JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are ahead of schedule with the installation of the defense in organized team activities, which isn’t surprising because a lot of the players are in their second and third years in the system.
However, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said they’re also ahead of schedule with the installation of the offense, which is unexpected because the veteran players weren't handed offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s playbook until April 20.
The reason for the advanced pace is even more remarkable: the offensive line.
"Offensively, we’re progressing faster than I thought we would learning a new offense," Bradley said. "Remember last year in the offensive line, we were trying to find out who the starters were -- even into the season -- where this year we have strong competition.
"I think because of that and a lot of guys are in their second year or third year [in the NFL], it just seems to be coming faster to them."
The Jaguars’ offensive line in 2014 wasn’t very good. The unit started two rookies (center Luke Bowanko and right guard Brandon Linder); left tackle Luke Joeckel played in only five games as a rookie before an ankle injury landed him on IR; four players started games at right tackle; and free-agent signee Zane Beadles struggled at left guard.
The result was that the Jaguars finished 21st in the NFL in rushing (102.1 yards per game) and last in the league in sacks allowed (a franchise-record 71).
The Jaguars made the offensive line a priority in the offseason, adding right tackle Jermey Parnell and center/guard Stefen Wisniewski in free agency and drafting guard A.J. Cann in the third round. Parnell will be the starter at right tackle. Wisniewski is participating only in individual work during OTAs as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery, but it’s likely he’ll be the starting center. The hope is Cann will push Beadles at left guard.
It also helps that half the players in the starting lineup are no longer rookies. The Jaguars routinely started five -- and, in one game, six -- rookies on offense last season, including quarterback Blake Bortles and three receivers. Those players don’t have to adjust to the NFL while learning a new offense this year, and as a result the pace has been better.
"The way that Gus has set up the OTAs, we work on a different situation each day, so we’ll be installing throughout the OTAs," Olson said. "They’ve been exposed to a lot of the things we want to do through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the offseason program. They’ve seen it on paper; they just haven’t had the chance to go out and execute it on the field."
When there has been new material, there have been few mistakes, which is another sign for Bradley that the offense is ahead of schedule.
"The number of busts on offense has been minimal, and that’s a great sign," he said. "We’re just lining up the right shift, the right motion, and executing their assignments. The finished part, we will keep working on that, but that part [mistakes in lining up, shifts and motions, and assignments] is minimal, which is a great sign. Offensive line with protections, pointing out the Mike [middle linebacker], how we’re going to get certain looks, they’ve done a really good job with that."
Granted, this is happening during OTAs, when players aren’t in full pads, and how well the offensive line is playing and how much of the offense is absorbed won’t be completely evident until training camp. But it’s a good start and is encouraging after the way the offense performed in 2014.