Same old Jaguars? Issues that took down 2018 season have returned

Nick Foles, who has a guarantee of more than $50 million in his four-year deal, broke his clavicle in the first half of his first game with the Jaguars. Stephen B. Morton/AP Photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s a new season with some new players and new hope, but the start of the 2019 season sure feels a lot like 2018 for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In Week 1, there were injuries on the offensive line, a sixth-round rookie thrust into the spotlight at quarterback, a rash of penalties for undisciplined play (including a fight and ejection) and too many breakdowns on defense. It’s only one week, but there are so many similarities to the issues that plagued the Jaguars last season that it’s easy to start to think: Here we go again.

They’re not saying that inside the team facility, but players and coaches admit they’re already facing some of the same issues they did last season. And saying some of the same things, too.

“It’s a way different scenario,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It doesn’t feel like last year at all. It’s a whole new year. It’s just the first game and we didn’t play good. We made way too many mistakes and we didn’t tackle well. It’s something that we can fix and we’re going to fix. I’m confident in my guys. We’re going to put the work in. We’re going to prepare and we’re going to get better.

“It’s one game and it sucks. You don’t want to lose them, but the best thing about the NFL is we’ve got another opportunity this week.”

The Jaguars said that a lot last year, too. But a season that started so promising quickly fell apart with a seven-game losing streak due to injuries (especially along the offensive line and to running back Leonard Fournette), inconsistent quarterback play and surprising defensive lapses.

The Jaguars lost starting left tackle Cam Robinson to a torn left ACL in Week 2 last year and ended up starting three other players at that position in the final 14 games. Center Brandon Linder and left guard Andrew Norwell played hurt early in the season and also eventually ended up on IR. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was lost for the season in Week 5, and tight end Niles Paul went down the following week.

Fournette missed six full games and parts of two others because of a hamstring injury. He also missed another game with a foot injury and was suspended by the NFL for another after coming off the bench and getting into a fight with Buffalo defensive lineman Shaq Lawson.

Meanwhile, quarterback Blake Bortles was benched for his poor play, backup Cody Kessler got hurt and the Jaguars scored just two offensive touchdowns in their final five games.

So a revamp was needed to avoid a repeat. Bortles was jettisoned. Nick Foles was signed to a huge deal that included a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed. A new right tackle was drafted in the second round.

And coach Doug Marrone tried a different approach in hopes of avoiding the rash of injuries that struck the team last season. He modified the training camp schedule by allowing the players more free time and having night meetings at the hotel instead of the stadium. He also avoided playing the starters for all but one quarter of one preseason game, though he did increase the first-team reps in practices.

It didn’t help. Robinson suffered a hyperextended right knee the Thursday before the opener against Kansas City, and backup Cedric Ogbuehi hasn’t practiced since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 3 of the preseason, which meant first-year player Will Richardson (who had been competing to be the starting right guard) started at left tackle in the season opener. Robinson’s injury isn’t season-ending, but there’s no announced timetable for his potential return.

The season hadn’t even started yet and the Jaguars were already on their third-string left tackle. Even worse, Foles lasted just 10 offensive snaps before suffering a broken collarbone when Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones drove him into the ground. He’ll miss at least eight weeks, and the team is turning the offense over to sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew.

The Jaguars’ defense is another major issue. Kansas City rolled up 40 points, quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns (313 yards and two TDs in the first half), and the Chiefs had five plays of 31 yards or longer.

The Jaguars played mainly zone defense against the Chiefs, yet receivers still ran wide open because of blown coverages. There were questionable decisions -- safety Ronnie Harrison went for an interception instead of making a sure tackle on Sammy Watkins’ 68-yard catch-and-run TD -- and missed tackles.

It wasn't what you’d expect out of a supposed elite defense.

There were plenty of penalties, too. The defense committed eight against the Chiefs, more than any other defense in Week 1 other than Miami. Included was linebacker Myles Jack getting ejected for throwing a punch at receiver Demarcus Robinson. Jack did apologize after the game, but losing his cool was costly because of the lack of depth at linebacker.

Unfortunately, losing your cool is not a rare thing in the hot climate of Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have established themselves as one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL -- especially on defense.

When it comes to discipline penalties (face mask, personal fouls, taunting, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, disqualification, roughing the passer, roughing the kicker), few teams have been as bad as the Jaguars. Per ESPN Stats & Information, they led the NFL in discipline penalties in 2018 with 27, including 19 by the defense (only Miami committed more). Since 2017, the Jaguars have committed 50 discipline penalties -- that’s third most in the league -- and 36 have come on defense, which is more than any other team in that 33-game span.

An even more troubling stat: No team has been penalized more for taunting since the 2017 season began than the Jaguars. They have seven, two more than Miami. Five of them have come on defense.

“It’s an emotional game and emotions are going to get the best of us at times, but the biggest thing is can we keep it together, especially in moments where it can put more points on the board or take points off the board or whatever the scenario may be,” Campbell said. “We understand that we can’t give up free yardage. We can’t give up penalties.

“The chip on the shoulder the guys play with, the emotion guys play with, that’s what makes us special, so we need it. We’ve got to make sure we don’t get penalties for it. It’s going to be that fine line, that balance. We’ll get there.”

The players said that last season, too, and things never changed. Linebacker Telvin Smith was penalized for taunting on his interception return in a victory over Miami in Week 16 -- a game that improved the Jaguars’ record to 5-10.

It is ridiculously early in the season. Circumstances are different and there’s a long way to go. There’s confidence that they can overcome the issues that have arisen in the past week. Outside the building, however, there’s a definite vibe of feeling snakebit and of “Here we go again.”

Marrone certainly doesn’t feel that way. Nothing that happened last season has any bearing on this season. As for his plan to get the team to the first week of the season healthy essentially going up in smoke over a five-day span, Marrone could only say: “S--- happens.”

“What are you going to do?” he said. “You’ve got to lead. You know what I’m saying? It’s easy to sit here and say, ‘Woe is me,’ and all that s---. I’m fired up for the challenge. I’m fired up to coach these players. I’m fired up for the challenge.

“... It’s a great challenge. It’s a challenge. ... Players are going to look at it. Players are going to read it. Fans are going to read it, but I’m telling you, I’m fired up for this team. I’m going to get this team ready to go, and we’re going to win football games. We’re going to work our way back in, and somewhere along the year, Nick will come back and he’ll rejoin our team if he’s OK to do that.”