We cap off our preseason questions with Jaguars inquiries with SB Nation bloggers with Ryan Day from Big Cat Country, who was gracious enough to answer our questions at length. You'll find his responses below, and we thank him for his time.
Dave Choate: I think we're all curious about whether Blake Bortles is going to get the opportunity to start this year, and whether the fanbase supports him getting the nod early on. It seems to me that if he's showing well in preseason, he should get an opportunity, given Chad Henne's track record.
Ryan Day: Blake Bortles is the best quarterback on the roster. The Jaguars coaching staff hasn't refuted that, rather they've said things like Chad Henne "grasps the offense better" or "has more experience". I think even the most casual of observers can watch the first three preseason games and see that Bortles gives the Jaguars the better chance to win right now. He throws better on the run, he's more athletic, he's more accurate, and more.
And the fan base is overwhelmingly in favor of putting Bortles in right away.
It's been interesting to watch actually... ever since Gus Bradley became Jacksonville's head coach, we've enthusiastically supported almost every decision he and general manager Dave Caldwell have made. But ever since Bradley announced Henne would definitely be the regular season starter, you've seen what I think is the first open disagreement en masse by Jaguars fans.
Dave Choate: I'll bounce that question back at you, because we all know the Falcons love them some Jacksonville Jaguars castoffs and vice versa. Any Falcons on the bubble that you have your eyes on?
Ryan Day: I'd take a look at whomever lost the battle to be the backup at center. Harland Gunn and Peter Konz are duking it out to back up starting center Joe Hawley. You said that Gunn has dabbled in center before, and if there's something I'd love to have on the Jaguars roster it's more guys who can play guard and center. But Konz is the true center.
The interior of our offensive line, especially at center, is looking fairly weak, so if I had to choose it'd be Konz. But... if rookie Luke Bowanko has a good game against the Falcons, then we could have a better interior than we thought we would at this point last week.
If Falcons fans are going to watch one Jaguars player on Thursday night, I'd suggest Bowanko. His performance will go a long way towards directing where the coaching staff goes for the regular season opener in terms of center and guard.
Dave Choate: Looking over this roster, what do you believe are reasonable expectations for the 2014 Jaguars? A winning record or a playoff berth in a weak AFC? One more middling year before contention?
Ryan Day: I don't think we're a contending team, even in an AFC South that is riddled by mediocrity. In many ways, last year was our expansion year, except without the franchise quarterback waiting in the wings. There has been massive roster turnover in the last two seasons -- one Jaguars beat writer noted that of the last 79 players on the roster, 63 were brought in by Caldwell.
This isn't a team that will even get to .500, but it will be better in nearly every category. We've bolstered our receiving corps, we've got a healthy, young running back, our franchise quarterback is waiting patiently, our defensive line has been upgraded, we're faster at linebacker, and our secondary has gained invaluable experience. The only thing I'm scared of going into the season is our interior offensive line, which has looked subpar in preseason.
This will be a fun team to watch grow in 2014, but it won't win more than six or seven games.
Dave Choate: We've been hearing a lot of buzz about the Jacksonville defense and the possibility of them quietly being one of the better units in the NFL this coming season. Who are the key cogs there, and who are the reserves we should keep an eye out for?
Ryan Day: *in Rob Lowe's "Parks & Rec" voice*
"This year's defense is... literally... the most exciting thing about the 2014 season."
But seriously, every position group has been upgraded. Sen'Derrick Marks earned a long-term contract extension with his play in 2013 and has been the heart and soul of the defensive line through the first three preseason games. He won't be playing against the Falcons (lucky for you) but he'll be a big reason why the Jaguars will get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year. Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have flashed in preseason, these are veterans and I'm excited to see what happens when wins and losses matter.
At linebacker, we've still got Paul Posluszny who's only 29. He's a middle linebacker in the old school mold of a guy who makes up for his lack of quickness with strength and run-stopping ability. I think we've seen his ceiling, but he's better than most middle linebackers in the league, so surrounding him with athletic, speedy guys like rookie Telvin Smith, LaRoy Reynolds, and Geno Hayes will make for a balanced linebacking corps.
The secondary, however, is where I think I'm most excited. As far as cornerbacks... Alan Ball is a guy who bounced around a few teams (and a few positions) before settling in as a starter here, Dwayne Gratz is young, quick, and tackles really well, and Will Blackmon is another Seahawks castoff who will fill the nickel spot well. The crown jewel of the secondary, however, is second-year player Jonathan Cyprien. He had a rough first half of last season, but turned in some very good performances and was one of the most highly rated safeties in the league for the last eight weeks of the season.
Dave Choate: Toby Gerhart seems to be going the Michael Turner route, jumping into a starting job as a bruising back after backing up a potential future Hall of Famer for a few years. Are you high on his ability, or do you think this is going to be Storm Johnson's job in a couple of seasons?
Ryan Day: This is Toby's job to lose. Head coach Gus Bradley has said repeatedly he wants Gerhart to be the "bell-cow" back and get the bulk of the carries. In his limited carries during the preseason, Gerhart showed he's an excellent between-the-tackles, downhill runner, but that he has trouble turning the corner and getting positive yards off-tackle. That's where Storm Johnson, and to a lesser extent Denard Robinson, come in.
Was Johnson drafted as a potential feature back? I don't believe so, but he certainly showed he could get the job done at UCF. Rather, I think the coaching staff wants to see Johnson develop into a change-of-pace guy who is the perfect middle ground between the powerful Gerhart and the speedy Robinson.