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What We Learned: Pro Days/Owners Meetings

Posted Mar 28, 2014

Here’s What We Learned during the most recent two weeks of a busy 2014 offseason …


COLLEGE STATION, Texas – It has been a busy two weeks, with three high-profile quarterback Pro Days – those of Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater – as well as the 2014 NFL Annual Meeting and the end of the first wave of the 2014 NFL free-agency period. Here’s What We Learned in the last two weeks:

1. Johnny has flair. We’ll start with the most recent event first. The Jaguars attended Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day Thursday at Texas A&M with roughly the same group that has been doing the Pro Day Tour. That group saw what they expected to see – not a perfect prospect, certainly, but one with flair. Manziel drew attention to his Pro Day by working out in a helmet and shoulder pads with hip-hop music playing, but he performed well, completing 61 of 64 passes and showing arm strength and deep touch. A quarterback probably can’t “win” a Pro Day, but Manziel certainly didn’t lose his.

2. He has more than flair … It’s not fair to write off Manziel as all style and no substance. He has skills and can pass. ESPN analyst and six-time NFL Executive of the Year Bill Polian said he has a stronger arm than Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. That’s high praise from a man not given to hyperbole.

MANZIEL PHOTOS

3… He also has questions. The questions about Manziel are real – just as there are real questions about Bridgewater and Bortles, the other players most-often mentioned at the top of the draft. Manziel’s questions center around his frame and the fact that he’s a running quarterback. He’s an injury risk, and you can debate that all you want, but that’s a serious concern in NFL circles.

4. Bortles looks the part. That’s the first thing you notice about Bortles compared to Manziel and Bridgewater. He just looks like an NFL quarterback. In his Pro Day in Orlando last week, he threw like one, too. Get used to this theme. You’re going to hear it whenever Bortles is discussed between now and the NFL Draft. When NFL types look at Bortles, it’s easy for them to project a player who eventually could be very, very good, but …

5…. the emphasis must be on “eventually.” Few believe Bortles is ready to start right away and play at a competitive level. Polian told Sirius/XM Radio recently that none of the three, in fact, are NFL-ready and should sit for a year. That refrain is hardly uncommon around the league. “I think with this quarterback class, they’re going to need a little bit of seasoning,” Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said.

6. The Jaguars absolutely appear to believe that … We’ll keep saying this and many will keep not believing this, but even if the Jaguars do take one of the three most-talked about quarterbacks – and even if they use the No. 3 overall selection on that player – it’s unlikely the player will start immediately. Head Coach Gus Bradley wants an environment in which players can compete without the extra stress of expectations; making the No. 3 selection the starting quarterback immediately would create plenty of stressful expectations.

7…. So, yes, Chad Henne is probably starting. The Jaguars re-signed Henne before free agency for a reason. They expect the veteran to start training camp and the preseason and unless something pretty unforeseen happens, he’ll probably start the regular season, too. “We feel very comfortable saying Chad is the guy,” Bradley said during the owners meetings early this week.

8. Bridgewater’s size will be an issue. That’s not a shock to anyone who has followed the pre-draft chatter, but seeing Bridgewater at the Pro Day last week, there’s just no getting around it: He’s smaller than the prototypical NFL quarterback, and scouts are probably right when they say it’s going to be tough for him to gain and retain weight. That doesn’t mean he won’t be great someday, but just like an injury-prone quarterback, a quarterback of slight build concerns NFL decision-makers.

9. Bridgewater could slip. Let’s emphasize “could” here, because there are no guarantees. Pre-draft talk is about smoke-screens and misdirection, after all, but if one of the three “first-tier” quarterback prospects is going to slip, it may be Bridgewater. A Pro Day isn’t everything, but he struggled in his last week and clearly had the worst Pro Day of the front-line trio.

10. The Jaguars have been busy. The Jaguars’ key decision-makers haven’t been at every Pro Day this off-season, but they have hit a bunch of high notes. Bradley, Caldwell and Senior Vice President Football Technology and Analytics Tony Khan attended the Pro Days of Bridgewater, Bortles and Manziel, as well as the Notre Dame Pro Day in South Bend, Indiana, last week. Look for them to perhaps make a couple of more before Pro Days wrap in mid-April.

11. It’s time to say good-bye. Maurice Jones-Drew, the running back who made three Pro Bowls and won the 2011 NFL rushing title in eight seasons with the Jaguars, reportedly agreed to terms with the Oakland Raiders Friday. Jones-Drew was one of the elite players in this franchise’s history and will be remembered as such.

12. Toby Gerhart will be the starting running back. This was the case before Jones-Drew joined the Raiders, but Friday sort of cemented it for many observers. Gerhart, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent early this month, will start, with Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson also likely to play a role.

13. The Jaguars expect Robinson to play a significant role. The 2013 fifth-round selection has returned to Jacksonville significantly bigger than last season – up to 212 pounds from 197 – with the idea to be able to take more contact as he focuses on playing running back. The Jaguars like Robinson and believe he can take a step from Year One to Year Two.

14. Caldwell would like to trade back. Caldwell at the owners meetings reiterated what he has said much of the offseason – that he would be very open to trading back from the No. 3 overall selection to attain more selections. The Jaguars were open to this last year before selecting left tackle Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall, but Caldwell said there could be more interest from other teams this year. “We feel like there may be some options for us at three,” Caldwell said early this week.

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