by Cole Pepper
The tight end position has evolved in the NFL over the past dozen years or so. Everybody wants a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates to create match-up problems. It’s rare to to find a big powerful tight end running down the seam like the league featured in the 80s and 90s.
But that’s the kind of tight end the Jaguars have, at least, at the top of the depth chart, in Marcedes Lewis. The former first round pick had a better year in 2012 than his disastrous (at least, as a pass catcher) 2011. Still, Lewis can be better. In 2010, with a healthy David Garrard under center, Lewis enjoyed a career year with 10 touchdown catches. He was the Jaguars main red zone threat. He looked like a Pro Bowl tight end.
Then came the quarterback change, Blaine Gabbert’s struggles and the dysfunctional season that had Lewis hearing it from coaches and fans. Last year, despite inconsistent quarterback play, Lewis was better, but still…you look at him and just know that there is the potential for more. Even with a former tight end as a head coach, Lewis was too often put in a position to fail. Spend anytime at all watching him and you know that he isn’t likely to turn a curl route into a big play. He’s a big, powerful tight end, not the quick elusive H-back type. Too often last year, Lewis was asked to run routes that resulted in him catching the ball with his back to the defense.
To get the most out of him, new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch must design routes that play to Lewis’ strengths: his size and strength.
Which brings us to the biggest question about the Jaguars tight ends this year: how will they be used. From what we have seen so far, Fisch’s offense is going to be based around speed. With players like Cecil Shorts, Denard Robinson, Ace Sanders and Justin Forsett, the Jaguars will have the ability to strike deep and create mismatches. On the surface, Lewis doesn’t seem to fit.
This is the ultimate challenge for an offensive coach. The good one’s find a way to utilize the talents and abilities of everyone on the field. Gus Bradley has talked a lot about that, albeit, mostly in conversations about the defense.
This is Fisch’s first stint as an NFL offensive coordinator. Clearly, the spotlight will be on the quarterback position this year, but keep an eye on the tight end position. It’s a group in flux. Gone are Zach Miller and Zach Potter. Matt Veldman and Brett Bracket are returning from injuries. Isaiah Stanback is trying to rejuvenate his career after switching from wide receiver. Those are the top contenders to be the #2 tight end. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done at this position.
Defining Success: If the Jaguars can get numbers out of Lewis that more closely resemble 2010 and get any kind of productivity out of the backups, you would have to consider it a victory. This position, that looked like it could be one of strength this time last year, looks very thin at this point. Then again, sometimes things don’t follow the script. You need only to look back one season to see that.
Projected tight end depth chart: