacker at Ohio, but he’ll start out weakside as Smith’s backup. He ran well at the combine (4.6 in the 40-yard dash), and the Jaguars envision him being a key player on special teams.

Round 7, No. 222: Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota

My take: Myrick ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, so he’s a burner, but he obviously has some significant deficiencies if he wasn’t taken until the seventh round. He’s of no risk for the Jaguars in the seventh round, and the team said they had a higher grade on him and were very happy when he was available.

How he fits: This is another special-teams pick because with that speed, he’s going to get a look as a punt and kick returner. But the Jaguars are going to take a look at him as a nickel corner as well.
Marquez Williams gives the Jaguars a burly lead blocker for top pick Leonard Fournette. Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, No. 240: Marquez Williams, FB, Miami

My take: The Jaguars didn’t have a fullback on the roster a month ago, and now they have two after drafting Williams with their final pick. The team signed Tommy Bohanon in mid-April, which gave Jacksonville a fullback for the first time since the 2014 season. The Jaguars had been using defensive end Tyson Alualu and tight end Ben Koyack in that role on occasion but decided to bring the position back after Marrone was hired to replace Gus Bradley.

How he fits: The 6-foot-1, 260-pound Williams immediately becomes Fournette’s best friend. Fournette is expected to carry the ball 18-25 times per game, and Williams will be in front of him for a good portion of those carries. The Jaguars also plan to use Williams on special teams.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars could have as many as nine new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:

Offense

Quarterback (Blake Bortles): Cutting down on turnovers (NFL-high 63 since he joined the league in 2014), being a more accurate passer (58.8 career completion percentage) and having better pocket awareness are things Bortles must improve upon to show the Jaguars he can be the long-term starter at the position.
Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, is a good bet to start for a Jaguars team that didn’t have anyone run for 500 yards last season. Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports
Running back (Leonard Fournette): The expectations aren’t for him to have the same kind of season that Ezekiel Elliott did for the Cowboys last season (1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns), but rather to rejuvenate a run game that has been among the NFL’s worst since Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (92.1 yards per game from 2012 to 2016).

Fullback (Tommy Bohanon): The Jaguars are bringing the position back after a two-year hiatus. Bohanon played in 36 games with the New York Jets from 2013 to 2015 and gets the nod over rookie Marquez Williams.

Tight end (Marcedes Lewis): He’s entering his 12th season with the Jaguars and at this point in his career is mainly a blocker. He has 351 career catches but just 36 in the past two seasons.

Left tackle (Branden Albert): He missed all of organized team activities because he wanted a new contract, but he reported for minicamp in the spring and said he’s not going to hold out during training camp. The two-time Pro Bowler turns 33 in November but remains the team’s best option at left tackle.

Left guard (Cam Robinson): The 34th overall pick likely spends his rookie season here before moving outside to left tackle in 2018.

Center (Brandon Linder): He said he spent his offseason watching tape of some of the league’s best centers, particularly Atlanta’s Alex Mack and Oakland’s Rodney Hudson, to help him in his second season as the Jaguars’ starting center.

Right guard (A.J. Cann): He played better as a rookie in 2015 than he did last season and has little margin for error now because the Jaguars like Patrick Omameh — who played solidly at left guard last season — and won’t hesitate to make the switch.

Right tackle (Jermey Parnell): He was bothered by a groin injury for much of last season but played better toward the end of 2016. If he struggles it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Robinson get reps here.

Wide receiver (Allen Robinson): His per-catch average dropped more than 5 yards in 2016 (to 12.1 from 17.5), though he caught only seven fewer passes. Robinson is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a big season gets him a big payday.

Wide receiver (Marqise Lee): He was finally healthy in 2016 and responded with the best season of his career (63 catches for 851 yards and three touchdowns and added a kickoff return for a score). He’s also in the final year of his rookie contract and needs to prove he can stay healthy and make big plays if he’s to earn an extension.

Defense

Defensive end (Yannick Ngakoue): His 8.0 sacks last season broke Tony Brackens’ single-season franchise rookie record. Defensive-line coach Marion Hobby loves Ngakoue’s drive and the fact that he’s not satisfied with anything he’s done.

Defensive tackle (Malik Jackson): He set a career high with 6.5 sacks last season and was the Jaguars’ best defensive player. He should be even more productive as an interior pass-rusher with Calais Campbell next to him.

Nose tackle (Abry Jones): He takes over as the starter for Roy Miller after signing a four-year, $16 million contract extension in February.

Defensive end (Calais Campbell): The Jaguars guaranteed him $30 million and need him to beef up the pass rush and improve the leadership in the locker room. Coach Doug Marrone says Campbell has already done the latter. The 30-year-old has 56.5 career sacks and has had at least five in each of the past eight seasons.

Weakside linebacker (Telvin Smith): He’s another player who’s entering the final season of his rookie contract. Smith has made the second-most tackles in the NFL (309) since he became a starter in Week 12 in 2014.

Middle linebacker (Myles Jack): The Jaguars gave him the starting job here and moved Paul Posluszny, who’s played his entire 10-year career at middle linebacker, outside to strongside linebacker. Jack’s strengths are his athleticism and speed, but, entering his second NFL season, he’s got a long way to go before he’s comfortable with all the checks and adjustments.

