The Times-Union’s countdown to Jaguars training camp begins today with a beat writer’s roundtable.

 

Five questions – about new coach Doug Marrone, players with the most to prove, injury concerns, under-the-radar candidates and overall state of the team – were presented to Ryan O’Halloran and John Reid.

The newbie (Reid) gets the first crack at each question and repeat answers by O’Halloran are not allowed.

1. What is coach Doug Marrone’s greatest challenge during training camp?

John Reid: Getting continuity established on the offensive line. I thought too much experimentation went on in the off-season, like having Brandon Linder take snaps at right guard although he performed well at center last season. With training camp approaching, it’s not good Marrone still can’t identify his five best linemen. A big problem was not addressing the interior offensive line needs. If they are going to be a run-oriented team, it has to start with the offensive line. If Branden Albert is going to be the starting left tackle, second-round pick Cam Robinson should be immediately moved to guard.

Ryan O’Halloran: Making sure quarterback Blake Bortles is of sound mind and mechanics when the Jaguars’ charter departs for Houston on Saturday, Sept. 9. Making sure Bortles establishes a mechanical foundation and has a comfort level with Nathaniel Hackett’s offense should be Marrone’s main focus this summer. If that means Bortles takes more practice snaps, so be it.

2. Which players have the most to prove in training camp?

JR: Without question, Bortles is entering a make or break season. He regressed significantly in 2016 after setting the single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and touchdown passes (35) in 2015. A big problem last season was his 22 turnovers, which included 16 interceptions. The Jaguars picked up Bortles’ fifth-year option, but if he struggles again they will be looking to pull the plug and look for another starting quarterback after this season. Running back Leonard Fournette also has plenty to prove after being selected fourth overall. The Jaguars’ offense will obviously be featured around Fournette and with that comes enormous expectations to produce the same way he did at LSU as a workhorse back, capable of powering through defenders and scoring touchdowns.

RO: Defensive end Dante Fowler. He had four sacks last year and was overshadowed by Yannick Ngakoue (eight sacks). Given multiple chances this off-season to praise Fowler’s progress, Marrone largely passed. The best way for Fowler to make an impact in the regular season – be more than a third-down player – is to have a productive training camp and preseason.

3. Are the Jaguars’ injuries – strong safety Barry Church, free safety Tashaun Gipson, tailback T.J. Yeldon and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin — worth worrying about?

JR: The injuries to Church, Gipson and Colvin are worth being concerned about because Marrone declined to say on the final day of mini-camp (June 15) if he was confident the trio would be ready for training camp. The Jaguars can’t afford having two of their top safeties begin camp on the injured list, especially Church, one of their top free agent signees in the offseason. Another worry is Ramsey, who underwent surgery on June 16 for a core muscle injury. It remains unknown at this point if he will be fully recovered before camp opens.

RO: It would be one thing if the aforementioned five players were spread out among the position groups, but four are defensive backs so yes, the Jaguars should proceed cautiously when camp starts. Anytime a team’s best player (Ramsey) has surgery, it is concerning. But don’t underestimate Yeldon’s injury. He has been unable to finish his first two NFL seasons and the Jaguars like him as a third-down back. Without him, Fournette could be overloaded with responsibilities.

4. Which under-the-radar players will shine during training camp?

JR: There’s been some speculation that veteran running back Chris Ivory could be the odd man out in the running back rotation. However, I think he is going to emerge in training camp and throughout the season as the No. 2 tailback behind Fournette. During OTAs and mandatory minicamp, he displayed a burst to get through holes quickly. At last, he appears to be injury free and determined to get back to the production he displayed for the New York Jets, when he led the AFC in rushing with 1,079 yards in 2015. Another under-the-radar player is undrafted rookie defensive end Carroll Phillips. He is going to experience a sharp learning curve, but when the pads come on, his ability to get to the quarterback as an edge rusher is going to be noticeable.

RO: Can a player who has a four-year, $40 million contract be considered below the radar? Yes in receiver Allen Hurns’ case. He had only four catches in Games 8-11 of 2016 and then missed the final five weeks with a hamstring injury. Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and maybe even Dede Westbrook will get the attention in camp, but our guess is that Hurns becomes a trusted target for Bortles in the preseason games when he lines up in the slot and goes against Nos. 3-4 cornerbacks.

5. Have the Jaguars made enough progress this off-season to be competitive?

JR: It’s tough to determine how much progress was made in the offseason without seeing this team in pads and a number of key players missed valuable offseason work because of injuries. Marrone got his point across that he expects physical play from his players. The team has their leader in veteran defensive end Calais Campbell and the unit appears to be strength. The offense has questions, and Bortles didn’t look particularly sharp during some passing drills during mandatory minicamp, especially in the red zone. However, I think this team realizes it has plenty of work ahead and by no means do they want to go through another dreadful 3-13 season. They have enough talent to compete with the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.

RO: Be competitive, yes. Top the division table, not quite. My forecast is 1. Houston; 2. Indianapolis; 3. Tennessee and 4. Jaguars. We’ll know everything about this team in the first two weeks of the season when the Jaguars play at the Texans and host the Titans. Getting at least a split is critical. The Jaguars have the personnel to stop teams, but can they produce more takeaways? The Jaguars have Fournette, but can they block well enough for him? The Jaguars are committed to Bortles, but can he deliver? The only hope for us every-day observers is that they are compelling.