Gus Bradley Looks at QBs Differently

Gus Bradley minicamp

by Cole Pepper

Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said something interesting after the final mini-camp practice that I have long suspected, but haven’t heard many coaches admit publicly: as a defensive minded coach, he judges quarterback’s differently than the offensive coaches.

“The things that I’m looking for offensively from the quarterback are probably different than what Frank (quarterbacks coach Scelfo) and Jedd (offensive coordinator Fisch) are looking for,” Bradley said. “My mindset for the quarterback is that I want him to be the leader. I want him to compete play in and play out and demonstrate his belief. That simple. The other things, I know the other coaches will take care of, but that’s what I know we need as a team.”

It makes sense, but its not something you hear very often.

As a coach who cut his teeth on the defensive side of the ball, Bradley isn’t as concerned with the quarterback’s progression through the route tree, or the depth of his drop or if he looks off the safety. At least, not yet. No, at this point in the off-season, Bradley is looking for quarterbacks to move, act and behave like a quarterback should.

He’ll leave the other analysis to his offensive coaches.QUOTE Bradley on QB minicamp

Bradley’s coaching approach is beginning to emerge with each practice session. It’s clear that, as it comes to offense anyway, he’s going to look for the higher level issues like leadership and approach and not be as concerned with the tactics and the day to day operational issues that the offensive coordinator will deal with. It does not appear that he will take that same approach with the defense where he has been more hands on.

Fisch told me last week that the best thing the quarterbacks have done this off-season, as a group, was protect the football. That can lead to confidence which can show up with some of the things that Bradley is looking for. It will be interesting to see how much he weighs those factors in the final analysis. At some point between now and opening day, Bradley will have to make the decision on who his starting quarterback is going to be.

Handicapping the race, based on Bradley’s criteria

If you simply use Bradley’s criteria, here’s how I believe the quarterback competition would look as of now. And note that both Gabbert and Henne have worked with the first team, although Gabbert has taken far more snaps with the ones.

Leadership – To this point of his career, Gabbert has not been as comfortable playing the role of leader. Last year, there were some Jaguars who privately questioned Gabbert’s leadership. According to a story by Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports, one former Jaguars assistant called him “Blame Gabbert” because nothing was ever his fault. Gabbert is still young, but that excuse is running out of steam. Henne, I’m told, just acts more like a quarterback in the meeting rooms and on the field. Advantage: Henne

Competitiveness – Both Gabbert and Henne are competitive. Neither likes to lose, but so far we’ve not seen either of them “will their team to a win.” Gabbert played with some injuries each of his two seasons in the NFL. Advantage: Push.

Belief – This is a tougher category to handicap. How much will either quarterback believe in what they’re doing in the system. Based on Gabbert’s self-assured nature, you would have to give him the edge here, but Henne has much more of a “don’t sweat the small stuff” approach. That can be good and it can be bad. Advantage: Gabbert

So what’s this all mean? Gabbert has more physical skill than Henne: Taller, better arm, faster, more athletic. Henne has the edge in intangibles: maturity, leadership, etc. If Gabbert wins the job (and he’s the early favorite to do so) we won’t truly be able to gauge the choice until the season is well underway.

 

 

What We Learned: Sharks 70 Pittsburgh 48

Sharks quarterback Bernard Morris confers with head coach Les Moss. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)
Sharks quarterback Bernard Morris confers with head coach Les Moss. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)

by Cole Pepper

For nearly a half of football, it looked like the Jacksonville Sharks had things in reverse. Facing a Pittsburgh team they had dispatched 61-35 in week two, the Sharks led 21-20 with 3:21 remaining in the second quarter after a missed Pittsburgh extra point. Then, the spark.

Facing 4th and 10 from the Sharks 17-yard line with :53 remaining in the half, Jacksonville quarterback Bernard Morris connected with Jeron Harvey for 11 yards and a first down.

Four plays later, Morris’ pass caromed off of the horizontal ball at the bottom of the net standard, shot directly down where Harvey juggled and caught it for a touchdown with :06 remaining in the half.

