Blake Bortles and the offense looked good in the all-important third preseason game, but there are substantial questions about the Jaguars defense. Sam and Cole discuss that, plus the Sharks fall short in the Arena Bowl and the Armada fans show their tenacity.
The Jaguars open the preseason with a 23-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sam Kouvaris and Cole Pepper discuss Blake Bortles play, Luke Joeckel’s early struggle, Julius Thomas’ injury and why the Jaguars are missing on the handling of the “new” Jaxson Deville.
With the Jaguars getting a day off tomorrow from training camp, I thought this would be a good time to give a state of the union review, of sorts, of the Jaguars offense.
Let’s start at quarterback. It certainly appears that Gus Bradley is giving Chad Henne the opportunity to compete. Blaine Gabbert is getting the first reps with the first team, but he and Henne have basically split the snaps with the one’s during camp. Henne has been steadier, but Gabbert, when on, has been better. However, when he has been off, Gabbert has been much worse than Henne. The challenge for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is to increase the frequency of Gabbert’s peaks and eliminate (or at least reduce) the valleys. Gabbert left Monday’s practice after getting tangled up on a pass play in 11-on-11 and was taken from the practice fields on a cart. He says he’s good to go, however, and he’ll have a day off Tuesday with the rest of the team to heal up.
It’s clear that Cecil Shorts is the star of camp. When he’s not on the field, the passing game just isn’t as good. However, a few receivers have flashed here and there. Mike Brown was singled out by Gus Bradley on Monday for his performance in this camp. Rookie Ace Sanders has shown that he has the ability to be a contributor at wide receiver. So far, Mohamed Massaquoi hasn’t been as much of a factor and Jordan Shipley has been just okay. One intriguing guy to watch is undrafted rookie Cole McKenzie, who put up huge numbers at Southern Oregon, an NAIA school, and who has made a couple of dazzling catches in camp.
The running back position has plenty of storylines. Maurice Jones-Drew is being eased back in. Justin Forsett has received most of the first team snaps, but figures to be the top backup when all is said and done. Of course, Denard Robinson is the most intriguing. Robinson has struggled with ball security, but was used in the wildcat formation on Monday, both running and throwing the ball. Anyone who has dreams of Robinson as the Jaguars quarterback can forget them, but it’s clear that Fisch is tweaking the package to see how Robinson can best be utilized. Bradley called it an ongoing process Monday.
The offensive line is difficult to judge so far, since the Jaguars haven’t been in full pads yet. Eugene Monroe looks very good and rookie first round pick Luke Joeckel hasn’t disappointed. Then again, neither tackle has worked much against the Jaguars best pass rusher Jason Babin, who has been limited so far in camp. So far, Will Rackley, Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri have taken the bulk of snaps on the interior line. When Meester was given a rest, Mike Brewster spend some time with the first team at center.
Taken as a whole, the Jaguars offense has not been as impressive as the defense so far. There is a long way to go but it appears that the keys to the Jaguars offense this year will again be the pass protection and the quarterback play.
With training camp right around the corner the main theme with the Jaguars is new. As in, new coach, new GM, new schemes on offense and defense, new uniforms, helmets and logos.
While much is new, one thing that is not is that the Jaguars must find a way to return to playoff contention. They haven’t played a post-season game since 2007 and haven’t hosted a playoff game in 14 years.
With camp about to open, here are the top 10 questions facing the Jaguars:
The Quarterback-It’s a question that has been asked by the Jaguars since Mark Brunell’s last year. Some years, they knew who the quarterback would be, but not if he was THE guy. Heading into 2013, Blaine Gabbert has the inside position, but is certainly no lock for the starting job. This season will either be the first of Gabbert’s reign as THE guy, or the last before the Jaguars draft THE guy (or at least, the guy they hope will be THE guy).
Pass Rush-The Jaguars have lacked a consistent pass rusher since Tony Brackens’ retirement. Can Jason Babin be a double digit sack man for the Jaguars? Can they develop a pass rush from other sides of the line. Gus Bradley wasn’t a big proponent of the blitz in Seattle. It comes down to the Jaguars getting pressure with the front four.
Gus Bradley’s impact on approach-Bradley’s energy and enthusiasm are obvious. Will that translate into results? Also, how will Bradley’s positive vibe hold up if the Jaguars struggle early (a possibility with four of the first six games on the road)? My guess is that it will still be there, because Bradley isn’t faking the positive attitude, but he’s never lost a game as a head coach, and things can change when you are in the big chair.
Will Justin Blackmon’s suspension hurt the offense? This is almost a given that it will, in some way. Cecil Shorts will see more double teams as Blackmon misses the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on controlled substances. Part two of this question is whether the suspension will affect Blackmon’s game when he comes back. Year two is usually an important one for highly regarded young receivers.
