This isn’t a true changing of the coaching staff – much of that all happened during the 2016 NFL season when they released Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson after Week 6 and promoted up Nathaniel Hackett from being the quarterbacks coach. Head Coach Gus Bradley only made it to Week 15 of last year before being released and Offensive Line/Assistant Head Coach Doug Marrone took over as the interim for the final two weeks. He was anointed as the permanent head coach on January 9th when the Jaguars also heralded the return of Tom Coughlin as the Executive Vice President.
We’ve already seen the change to the offense from using Hackett. He came from being the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills from 2013-2014 where he was the offensive coordinator for the same Doug Marrone who was the head coach there for the same two years.
Essentially, the Jaguars now sport the same set-up for head coach and offense that the Bills used when they compiled a 6-10 and 9-7 record before giving way to the Rex Ryan Traveling Circus in 2015. Hackett was also the offensive coordinator for Marrone in 2011-2012 when he was the head coach at Syracuse. Over the period of six years, the duo have filled the same roles on three different teams.
More of the Same?
The Bills did not sport an offense that was better than average in any positional production in that time. Not unlike with the Bills, the Jaguars have a defense that is far better than their offense. But haven’t we already seen what Hackett can do since he filled in for half of last year? Wasn’t his hiring as much about continuity for a team that has literally gone through three different offensive schemes over the last three years? No and No.
The reality for Hackett is that while he tweaked the game planning last season, he inherited Greg Olson’s offense and just did the best he could with it. This year will be the fourth different offense installed over the last four years – and those are all four years that Blake Bortles will have played in the NFL. That stacks the deck against any quarterback.
What to Expect
It is not hard to argue that Hackett has the best quarterback of his career in Blake Bortles. In Buffalo, he relied on EJ Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis and Kyle Orton. He only had the aging Fred Jackson and ever-injured C.J. Spiller as running backs and Robert Woods as his best receiver. In 2014, he was there for Sammy Watkins rookie season (65-982-6). The overall results were mediocre at best and was a part of why the Bills moved on from Marrone and company.
There is more to work with in Jacksonville with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns as wideouts. Bortles has been an upgrade for Hackett at quarterback and he did improve his stats in the second half of the year. Complicit in what was a bad year for the offense was a horrible schedule. Consider even down the stretch that Bortles faced the Chiefs, Texans (twice), Bills, Broncos and Vikings. That sparks at least some optimism for 2017 with Hackett free to further adjust this offense and not face one of the worst schedules in the league. Expect an upgrade to the passing production for the two primary wideouts who will not have to face almost every great secondary in the league this year.
The rushing effort remains suspect and Marrone hasn’t shown much interest in using more than the typical committee approach. There was nothing special about T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory. Even when Ivory missed games in 2016, Yeldon would never see more than about 15 carries at best. The sub-standard offensive line and brutal schedule did them no favors though. Back in Buffalo, Hackett never had a running back with more than 206 carries in a season. One plus is the trading away of Julius Thomas who was problematic for the offense because he would not block.
Bottom line – this is still a team that needs help but there are good reasons to expect that Hackett can turn around the passing effort if only thanks to an upgrade to their schedule. This will be a new offense for all to learn but there is certainly familiarity if only in personnel. Sadly, the rushing game isn’t likely to see much more success given the split in workload and lack of a top back.