Sharks WR Jeron Harvey made a circus catch for a key TD against Pittsburgh. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)
Sharks WR Jeron Harvey made a circus catch for a key TD against Pittsburgh. (photo: Jacksonville Sharks)

The Sharks led 28-20 at the break. Two Pittsburgh turnovers in the third quarter ignited a Jacksonville victory. The Sharks outscored Pittsburgh 14-0 in the third quarter and cruised to a 70-48 victory to improve to 8-3 on the season, maintaining the best record in the conference with seven games remaining.

For the game, Morris completed 18 of 34 passes for 249 yards, 5 touchdowns and one interception. Harvey led Jacksonville receivers with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns.

Here’s what we learned: When the Sharks play at or near their best, they are one of the best teams in the AFL, certainly capable of contending for a championship. When they aren’t at their best, they can still beat lesser teams. In the first half, Jacksonville committed eight penalties, many of them, of the sort that drive coaches crazy. Poorly times, thoughtless penalties. But they settled down and played much more engaged football in the second half, committing only four penalties and winning the turnover battle four to one.

Jacksonville, on a pace to break the Arena League record for sacks, only got to Power quarterback Steven Sheffield once, largely due to Pittsburgh’s game plan which featured almost entirely short passes. The Sharks now have 30 sacks on the year, most in the AFL. The record is 42.

The Sharks, who lead the league in rushing, out gained Pittsburgh 59-20, and scored five touchdowns on the ground. Jacksonville reached the 70 point plateau for the second time this year.

Coming up: The Sharks now go on the road for a pair of games out west. They’ll face Spokane and Utah before returning to SeaBest Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena to face Cleveland on June 22.

 

 

Jaguars on Twitter

For those of you on Twitter,here is a working list of the Jaguars players who are on Twitter (along with their Twitter handles). If you know of any others, please reply to this post and I’ll add them in. These are in no particular order.twitter-bird-blue-on-white

  • RB Maurice Jones-Drew @Jones_Drew32
  • QB Blaine Gabbert @Blaine Gabbert
  • K Josh Scobee @JoshScobee10
  • G Uche Nwaneri @Chuckwu77
  • TE Marcedes Lewis @MarcedesLewis89
  • DL Brandon Deaderick @bdeaderick71
  • QB Jordan Rodgers @JRodgers11
  • CB Marcus Trufant  @MarcusTrufant
  • PR/WR Ace Sanders @AceSanders1
  • RB Denard Robinson @DenardX
  • S Josh Evans @JAY_E_9
  • WR Mohamed Massaquoi @MoMass13
  • FB Lonnie Pryor @LonnieCP34
  • CB Dwayne Gratz @DJG24_7
  • SS Jonathan Cyrprien @J_Cyprien
  • WR Jordan Shipley @Jordan_Shipley
  • DT Sen’Derrick Marks @numberninefo
  • DT Roy Miller @THE_ROY_V
  • RB Justin Forsett @JForsett
  • DE Jason Babin @JasonBabin93
  • LB Russell Allen @RussellAllen50
  • OL Mike Brewster @Brewster50
  • G Drew Nowak @Dnowak7092
  • LB Brandon Marshall @BMarshall53
  • DE Andre Branch @BranchNout90
  • WR Justin Blackmon @JustBlack81
  • FS Dwight Lowery @LoweryDLo
  • LS Jeremy Cain @JeremyCain48
  • DE Austen Lane @A_Train_92
  • DE Jeremy Mincey @MrMince94
  • G Will Rackley @WillRackley
  • WR Cecil Shorts @CecilShortsIII
  • OT Eugene Monroe @The SeventhFifth
  • WR Jeremy Ebert @Jebes11
  • DE J.D. Griggs @RealJohn_Griggs
  • RB De’Leon Eskridge @dskeets2
  • QB Matt Scott @mscottqb10
  • TE Kyler Reed @Kspeeeed25
  • CB Demetrius McCray @mccayd_10
  • DB Chris Banjo @Chris1Banjo
  • Antwon Blake @ZillaVBlake
  • WR Toney Clemens @Tone_Clem717
  • LB Julian Stanford @Mr_NxtLvl
  • TE Matt Veldman @MattGVeldman
  • OT Cameron Bradfield @CamBradfield

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Wide Receivers

Cecil Shorts

by Cole Pepper

Of all of the Jaguars position groups, perhaps none has a higher ceiling and lower floor of potential than the wide receivers.

