During the 2014 NFL season, a wide variety of relatively-unheralded sophomore and third-year players will inherit or take over key roles for many teams around the league.
In this series, we've been breaking down "who" we think those players are, "where" they play, "why" they'll potentially play a key role in 2014 and "how" they'll succeed in that.
On tap today, we have the Jaguars.
SS Johnathan Cyprien
Who: Cyprien was the 33rd overall pick in the 2013 Draft, ostensibly Gus Bradley's new Kam Chancellor. He did not disappoint the brass in Jacksonville, as GM Dave Caldwell would admit. "He was pretty good as a rookie last year, so you start to talk about him in terms of some of the better defensive backs in the league," Caldwell said. "When you're 4-12, you don't get much credit. Here's a rookie safety with a hundred tackles, a sack, an interception, played pretty good and nobody even really said anything about him."
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Where: Cyprien's main role is as a box safety. He is a de facto linebacker, but he has the athleticism to be used in a number of different roles. He plays deep as well and had his fair share of rookie lumps to take. He'll look to build on a solid rookie season by breaking out in 2014.
Why: Bradley's a great teacher and his scheme depends on a tough, physical strong safety such as Cyprien. As he learns to identify offensive schemes and read/react almost instinctually, he'll be able to play faster and hit even harder. He has the physical tools and is a good fit for the system.
How: Sit down and watch tape on how Chancellor has played in Seattle. Work on backpedal to run better with tight ends. Never let anyone get behind him when playing the single-high spot deep.
LT Luke Joeckel
Who: The No. 2 overall pick of the 2013 Draft is Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell's ever-important franchise left tackle.
Where: Joeckel played early on at the right tackle spot, but after the Jags traded Eugene Monroe, they moved him to his intended spot at left tackle. Unfortunately, he only got one start there before suffering a broken ankle.
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Why: Joeckel has some experience under his belt and had a full offseason to rehab his broken ankle. "He looked more athletic than I remember him," Offensive Coordinator Fisch recently said. "When he was doing his rehab, he spent so much time on his lower body, he came back looking faster." That speed will help, and a full offseason of weight lifting won't hurt his upper body strength either.
How: Joeckel's first priority will obviously be to stay healthy this season, and use his athleticism and strength to man the blind side for Chad Henne (or hopefully the more entertaining option, Blake Bortles).
CB Dwyane Gratz
Who: Gratz was a third-round pick in 2013 out of Connecticut. He started eight of the last night games for Jacksonville as a rookie and intercepted two passes.
Where: Gratz had an impressive rookie year and displayed some potential in coverage. Strong, physical press corners are a big part of Bradley's defensive scheme, and Gratz fits that bill athletically. He'll have to fend off veterans Will Blackmon and Alan Ball for a starting job, though.
Why: With the starter position up for grabs, the second-year player with 10 games and 8 starts under his belt will have a golden opportunity this season. Bradley has a very specific set of rules for his cornerbacks, and as long as Gratz can get the fundamentals down -- the footwork and hand placement -- he should be fine.
How: Play physical, don't get beat deep, support the run.
WR/RB Denard Robinson
Who: Robinson was a fifth-round pick for the Jags out of Michigan and was designated as an offensive weapon by Jacksonville after an illustrious collegiate career, . He had a tough rookie season, though, only rushing for 66 yards on 20 attempts.
Where: Robinson will not be expected to be the bell cow of the Jags' offense; that role will fall to free agent Toby Gerhart. But the former Wolverine could carve out a role for himself as a change-of-pace back with open-field ability and receiving skills.
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Why: Robinson's physical athletic talent is too intriguing. The Jags likely feel they need to figure out a way to get him touches and hope he can do some of what made him famous in Michigan.
How: Robinson has added a little weight this offseason and worked diligently on improving his receiving skills. As a college quarterback, he had almost no experience running routes (even those out of the backfield) and he's essentially had to learn how to catch properly. After a full season learning the ropes and solely relying on his athleticism, Robinson has a chance to become a real NFL weapon for the Jags.
LEO Andre Branch:
Who: Branch was a second-round pick in 2012 out of Clemson. Thus far, his career has been disappointing, and he's only accumulated seven sacks in two seasons. But he looked better in the second half of last season and has been earning some positive reviews thus far in camp.
Where: A guarded optimism has begun to develop around Branch again after the Jags parted ways with veteran Jason Babin, making the former Tiger the presumed backup behind Chris Clemons at the LEO (left end) position.
Why: Branch has athleticism, but hasn't yet shown the ability to translate that to the football field. It looks like the Jags are giving him the opportunity this year to prove he's not a bust.
How: Develop a repertoire of pass rush moves. Speed isn't the only thing in the NFL. "We were just in watching one-on-ones and he had a real nice spin past Pasztor," Jaguars defensive line coach Todd Wash recently said. "That's the first time he's shown that. With his get-off and get to the edge, his spin is going to be a big part of his foundation."
Oh, and play the run.
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