Q: After a 4-12 campaign in 2013, what would be considered a successful season for the 2014 Jaguars?
A: For Blake Bortles to look less like a rookie. As far as I'm concerned, this season is mostly about him. If he succeeds, the team succeeds. If he fails, the team will likely do the same. Do I want to see wins? Sure. But you can see measured growth in a potential franchise quarterback despite losses.
Right now, Bortles is doing what we (or at least, most of us) expected him to do. He's making confident throws downfield, extending plays with his mobility, throwing awful interceptions, and making mistakes in his pre-snap reads. The physical is there -- he's fast, athletic, and has a strong arm. Success this year would be for the mental to catch up by season's end.
Q: At 6'5" 232 pounds, Blake Bortles certainly looks the part of NFL franchise quarterback. However, in six games, Bortles has just six touchdowns to 12 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns) and three fumbles. Over the course of a season, those numbers translate to 32 interceptions, eight fumbles and 16 touchdowns. I know it is crazy to jump to any conclusions six games into a player's career, but is there any concern amongst management and/or fans concerning Bortles?
A: You're right, it is crazy to jump to any conclusions. Of all the positions, quarterbacks have the hardest time making the transition from college to pro. The game is faster, the opponents are better, and the schemes are more complex.
Granted, some of Bortles' interceptions have been absolutely terrible plays and at least one of his fumbles (the one last week against the Miami Dolphins) looked to be easily preventable. But there's very little concern for Bortles right now amongst most fans because 1. we understand he's a rookie and 2. who else would be our quarterback, Chad Henne?
Q: After starting 2013 0-8 under Gus Bradley, the Jaguars were competitive the second half of the season, finishing 4-4 over their last eight games. With a 1-7 start to 2014, they Jaguars aren't better record wise, but do you see this team heading in the right direction? And, do you believe Gus Bradley is the guy to return the Jaguars to playoffs?
A: I'm leaning more toward "yes" than "no" but I have doubts.
I think you can most see how good he is with our defense. His ability to shape and mold our secondary midseason into an ever-improving group says a lot about his understanding of the game. His fingerprint is all over the defensive line schemes that have us tied for second in sack totals and giving up just 88.0 yards per game through the last five weeks.
The doubts come in on offense, mostly. Why start Chad Henne the first three weeks of the season? Why did you have Toby Gerhart rated ahead of Ben Tate or Justin Forsett? I think next year will say a lot. I don't expect the Jaguars to make the playoffs in 2015, but if they don't hover around .500, a fourth season could be a hard sell.
Q: MJD left via free agency in 2013 and the Jaguars signed Toby Gerhart to replace him. 8 games into the season and it looks like Gerhart has been replaced by former Michigan starting quarterback, Dennard Robinson. Why has Robinson been so much more successful in the same offense? And do you see Gerhart still having a role in the offense?
A: Take your pick on Robinson: He's faster, he's quicker to hit the hole, he's more versatile in the backfield, and he has better vision in terms of seeing running lanes develop. I don't know why Gerhart busted, but he did. Count me as one of the guys who thought Gerhart could have a 1,000-yard season and be our featured back, but I don't see him getting more than the 12-15 snaps per game that he got last week.
Q: Two rookies, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, currently lead the Jaguars in receiving, Cecil Shorts has shown promise and Marqise Lee was a high pick in 2014. Who is the Jaguars No. 1 receiver? And how good is this receiving corps?
A: I think Allen Robinson is the best receiver right now for the Jaguars, followed by Cecil Shorts. As far as this receiving corps, I've heard people say we have a big need at receiver this offseason and I don't see it. Tight end? That I can see. But I think this group of receivers is only going to get better over the next year or two.
Q: What are the Jaguars' biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses in 2014?
A: The Jaguars defensive line is their biggest strength. As I said before, they're tied for second in the league with 25 sacks and interior defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. As far as a weakness, linebackers. But, I think that can turn around if rookie Telvin Smith and backup middle linebacker J.T. Thomas continue to develop.
Q: If you were the Bengals offensive and defensive coordinators, how would you attack this Jaguars team?
A: As far as our offense, shut down Denard Robinson and make Blake Bortles beat you. He's been in a slump, and can be fooled by masking coverages pre-snap.
As far as our defense, get the tight end involved early and often, and then take advantage of the fact that our secondary is on its last leg in terms of cornerbacks. Undrafted rookie Sherrod Martin has been getting looks at the nickel cornerback position this week and, well, that could be a big point of emphasis with the Bengals offense on Sunday.
Q: On Sunday, the Jaguars win if...
A: Bortles doesn't play like a rookie.
Q: On Sunday, the Jaguars lose if...
A: Bortles plays like a rookie.
Q: What is your prediction for Sunday's matchup?
A: I think it'll be close. I'm looking for our defensive line to carry the team and keep things tight for most of the game. And I think Bortles is going to limit his mistakes. I'm going to say it'll be a one-possession game until the fourth quarter when the Bengals run away with it. Jaguars lose 26-13.