At their best, the Jaguars young wide receiving tandem of Cecil Shorts (above) and Justin Blackmon evoke memories of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. Shorts, who scored five touchdowns of 40 yards or longer and averaged 17.8 yards per catch, second best in the NFL.

Blackmon, meanwhile, came on late in the year. He caught at least five passes in six of the last nine games of the year, including a massive 7 catch, 236 yard game at Houston. Shorts is entering his third season in the NFL, Blackmon his second. You can see the potential.

Then again, Shorts sustained two concussions, including one that ended his season on Christmas Eve, keeping him from a shot at a 1,000 yard season. Blackmon will miss the first four games of the year after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and he’s yet to prove that he can make mature decisions off of the field.

It’s a classic NFL story of not really knowing what you have.

Best case scenario? Shorts continues to make big plays down the field and isn’t slowed by defenses focusing on him and Blackmon returns in week five, motivated and determined to keep his nose clean.

The worst case? Shorts goes the way of Laurent Robinson, becoming concussion-prone and Blackmon keeps making bad decisions off the field and gets suspended for a year. Then what?

Shorts and Blackmon aren’t the only receivers who could make a difference for the Jaguars, but they may be the only ones capable of being every down pass catchers.. After being picked up in November, Jordan Shipley looked like a guy who can play the slot. He caught 23 passes in six games for the Jaguars last season. If the Jaguars are going to have a dynamic offense, Shipley will likely have to play a supporting role.

Other wide receivers to keep an eye on include free agent acquisition Mohamed Massaquoi. The former Georgia Bulldog has never lived up to his draft status (he was a second round pick by the Browns in 2009) but a new team and different expectations may be just what he needs to resurrect his career. Toney Clemons, who showed some flashes at the end of last season. He’s a big receiver at 6’2″ and 210 pounds. It will be interesting to see how much rookie Ace Sanders is used at wide receiver. He will clearly be given the chance to return punts and my feeling is that the Jaguars coaches hope that they don’t have to rush him into service at wide out, at least not early in the season.

Defining Success: For starters, staying healthy. Second, for Blackmon to avoid more off the field problems. Third, for someone, Shipley, Massaquoi, Taylor Price, Ace Sanders…someone, to emerge as a true third option. Denard Robinson may also be looped into this conversation if he is used out of the backfield as an X-factor. Perhaps the best barometer for success for this group is to play well enough that, when evaluating the Jaguars quarterback, coaches and personnel guys won’t be tempted to use wide receiver play as an excuse for QB play.

Projected Wide Receiver Depth Chart:WR Depth Chart

*-will sit out first four games of the 2013 regulars season under league suspension

Sharks Preview: Defense Reigns

by Cole Pepper

Cole and Jerry pregame

The Jacksonville Sharks host the Pittsburgh Power at 7pm on Saturday night at the Veterans Memorial Arena. I’ll be on the call on channel 4 with Jerry Odom (above right).

Here are some of the story lines that we’ll be following for the game:

  1. What’s Changed? The Sharks easily defeated the Power in week 2 of the season, 61-35. The Power has used three different starting quarterbacks this year, including former LSU Tiger Jordan Jefferson. They’ve settled on Steve Sheffield for now. Will Jacksonville be able to dominate again or has Pittsburgh, winners of two of their last three, found their footing?
  2. Sack Attack. The Sharks lead the league in sacks with 29. They are on pace to shatter the AFL record of 42. The two top sack men in the AFL both play for the Sharks (DE Jerry Turner and MLB Aaron Robbins). The last time the Sharks faced the Power, Jacksonville totaled seven sacks. For the season, Pittsburgh has allowed 30 sacks in nine games, the most sacks allowed in the AFL. On paper, this looks like a major advantage for Jacksonville.
  3. Getting Defensive. Both teams have been impressive on defense this year. Jacksonville is the #1 scoring defense in the AFL while Pittsburgh is #1 in total defense and pass defense. The passing defense is particularly impressive considering that they have only 14 sacks and seven interceptions as a team. Expect a lower scoring game.
  4. Which Bernard Morris shows up? At times, Morris, the Sharks quarterback, has looked like an MVP candidate. At other times, he’s struggled to the point where Sharks head coach Les Moss sat him down for a game this year. If Morris plays as he did the first month of the season, this should be a relatively easy win for the Sharks. If not, anything is possible.
  5. Fudging the numbers. Former Jaguar Jamaal Fudge rejoined the Sharks mid-season and has suddenly found himself thrust into the starting lineup at Jack linebacker. He’s been productive recovering two fumbles and forcing three fumbles. He’s been a defensive back all his life, and while the Jack has some DB fundamentals, there is also a demand to play physically at that position. If Fudge can continue to create turnovers, it would be a major positive for the Sharks.

