Jacksonville Jaguars digital reporter Ashlyn Sullivan is currently quite busy. The opening kickoff of her second season covering the team was just last Sunday. And Sullivan also has not one, but two, commitments to host Jags-related programming, anchoring FOX’s Jaguars Weekend and dissecting the latest Jags news alongside Brian Sexton and John Oehser on the team’s daily morning show, Drive Time.
With Sullivan dedicating so much of her time and energy to the X’s and O’s of Jags football, we thought she’d be the perfect person to relay the top storylines to watch play out during the upcoming season. Here’s what she told us prior to the Jags victory over the New York Giants last week.
What should we expect out of Blake Bortles this season?
You should expect Blake Bortles to look like a prominent NFL quarterback this season. Nothing proves that more than the opening drive against the Saints in the first preseason game. Bortles drove the offense down the field and scored a rushing touchdown while looking composed and in control of the offense. A year ago, Bortles was competing for the starting job against Chad Henne. Bortles has made drastic improvements on the mental side of being a quarterback in the league. He now has a new confidence about him that will take him far this season. This is Blake’s team.
Who’ll break out on offense?
Newly acquired tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. “ASJ” was acquired during free agency in March from the New York Jets and immediately impressed a lot of people with his size and athletic ability. It was a pleasant surprise to see his blocking abilities as a tight end as well, something former Jaguar Marcedes Lewis was talented at.
ASJ already seems incredibly comfortable with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system and has grown a strong bond with quarterback Blake Bortles in a short time. Bortles has spoken very highly of ASJ and shared with the Jaguars broadcasting department that Seferian-Jenkins attends the quarterback meetings every morning so he can get a better grasp of the playbook; a meeting uncommon for a tight end to attend.
Wide receiver we should keep our eye on and why?
A wide receiver to keep your eye on is the newest addition to the WR room, D.J. Chark. Chark was a second-round draft pick out of LSU and has immediately made a name for himself so far in training camp. As soon as Chark walked into TIAA Bank Field, I was impressed with the way he carried himself. He looks the part of an NFL receiver: tall, long arms, long torso and big hands. During practice, he stands out with his speed and his ability to go up and bring down the ball despite defenders around him. He has made plays against all-pro corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye several times during camp.
Off the field, you would never know Chark is a rookie. He has a confidence about himself that makes it seem like he is ready to compete at any moment. He also carries himself very professionally in front of the media. Chark is a player who could become the Jaguars number one receiver in upcoming years with what he has shown so far in camp. This season will be an opportunity where Chark can showcase his abilities and eventually make himself a house hold name for years to come.
Can the defense have a repeat performance of last season?
Yes, the defense can have a repeat performance as one of the best defenses in the league if they can do one thing: stay healthy. The Jaguars were lucky last season with injuries. Only one starter missed a game on defense throughout the whole season and that was linebacker Telvin Smith. One thing the Jaguars defense has going in their favor is depth, especially on the defensive line. Head Coach Doug Marrone has said he thinks the second string defensive line could compete as a starting line on other teams.
The key to this defense is controlling all the personalities on that side of the ball. Working together as one unit is key for them to get back to the AFC Championship game. I like the intensity and passion that comes with some of the strong personalities on defense, the key is controlling those personalities and letting them use their intensity as an advantage on the field.
Which non-starter should fans keep their eye on and why?
A non-starter fans should keep their eye on is backup quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler is coming off an impressive performance in the first preseason game against the Saints. He has said he is much more comfortable with the offensive system than he thought he would be and appreciates the fresh start Jacksonville has given him since his time with the Cleveland Browns. In a worst-case scenario where Blake Bortles would not be able to play with an injury, I think Cody Kessler would hold his own at quarterback and still can lead this team to a win.
Who is the most underrated coach on the staff?
Special team’s coordinator Joe DeCamillis is the one of the most underrated coaches on the Jaguars staff. The Jaguars have made a strong commitment to special teams during free agency with the acquisition of players like Niles Paul and Cody Davis. Throughout training camp, multiple periods of practice are dedicated to perfecting kickoff and field goals. Joe DeCamillis had to take on a new kickoff rule this offseason and teach the entire special teams unit an entirely new way to play the game for their position. Special teams do not get the credit it deserves for being a key part to winning a football game. Joe DeCamillis is one of the most intense and passionate coaches I have been around, he truly wants his unit to play the perfect game and holds them to a very high standard.
Which under the radar defensive player should fans keep an eye on this season?
Fans should keep their eye on the Jaguars seventh-round draft pick out of Wisconsin Leon Jacobs this season. Jacobs is currently practicing with the first team defense at strong side linebacker and has impressed many during training camp. Veteran linebacker Telvin Smith has applauded Leon Jacobs for his talent on the field and the way he studies the playbook. Smith has said he doesn’t need to worry about Leon Jacobs because he knows he will do the right thing on and off the field, that’s a surprising description for a rookie. Jacobs is the favorite to take over the strong side linebacker spot on defense and should get ample time to prove himself this season if he locks in the starting job.
This article originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 5, The Sports Issue.