Jaguars fire OC, bench Blake Bortles after 7th straight loss
JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville Jaguars sacked offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Blake Bortles one day after the team’s seventh consecutive loss.
Coach Doug Marrone fired Hackett and benched Bortles on Monday, making sweeping changes to one of the league’s worst offenses.
“I felt I needed to make a change to get us an opportunity to win some games,” Marrone said. “It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. I really feel like at the end of the day we’ve got to try to get better production out of our passing game or more consistent production in our passing game.”
Marrone promoted quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich to offensive coordinator as well as backup quarterback Cody Kessler.
Milanovich spent five seasons (2012-16) as head coach for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts before landing in Jacksonville last year. Kessler lost all eight starts for Cleveland in 2016.
Marrone expects Milanovich and Kessler to energize a lackluster offense when the Jaguars (3-8) host Indianapolis (6-5) on Sunday.
“Hopefully he can stay healthy and win some games for us,” Marrone said. “My plan is for him to go in there and play.”
Staying healthy could be a challenge for Kessler considering Jacksonville will be without three starting offensive linemen, including left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle) who was placed on injured reserve Monday. Norwell joins center Brandon Linder and left tackle Cam Robinson on IR.
The Jags also could be without their offensive centerpiece if the NFL suspends running back Leonard Fournette for leaving the sideline and provoking a fight in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo.
Marrone refused to make excuses for the offensive struggles.
Bortles didn’t throw for 150 yards in four of the last six games. He had 104 yards through the air against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and 127 yards against the Bills. Marrone benched Bortles twice in two years, only to give him the job back both times.
Now, though, it seems Bortles could be done in Jacksonville.
Finances might be the only reason he sticks around. The fifth-year starter signed a three-year, $54 million contract in February and is due to count $21 million against the salary cap in 2019. Cutting him would cost Jacksonville $16.5 million against the cap.
But it’s clear Marrone has lost faith in Bortles, who regressed this season.
Marrone felt Hackett should have done more, too. Marrone and Hackett had been together for nine years, including stops at Syracuse (2010-12), with the Bills (2013-14) and in Jacksonville (2015-18).
Hackett ended up being the first scapegoat in Jacksonville’s ultra-disappointing season. He failed to get Bortles and the offense to play anywhere close to the level they did early in the season or in 2017. Injuries have been the biggest issue, but not enough to save Hackett’s job.
“Obviously, you feel terrible, especially as an offensive player,” center Tyler Shatley said. “I feel like a lot of that’s on us. He had great game plans and stuff; we just have to execute better.”
The Jaguars rank 22nd in the NFL in total offense, averaging 346.5 yards a game, but have been on a steady decline the last two months. They rank 29th in points, averaging a paltry 17.9 a game.
Bortles’ lack of production has been the primary problem. He has 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season, incapable of putting the offense on his shoulders when things go wrong around him.
He also has been hamstrung, most notably by a lack of playmakers and numerous injuries. Jacksonville is without three left tackles, two tight ends, the team’s leading receiver from 2017, the team’s starting center and played six games without Fournette.
“It sucks that somebody had to get let go,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “I thought he was doing a wonderful job. But it’s the nature of the business. We need to start winning or we all need to look in the mirror about who can let go. It sucks.”
Marrone could have made other changes. The defense looks little like it did in 2017, prompting some to question coordinator Todd Wash’s future, and special teams have been a non-factor all year.
But Marrone opted to address the offense.
“Any time you’re losing, it’s not just on one person,” Marrone said. “It’s on everyone, and obviously when I say that I understand and take responsibility for that. It starts with me as the head coach. … Obviously none of us are doing a good enough job right now. We have an opportunity to play five games and get back on track and break this losing streak.”