NFL Draft vs. The Players Championship

by Cole Pepper

The NFL announced today that the 2014 NFL Draft would be held May 8-10.

The Players Championship is already scheduled for May 8-11.

Uh, oh, Jacksonville.

Or is it?

Examining this from three different standpoints, we get three different perspectives.

As far as sports fans are concerned, the first round of the draft is really the one that matters. Only the hard core fans tune in to the second and third days of the draft. With the first round televised on Thursday evening, local fans can still attend the first day of the Players and then catch the draft. In fact, the Jaguars have a good relationship with the Players and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of cross promotion or NFL Draft viewing party at the players.

17hole
Wouldn’t this be a memorable spot for an NFL Draft party? (photo: PGA Tour)

The parties in the Lot were fairly successful this year. If they really wanted to make a splash, the Players could line up a viewing party around the 17th hole using the big screen scoreboards. Now that would be memorable.

As far as the media is concerned (and you probably don’t care too much about this, do you?), the week will be a logistical challenge.

Typically, the Jaguars hold their pre-draft luncheon on the Monday before the draft. This is the last opportunity for the local media to collect the thoughts of the Jaguars’ decision makers. That means that it is the last chance for fans to hear those thoughts before the draft.

Why should that be a problem?

I’m going to go a little “inside baseball” here. Monday is also the day that the passes are typically picked up for TPC. There are usually a few golfers at the course and its early enough in the week that it usually offers a good chance to talk to some of the golfers on the range. This means that local media will have to allocate their resources properly.

But Monday isn’t the biggest issue. It’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The days of the actual draft. Let’s say that the Jaguars win six games and pick 10th. Maybe in the best case scenario (at least from a local story angle) they pick Florida corner Loucheiz Purifoy. As mentioned, Thursday night, if there is a draft party at TPC Sawgrass, its easy enough to cover there. But then you need to have a camera, reporter…something…at EverBank Field to capture the comments from Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell, plus the first round pick’s conference call.

Then, usually, the next day around noon, the first round pick comes to the stadium for a press conference.

How much cooperation will there be between the Players Championship and the Jaguars? It’s interesting to ponder a situation in which the Jaguars, who are usually the biggest story in town when there is something “big” going on, may need to recognize that the Players may actually trump the Jaguars for that week.

I would love to see the Jaguars reach out to the Players to hold a Friday press conference at the media center with the first round pick. For starters, its easier for the media to get there because just about all of the local sports media will be at the Players that week.

Second, you may bring in some out of market, or even foreign media (think BBC Radio, etc.) who would want to cover the press conference. That’s exactly what Shad Khan is talking about when he says he wants to expand the brand of the Jaguars.

Third, its a great way for the Players to tie into Jacksonville and vice-versa on a national scale. It’s been a problem in past year (although getting much better of late).

Okay, so that’s my inside baseball talk.

The third perspective is that of the NFL.

Aside from terrorist attacks and presidential assassinations, the NFL stops for nothing. I applaud NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for not just assuming that because things have been done a certain way in the past, its the right way to do them now. However, that doesn’t mean that all change is good.

I’ll be interested to see how the ratings are affected (if at all) and if the coverage is affected by the change of date.

Jaguars Off-season Analysis: Running Backs

by Cole Pepper

Cole interviews Mojo cropped

For starters, there is the question of just how valuable a running back is in today’s NFL. Here is a list of the top 10 rushers from the 2012 NFL season:

  1. Adrian Peterson-Minnesota
  2. Alfred Morris-Washington
  3. Marshawn Lynch-Seattle
  4. Jamaal Charles-Kansas City
  5. Doug Martin-Tampa Bay
  6. Arian Foster-Houston
  7. Stevan Ridley-New England
  8. C.J. Spiller-Buffalo
  9. Chris Johnson-Tennessee
  10. Frank Gore-San Francisco

Among that list, six running backs led their teams to the playoffs. It can be argued that only Foster and Peterson truly “led” their teams. New England was more pass oriented teams and San Francisco, Seattle and Washington had running quarterbacks to bolster the running games.