Is Luke Joeckel for real? All indications are that he is, but we haven’t seen him against NFL defenses in pads. There will be a spotlight on Joeckel for each of his preseason games. But when the regular season begins, we’ll be able to judge where he is as a rookie.
Can Denard Robinson and/or Ace Sanders make a difference? If I was pinned down, I would bet that Robinson would have more “WOW” plays, but that Sanders would make more plays. Still, Robinson has the kind of speed and obvious athletic ability to make jaw dropping plays, if he stays healthy. He’ll also be learning a new position and new responsibilities like pass protection and catching the football.
Will Maurice Jones-Drew return to form after foot surgery? Eventually, I think the answer will be yes, but since Jones-Drew didn’t participate in team drills during the off-season, it’s tough to predict that he won’t have any rust as the preseason begins.
Can Marcedes Lewis be a factor in the passing game again? Part of this equation is Luke Joeckel. Lewis was the de facto second right tackle last year. If Joeckel lives up to expectations, Lewis should absolutely be a bigger factor. If the pass protection is better, and if the Jaguars quarterback (whoever that is) plays better, Lewis can still be a valuable weapon, especially down the seam and in the red zone.
Is Cecil Shorts for real? I think the answer to this is yes, but we’ll certainly have a good litmus test in the first four games when Justin Blackmon is serving his suspension. Shorts has the kind of attitude that will fit perfectly with Gus Bradley’s “get better every day” credo. As a former quarterback, Shorts has made learning the wide receiver position a central tenant of his approach to the game. Perhaps the better question here is not whether Shorts is for real, but how good will he be?
What will it take for this season to be a success? Ask 100 people, you might get 100 answers to this question. Is it a matter of the win/loss record? What about just showing improvement? Or figuring out whether Gabbert is the quarterback to take your team to the post-season in the future. I asked someone this question the other day and they said 6-10 would be a success. My follow up was “so winning three more games than the previous year isn’t a success?” He scratched his head and then admitted that it would be. What about 4 wins? 3 wins? Tough to call those a success, unless that allows you to draft your quarterback of the future in the first round.
These questions won’t be fully answered when training camp begins, but we will get the first hints of the answers very soon.
Each week during the off-season, I’ll break down a position group for the Jaguars. This week, it’s the offensive line.
In an off-season of dramatic change, there may be more consistency on the offensive line than at any other position group for the Jaguars. That being said, it doesn’t take much to be more stable than the rest of this team.
There are questions–plenty of questions. But let’s start with what we (think we) know. Eugene Monroe will start at left tackle, Brad Meester at center and first round pick Luke Joeckel at right tackle.
Much has been written about Gus Bradley’s plans for Joeckel. It flies in the face of traditional football logic to use a player at a “non-premium” position. But perhaps right tackle is beginning to join left tackle as a premium position in the current, pass-happy NFL.
There are more teams running hybrid defenses. There are more teams who put lighter, faster pass rushers on the field on 3rd down. It makes some sense. And with Monroe’s contract up after 2013, if the Jaguars don’t re-sign him, Joeckel can always move over to the left side, where he will see the opponents best pass rusher more often.
I’ll be interested to watch Joeckel’s development.
At guard, Uche Nwaneri has to get healthy. When he’s not injured, Nwaneri can be a better than adequate guard. He’s athletic for the position, but with the change in the run blocking scheme, it will be interesting to see what kind of guard is favored by the Jaguars going forward.
Left guard is going to be up for grabs. The Jaguars used 9 different players at that position last year (including preseason starters). Will Rackley is returning from a foot injury. Veteran Jason Spitz, Austin Pasztor, Drew Nowak and center-turned-guard (for now) Mike Brewster are also in the mix. The previous coaching and scouting staffs liked Brewster as a developmental center, Brad Meester’s heir apparent. If he is viewed the same way by the new regime, it might make sense to keep Brewster in the starting lineup. He’s not as powerful as Spitz or Paszstor, but he moves well and has a high football IQ.
And so we come to Brad Meester. Mr. Jaguar. Nobody has started or played more games in a Jaguars uniform. The 36-year old father of six girls told me at the end of last season that he only wanted to return as a Jaguar. He wasn’t going to shop himself to another team for a year, maybe two (even with six future weddings to pay for!). Whatever the football equivalent of a crafty left handed pitcher is, Meester is that. When his playing days are done (some thought that would happen years ago), he wants to open up a motorcycle repair shop. No, I”m not kidding. He’ll have to wait at least another year. Maybe his most signification contribution to the team will be as a leader.
What is Success for this group? Improving pass protection, adapting to new run blocking scheme, giving the quarterback (whoever it is) a chance.
Secondary success: Figure out whether Mike Brewster is Brad Meester’s heir apparent.