JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars open training camp on Wednesday at the Miller Electric Performance Center in Jacksonville. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
Biggest question: Will the Jaguars’ pass rush be better than it was last season?
The last impression the Jaguars left of the 2022 season was the pass rush unable to get to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was limping around Arrowhead Stadium after suffering a sprained ankle early in the divisional playoff game. Heading into camp, the only addition to the pass rush is fifth-round pick linebacker Yasir Adbullah.
The hope is that linebacker Travon Walker, 2022 No. 1 overall pick, has improved enough to go from 3.5 sacks his rookie season to double digits. To be a legitimate Super Bowl contender the Jaguars will have to face some combination of Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Tua Tagovailoa. That’s a tough ask if the pass rush doesn’t improve significantly.
The player with the most to prove: Josh Allen, OLB
Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in 2019, has not matched the pass-rush production of his rookie season (10.5 sacks, 23 QB hits) when he played alongside defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. In 2023, he will be playing on the fifth-year option and needs to show he can consistently impact games.
He had four of his seven sacks in the last five games, and made one of the biggest plays of the season when he returned Titans QB Josh Dobbs’ fumble for a touchdown in a Week 18 win to capture the AFC South. He also had a sack and four QB hits in the playoff victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. However, he went eight consecutive games without a sack and had more than two tackles in just one of those games.
Most impactful offseason addition: Calvin Ridley, WR
Technically, Ridley joined the team last November when the Jaguars acquired him via a trade from the Atlanta Falcons, but he wasn’t reinstated from his gambling suspension until March. If he performs close to the level he did in 2020 (90 catches for 1,374 yards and 9 TDs) the Jaguars will have one of the best group of receivers in the NFL.
Christian Kirk (84 catches for 1,108 yards) and Zay Jones (82 for 823) set career highs in catches and yards in 2022 in their first season in Doug Pederson’s offense. Like Allen, Ridley also has a lot to prove in 2023: He’s also playing on the fifth-year option and a big season should earn him a contract extension that could make him one of the highest-paid receivers in the league.
Fiercest fantasy-relevant battle: Who is RB Travis Etienne Jr.'s backup?
Etienne is the Jaguars’ top back but there’s much better depth behind him this season with free-agent signee D’Ernest Johnson and third-round pick Tank Bigsby. Both will be fighting to be No. 2, but regardless of which one wins, it’s clear the Jaguars plan to ease the workload on Etienne a bit. Etienne accounted for 74% of the running back carries after the Jaguars traded James Robinson to the New York Jets on Oct. 25.
“I think there's a possibility of keeping everybody fresh through the long run of the season,” offensive coordinator Press Taylor said. “There are times obviously where Travis kind of gets the hot hand, you want to keep riding that wave, but now I think we've got a pretty good stable of backs that complement each other well and they’ll all have a role in some way, shape or form.”
Training camp is a success if … the offense picks up where it left off in 2022.
After scoring more than 27 points just once in the first 10 games, the Jaguars hit that mark four times in the final seven regular-season games, and scored 31 points (after trailing 27-0) in a playoff victory over the Chargers. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed 67.8% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in that seven-game stretch.
Pederson is expecting the offense to be better in the second year of the system, especially with the addition of Ridley. That means no confusion, no glitches and Lawrence in complete control throughout camp. There will be days when the defense wins but when the Jaguars break camp there needs to be a sense that the offense is going to make a similar jump Pederson’s group did in 2017 in his second season with Philadelphia, when the Eagles went from scoring 20.6 points per game in 2016 (17th) to 25.9 points per game (third).