Jaguars put more emphasis on character to improve culture
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says it often: They’re not all going to be choirboys.
It’s his way of justifying having players on the roster with questionable character, a few guys who create highlights and headaches.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Linebacker Telvin Smith. Defensive end Dante Fowler. Running back Leonard Fournette. Each of them contributed to a fractured locker room that coach Doug Marrone felt trickled onto the field as Jacksonville finished consecutive seasons last in the AFC South.
Former personnel chief Tom Coughlin was widely blamed for the team’s disconnect and dysfunction. Owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin late last year, kept Caldwell and Marrone, and tasked them with cleaning up the mess.
They addressed the bloated salary cap by parting ways with five aging veterans: Calais Campbell, Nick Foles, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus and Marqise Lee. They took another step this weekend by drafting team captain after team captain, high-character guy after high-character guy, a bunch of Boy Scouts essentially. The hope is it leads to an improved culture — and more wins.
No one knows for sure how it will pan out. Jaguars fans have seen it before, though, so they have to be skeptical. Former general manager Gene Smith took a similar approach between 2009 and 2012, placing a premium on integrity. Jacksonville failed to finish above .500 in any of those years.
Caldwell and Marrone hope to have better results with their revamped roster.
“Is it big? Absolutely,” Marrone said. “Is this something that we’ve stressed? Yes. But we were able to do that without sacrificing the talent or potential.”
Jacksonville drafted 12 players, the most in franchise history, and didn’t budge to get any of them. They had numerous holes to fill, many of them they intentionally created.
The team’s common theme throughout the three-day event was few, if any, red flags. Sure, they drafted a couple guys with injury concerns — Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault in the second round and Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton in the sixth — but everyone else was as “clean” as could be.
“Honestly, we’ve always tried to do that,” said Mark Ellenz, the team’s director of college scouting. “Sometimes it means making some concessions. But we’ve always tried to find high-character guys throughout my career. I wouldn’t say it was mandated, but it was stressed, definitely.”
It was on display during Day 3 of the draft, the final four rounds that help build the back end of the roster. Jacksonville chose offensive tackle Ben Bartch from Division III St. John’s (Minnesota), Michigan State cornerback Josiah Scott and Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman in the fourth.
Bartch gained 86 pounds thanks to daily protein shakes that consisted of seven eggs, cottage cheese, grits, peanut butter, banana and Gatorade.
“A couple of my roommates have tried it before,” Bartch said. “I don’t know if they actually completed it. They just are not as nasty as me, I guess.”
He used the extra bulk to make a successful move from tight end to left tackle in 2018 and then held his own against better competition at the Senior Bowl.
Quarterman grew up in Jacksonville before becoming a four-year starter and team captain for the Hurricanes.
“It just takes somebody to maybe say something and I’ve learned that that’s just the role that I have to play,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with talent on and off the field, but even more so as a person. I’m not too cool to tell my teammates that I love them and that I need them. And doing things like that go a long way more than most people actually know.”
Jacksonville also drafted Auburn safety Daniel Thomas, Texas 6-foot-6 receiver Collin Johnson, Georgia Tech tight end Tyler Davis and speedy Memphis kick returner Chris Claybrooks.
“I’ve been a leader my whole life,” said Davis, who had to move into his backyard during a Zoom call to escape friends and neighbors driving by, honking and screaming congrats.
Jacksonville hopes its new additions help promote a better work environment for everyone following Coughlin’s tyrannical reign. It might even benefit Fournette and disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Both players were on the trading block during the draft, but the Jaguars couldn’t find suitors.
“I’m excited about a bunch of young guys that have done things the right way for the most part,” Marrone said. “That’s something we should be celebrating, something we should be proud of.”
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