The Jaguars begin the organized team activities section of the offseason on Monday. With 90 players ready to battle for roster spots, the atmosphere should be competitive, even though there will be little contact until training camp.
While fans have little access to the OTAs period, I will be around for (almost) every practice this summer (with daily recaps coming your way) and will have my eye on 10 players that have a lot to prove this offseason.
Dante Fowler Jr.
BOLD STATEMENT TIME: Fowler's success (or lack thereof) will be the biggest factor in whether or not the Jaguars defense is successful this season. The team passed on signing proven veteran pass rushers and chose to wait until the third round to take one in the draft. The team has invested a lot in Fowler by avoiding the additions of other pass rushers. Fowler was the third overall selection last year and an ACL injury derailed his rookie season before it even got started. He will now have to prove that he's not only healthy, but effective as a pass rusher. There is a lot of pressure there.
Injuries have cut seasons short for Marks over the last two years. This could be a big offseason for the big guy, who was once considered the team's best player. As a veteran leader, I'm interested to see how he interacts with Malik Jackson, who is making significantly more money and may cut into a lot Marks' playing time. He knows the defense as well as anyone, so it's important that he teaches on the field the way he did last offseason when he was on the sidelines.
At this time last year, Marshall was a college cornerback converting back to cornerback. Now he has a year of being an NFL cornerback under his belt. With Aaron Colvin set to miss four games and Jalen Ramsey dealing with a knee injury, the Jaguars need to see something from Marshall in case he has to play a lot. I am interested to see if Marshall has gained some perspective in coverage. At times last season, he seemed to struggle with the coverage aspect of the game, even though the speed and athleticism were clearly there.
Last year's sixth round pick said that he took time in the offseason to add muscle and get in shape. With tons of competition headed his way, that's a great approach. I want to see the speed and power from Bennett that he displayed early on last offseason. He will be fighting all offseason, so getting off to a quick start could go a long way for him.
The hype was there for Sample as a rookie, but he really didn't get to jump on that early success due to injuries. He's expected to compete for the starting strong safety spot this year but he has to show early that he can handle the workload and duties of the position. He's fully healthy now so there are no excuses. He knows the defense, so it's all about execution.
The Jaguars signed Werner to play to his strength as a defensive end. It'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new defense and a new setting. He has a lot of potential, there is no doubt about that, but can he reach it? A former first round pick, being cut by a division rival should motivate Werner to change some opinions around the league.
Last year's practice squad addition is finally healthy. He was a fifth round pick just a few years ago and started a few games for the Eagles. He can be the team's fourth or fifth safety and has the ability to play both spots. If he can show he's healthy, the Jaguars will have some legit competition for Josh Evans, James Sample and Johnathan Cyprien this season. If not, undrafted rookie Jarrod Wilson will be the only darkhorse of the position group.
If you forgot Benn was on the roster, you're probably not alone. The veteran was overlooked prior to training camp last year, when some in the media fell in love with his ability. Injuries have caused Benn to miss the last three NFL seasons and this may be his last shot. Benn is set to battle with a loaded wide receiver group. Can he prove himself worthy of a spot on the Jaguars or another NFL team? His mission begins on Monday.
I reported last week that Hilton received the highest guaranteed salary of all the Jaguars' undrafted free agent signings. Despite being only 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, Hilton was a major priority for the team after the draft and has the ability to play anywhere in the secondary. He may battle Peyton Thompson for the hybrid cornerback/safety role or be the extra cornerback kept on the roster while Aaron Colvin serves his four-game suspension. However, in order to lock down a spot, Hilton will have to flash early on.
Listen, when the top two draft picks are unavailable for OTAs, you have to include the top pick on the field. While Ngakoue is being pegged as a rotational pass rusher by the staff, plenty of things could change if Fowler can't recover from injury or has a setback. Based on his college film, Ngakoue should be able to handle a heavy workload eventually, but I'm interested to see how he starts his Jaguars tenure.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter for constant offseason updates and OTAs coverage at @Mike_E_Kaye.