The Eagles' 2014 season will begin on what promises to be a beautiful fall afternoon in South Philadelphia.
Coming to town to pop the cork on Chip Kelly's second NFL season will be the Jacksonville Jaguars and the man who could have been the Eagles' head coach if not for Kelly.
The task before head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell was not easy when they took over reins of the Jaguars organization last offseason. After years of poor drafting, the Jaguars were left bereft of talent on both sides of the ball. Beyond overturning the roster, Bradley was charged with reinvigorating an organization that needed new hope.
It appears Bradley has been largely successful with the latter goal, while the process of molding a top-level roster pushes forward. This offseason, the Jaguars continued to import a few former Seahawks with whom Bradley was already familiar from his tenure as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, bringing in defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant to aid a pass rush that was anemic in 2013.
But while the defense looks on the upswing under Bradley's stewardship, the offense remains a pressing issue. Gone is running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the greatest players in franchise history, while Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson's former backup with the Vikings, signed in Jacksonville to take the lion's share of the carries. An offensive line that has been porous over the last few years was addressed during last year's NFL Draft with the second-overall selection of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and was boosted again this offseason with the signing of former Denver Broncos starting guard Zane Beadles.
The Jaguars, though, still lack a franchise quarterback. The Jaguars hope to have found their man in Blake Bortles, the third-overall pick in this year's draft. But don't expect Bortles to line up under center in the season opener. Jacksonville plans to take it slow and easy with Bortles after Blaine Gabbert, a former first-round pick, was traded away this offseason after three disappointing seasons. Chad Henne was re-signed to remain the projected starter. The 28-year-old Henne has never finished a season with more touchdowns than interceptions and has a 75.3 quarterback rating for his career. He remains nothing more than a stopgap. To help Henne, and eventually Bortles, the Jaguars used their next two picks in the most recent draft on wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson after former fifth-overall selection Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely by the league for multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy.
The biggest reason for optimism in Jacksonville remains Bradley, who has energized the roster and seems to have the team developing an identity.
When the Jaguars travel to Lincoln Financial Field, their improving defense will no doubt be tested by the Eagles' high-flying offense. Linebacker Paul Posluszny is the captain of the Jaguars defense and he'll be one of the players to watch as the Jaguars try to corral
It all starts with the Jaguars' trip to Lincoln Financial Field and we, for one, can't wait.