Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell says franchise has 'healthiest, best roster' of his tenure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In the NFL, the most convenient time for optimism is the week leading up to the season opener.

However, the positivity at EverBank Field is pretty easy to understand, as most believe the team can only ascend from its previous shortcomings.

Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell is among those who are excited about the clean slate of a new season and a retooled, healthy roster.

"It's our healthiest, it's our best roster," Caldwell said. "That can all change quickly [but] we can matchup with virtually anybody."

Caldwell met with the print media on Wednesday to discuss the "best roster" of his tenure. The fourth-year general manager spoke candidly about the state of the team and its key players, acknowledging old problems and introducing new solutions.

Caldwell is well-aware of the team's 12-36 record under his leadership, but he believes the lumps are part of the process in building a long-term contender.

He believes the differences are night and day from when he first took over as general manager.

"In previous years, I felt like we had to be perfect just to be into a game, late into a game," Caldwell said. "Where here we can overcome a bad play, a fumble, a backed up situation, a deficit. Offensively, we can score quickly and defensively we can hold the fort down."

Caldwell's has watched his group evolve over the years. He inherited Marcedes Lewis, Paul Posluszny and Tyson Alualu, but the rest of the roster was built by him. Caldwell takes pride in discussing the successes of Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and his other additions.

In fact, the general manager has added so much to the roster that it took 15 minutes into the conversation to bring up his quarterback. However, once the subject was breached, Caldwell was quick praise his former first round pick.

"Blake has really self-improved and taken the bull by the horns with his regiment in terms of how he goes about his offseason," Caldwell said. "I guess the thing with him is that he's still only his third year. We're going up against a guy who has been in the league for 12 years [Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers]. Hopefully, Blake will continue to improve and grow. He's a good spot in his development but make no mistake, he's still developing."

Another former first round pick received some heavy attention during the discussion. Caldwell was asked if left guard Luke Joeckel was a bust and the general manager was quick to dismiss the notion.

"He's not a bust," Caldwell said. "I would say he is a good starting NFL offensive lineman that's still growing. He is only 24-years-old. A.J. Cann - who was a rookie last year - is a month older than he is. He's got as much talent as anybody along that offensive line and this will be a little bit of a transition for him but he's played some very good football for us. He's also had moments that haven't been good either, but I look across the league and Luke Joeckel can take us where we need to go."

Joeckel is part of a new-look offensive line. Center Stefen Wisniewski is gone and former starting right guard Brandon Linder has taken his place. Newly-signed Kelvin Beachum is now handling Joeckel's old spot at left tackle.

Beachum underwent ACL surgery before arriving in Jacksonville and missed a good chunk of the offseason as he rehabilitated his knee. Still, Caldwell has confident in his new blindside blocker.

"Based off his history and based off what he did the first preseason game and how he's done in practice, I'd expect him to compete and do fairly well," Caldwell said. "He won't be perfect but I think he'll be able to play some winning football."

The key word for Beachum, Caldwell and the franchise is winning and for what it's worth, the general manager likes what he sees from his squad.

"I like our athleticism, skill set on defense, we've upgraded there," Caldwell said. "Offensively, 10-of-11 starters are coming back."

More Notes from Caldwell

- On Rashad Greene: "First and foremost, his punt return ability is a big value for us. Inside, he can win quickly [at slot receiver]. He's a quick stop-and-starter and he's got excellent hands. He's a pretty good guy after the catch if he can get out in the open."

- On Prince Amukamara: "Well, he was a first round pick and we knew he was talented - he's played on a big stage. He's a pro and he's done a nice job. I tell you, from the time he got here in the spring to now, he's one of our most improved guys."

- On how to play everyone in a deep cornerback group: "Those are not difficult decisions. Difficult decisions [were deciding] who was going to start for us a three years ago. These decisions - we're going to need them all - I'm sure they could [form] a rotation and keep guys fresh."

- On the overall offensive line: "I expect this offensive line to have some physicality to it. These guys are maturing. Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann, Luke Joeckel, Jermey Parnell - even though he might be up there in age, he hasn't played a lot of football. So to keep those guys together - I've noticed in preseason they're a lot more physical and more aggressive and I think that was - even as we talked last year - we're still a year [away] with those guys playing as a unit and it's starting to come to fruition a bit."

- On Joeckel's skills at left guard: "He's got a good ability to anchor, especially in closed quarters like that and he's got excellent feet, left tackle feet and athleticism inside there, which will be a [good] matchup against big [defensive tackles] as long as they come from a power standpoint."

- On Myles Jack not having a set position: "What happened with Dante [Fowler] last year kind of helped us make this decision with Myles. You're just concerned about the unknown and the future and you just don't know with any of these guys. The second they step on the field they can get injured, regardless of what their history is. Myles is a very diligent player, very diligent person and so he took very good care of his body and that went into another factor in us drafting him."

- On cutting Tyrone Holmes: "I would have liked to have kept Tyrone around too - not that I like to waste picks - but it's a good problem to have. Two years ago, we had two sixth round picks starting for us."

- On potentially changing the defensive scheme after Bob Babich's firing: "I know Gus went through that extensively. He brought in guys with different schemes, different backgrounds and trust me, it was a more exhaustive interview process than I knew - Gus really spent a couple of week on it and did a really good job. I think at the end of the day, the comfort level with Wash, we had some pieces that we were building for this scheme and at the end of the day, this scheme is adaptable."

Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye. For more Jaguars coverage, DOWNLOAD the First Coast Football App. 


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