Thanks to an unusual gift bestowed upon coach Doug Marrone, the Jaguars are full of bologna off the field.
It’s now on them to prove the same cliche doesn’t apply to the team itself.
Not to disparage what is unfolding as the best season Jacksonville (8-4) has enjoyed since its last playoff appearance a decade ago, but even one of the team’s best players admits he’s curious to see just how real the Jaguars are against an established winner like the Seahawks in Sunday’s matchup at EverBank Stadium.
“We’re trying to transcend into that next stage of having people actually worry about us and say, ‘That’s a good team,'” defensive tackle Malik Jackson told co-host Bill Polian and me Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Who better to come in here than a two-time Super Bowl team (since 2013) that’s at a high level in their confidence, that just beat the No. 1 team in the NFC (the Eagles)?
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Marrone recently received a different type of thrill when he learned the Beef Checkoff and National Hot Dog and Sausage Council sent 100 Boar’s Head bologna logs to team headquarters after the coach shared his fondness for the deli meat with the media (go to 1:27 of this video) following Sunday’s 30-10 rout of the Colts.
Marrone kept his bologna log for future use in fried sandwiches on white bread topped the way he likes it, with American cheese and spicy mustard. The rest of the food was donated to local food banks.
The levity Marrone’s passion for bologna evoked was sorely lacking during Jaguars training camp, and understandably so.
Marrone and new football czar Tom Coughlin were inheriting a team coming off six straight seasons with double-digit losses. As the team’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach the previous two years, Marrone saw first-hand a ship that had gotten too loose under previous head coach Gus Bradley.
The environment soon changed with Jaguars players quickly learning they would be held far more accountable than in the past. Jackson described the Marrone-Coughlin combination as “no-nonsense” and credited them for adding a “grit factor” that was lacking.
“When you have a lot of young guys on the team, I think discipline is needed,” said the 27-year-old Jackson, who joined the Jaguars in 2016 after a Super Bowl-winning season with the Broncos. “As an older guy, maybe not as much as they’re giving, but I see why we need it and I see where we’re going, so I’m not complaining.”
Jackson, though, does admit having to bite his tongue after enduring a grueling training camp practice schedule.
“I was actually having a conversation with (Marrone) last week about how tough it was, but then I have to give him some praise because I’m doing very well right now in the season,” said Jackson, who is a half-sack away from matching his career high of six with four games remaining. “At the moment, you’re like, ‘Aww, this is BS.’ But he has a greater goal in mind and he can see the future. I’m glad we stuck with him and I’m glad I followed him.”
NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE:
What, how Jags can clinch in Week 14
Although the Jaguars enter the Seahawks game leading the NFL in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game) and sacks (45), one major question that has lingered since the preseason remains unanswered: Is Blake Bortles a good enough quarterback to guide the Jaguars to playoff success?
There is no debate that Bortles has enjoyed his best year to date after a disastrous preseason in which he was briefly benched in favor of backup Chad Henne (who wasn’t any better). Bortles also isn’t expected to carry the offense so much as avoid turnovers and effectively serve a game-manager role with the Jaguars leaning heavily on their rushing attack.
But at some point, Bortles may be forced to show he can provide difference-making plays in the passing game when the Jags face quality opponents on a consistent basis. A preview of that scenario in the playoffs could happen Sunday against Seattle.
The Jaguars have a chance of securing a postseason berth depending on the outcome of their game and five others in Week 14. Jacksonville is still likely playoff-bound regardless for the first time since the heyday of David Garrard, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
But losing to the Seahawks will paint the Jaguars as a strong one-and-done candidate considering the relatively soft schedule they’ve played this season. Only two of Jacksonville’s eight wins have come against opponents that currently have winning records (the Steelers and Ravens).
“This is one of the biggest games in Jacksonville in a long time,” Jackson said. “I’ve been having this circled on my calendar for a long time.
“I just can’t wait for Sunday night, seeing how I feel and just seeing what will go down.”
And what type of taste facing the Seahawks will leave in Jackson’s mouth.
Alex Marvez can be heard from midnight to 2 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.