Strongside linebacker (Paul Posluszny): He clearly was not happy about the move outside and said it’s taking a while for him to adjust to what he’s seeing. He has different keys and a different sightline, which he aims to spend a lot of time with in film study so he can get recognize what’s happening more quickly.

Cornerback (Jalen Ramsey): He might be limited in the early part of training camp because he’s recovering from surgery to repair a core-muscle injury, but he’s on pace to become one of the league’s best cornerbacks.

Strong safety (Barry Church): He missed all of OTAs and minicamp but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. The Jaguars believe he’s a coverage upgrade over Johnathan Cyprien.

Free safety (Tashaun Gipson): He also missed all of OTAs and minicamp. His first season in Jacksonville was a disappointment, but defensive coordinator Todd Wash says more flexibility in the secondary means Gipson will have more opportunities to make plays in 2017.

Cornerback (A.J. Bouye): He got $26 million guaranteed as a free agent after a breakout season in Houston and pairs with Ramsey to give the Jaguars the top cornerback duo in the NFL (according to former Pittsburgh cornerback and current NFL Media analyst Ike Taylor, anyway).

Special teams
Kicker (Jason Myers): His field goal percentage of 82.8 in his two seasons ranks first in franchise history (minimum 25 attempts). He cut his missed PATs from seven in 2015 to three in 2016.

Punter (Brad Nortman): He ranked eighth in the NFL in punting (46.6 yards per punt) in his first season with the Jaguars.

Kick returner (Marqise Lee): His 30.3 yards per return would have ranked second in the NFL had he had enough returns to qualify. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Houston in Week 15 was the team’s first since Jones-Drew on Nov. 4, 2007.

Punt returner (Rashad Greene): He averaged just 6.2 yards per return and muffed three punts last season.

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Around this time last year, Dante Fowler said he was ready to “turn it loose” after sitting out his entire rookie year with a devastating knee injury. The result? Four sacks and 32 combined tackles in 16 games played.

Now the Jaguars pass rusher is ready to take his game to the next level.
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▹ MJD: Which relocated RBs will thrive?
▹ Schein: The Odell Beckham problem
▹ Comparing QBs from 2017 and 1992
WHY YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE …
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‘TOP 100 PLAYERS OF 2017’
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▸ 50-41
When asked this week if he’s going to make the leap, Fowler responded, per GridironNow.com, “I think it will happen. It was a big learning experience for me last year on and off the field. That was my first year on the field. I was like a freshman in college all over again, getting used to the guys at this level. It gave me an idea of how big and strong some of these guys are.”

Most encouraging for Fowler is that, after rehabbing his injured ACL all of last offseason, he is finally reaping the benefits of a healthy spring and seeing marked improvement in his burst and agility.

“[The ACL injury] out of my head, mentally,” Fowler said. “It is hard to believe it’s been two years. The coolest thing about it is the progress I see while we’re doing the conditioning work. I’m seeing how strong I’m getting and the explosiveness coming from my knee. It’s a really cool thing.”

The former third overall selection’s potential ascent is just one storyline to watch this season in Jacksonville, where Shad Khan, Dave Caldwell and Tom Coughlin have stockpiled an expensive, highly touted defense. The additions of Barry Church, A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell are expected to sure up an already stacked secondary and front seven, while the Jags hope to see improvement out of their young stars in Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey.

We’ve been burned by premature Jaguars hype two years running now, so it’s safer to tread lightly than anoint the team in May as the AFC’s dark horse. The same goes for Fowler and the defense.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On the first day of organized team activities, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ top two draft picks didn’t take snaps with the first team — during the portion that was open to the media, at least.

Don’t read much into that, though. Coach Doug Marrone’s plan all along was to work them in slowly.

Marrone doesn’t like to put too much on rookies right away. Besides, it doesn’t matter if running back Leonard Fournette or offensive tackle Cam Robinson are with the first unit in May. It does in September.

“Early on, I try to tend to stay away from that,” Marrone said Tuesday after the first of the team’s 10 OTAs. “Just from a fact of, you really haven’t earned anything and it is really about protecting them a little bit more and protecting how they acclimate themselves into the team. I think it is always better if they keep their mouths shut and work extremely hard and start making some plays first before they get up there with the first group and do things of that nature.

“That is how I have always tried to do it unless something crazy happens where you don’t have anyone at that position and you have to put someone there.”

You could argue that’s the case at left tackle because Branden Albert has yet to make an appearance at the voluntary offseason program. Robinson — whom the Jaguars took with the No. 34 overall pick — is supposedly competing with Albert to be the starter, so he naturally should get first-team reps. He eventually will, but Marrone wants to ease him into that role.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars didn’t draft Fournette No. 4 overall to have him play behind Chris Ivory or T.J. Yeldon. He was drafted to be the primary back and carry the ball at least 250 times in 2017. Barring injury, that will take place — eventually.

“I think you have to be careful,” Marrone said. “We have some other guys that maybe haven’t earned it either, but they will go up there, up front, a little bit and we will start working and we will start mixing it up and mixing them in as we go.”