It also should be pointed out that the top three rushers all made the playoffs with first or second year quarterbacks.

That’s doesn’t mean that a great running back doesn’t help, but unlike 10 years ago, it’s much less of a guarantee of team success. It wasn’t that long ago that having a top 10 rusher all but assured a team of being a playoff contender.

There are many studies about how running backs tend to do as they age. This one has a rather startling breakdown. Running backs under 27 tend to improve, running backs over 27 decline.

Which brings us to the Jaguars most recognizable player, 28 year old Maurice Jones-Drew. Not only is Jones-Drew beyond the age barrier, but he’s also coming off surgery on his foot. What does this all mean for the Jaguars? It means that while they need to find some young legs to help in the running game, they also need to find some consistency at quarterback (more on that in a later post).

There has rarely been a player more explosive on the field or more controversial in a Jaguars uniform. Not controversial like Terrell Owens or Randy Moss (although the recent incident in St. Augustine may suggest otherwise, let’s see how it plays out), but Jones-Drew has been outspoken from the beginning. He chose the uniform number 32 to remind him and anyone else who would listen that 32 teams passed on taking him in the first round.

Jones-Drew may be one of the five greatest players in Jaguars history already, but Gus Bradley can’t expect a 1,500 yard season out of Drew at this point in his career. So where will the yards come from?

It’s too early to predict how Jones-Drew will play after recovering from the surgery, but I expect that he will still be a effective, if not explosive player with the ball in his hands.

The Jaguars signed former Texan backup Justin Forsett in free agency. He has shown the ability to be a solid contributor in certain roles, but he’s never been the lead back and he’s not expected to handle that role this year.

Perhaps no player has generated as much buzz this off-season for the Jaguars as Denard Robinson. The former Michigan quarterback will be used as a running back, but don’t be surprised if he lines up all over the field from time to time: as a wide receiver, in the slot, even taking snaps from center. His speed is tantalizing. The question mark is whether he’ll become the kind of impact player with 10-12 touches a game that Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch envison. Robinson will also be tried out returning kickoffs.

One of the many veteran departures is Greg Jones. Let go by the Jaguars this off-season. He was a reliable a blocking back as there is in the league.

In Jones’ place, the Jaguars will insert another former Florida State Seminole, Lonnie Pryor. Unlike Jones, who was a featured runner in college, Pryor was a blocker first, runner second. The Jaguars like what they’ve seen from him so far, but my expectation is that we’ll see fewer snaps with a fullback on the field this year than in the past.

Defining Success: For this position group, success is going to be measured largely on two points. First, how close is Maurice Jones-Drew to his “old” self? If he plays like he did before the injury, that will be a big boost for the Jaguars. If not, they’ll have to find someone to run between the tackles. Second, how much of a factor will Robinson be as a rookie. If the Jaguars get three or four explosive plays a game from Robinson, consider it a success.

Jaguars Projected Running Backs Depth Chart:

RB Depth chart

 

 

 

 

What is Success for Jaguars in 2013?

by Cole Pepper

Dave Caldwell Gus Bradley
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley (left) and general manager David Caldwell take over a team that won just two games last season.

For every team, success is not the same. In 2013, its doubtful that a 6-10 season would be viewed as a success for many fans of the Denver Broncos or the San Francisco 49ers. But I believe that is the minimum requirement for success for the 2013 Jaguars. However, there is more to it.

Why? First, let’s agree (begin to nod your head now) that success and improvement are two different things. I know that Gus Bradley has talked about improving every day as his credo, but if the Jaguars win one more game this year than last, will you think its a successful season? I won’t.

Two years ago, the Jaguars won five games and most of the local media (myself included) assumed that through the off-season moves and the expected improvement of Blaine Gabbert that the Jaguars could contend for a wildcard spot. And, in fact, early on in training camp, it looked like everything was on track. There was a real “feel good” vibe with the team. But it didn’t last.

Now with the franchise’s third head coach in three years, once again, that “feel good” vibe is starting to build around EverBank Field. That’s as it should be in the off-season. If there is an NFL team that doesn’t feel like they have improved right now, they’re in big trouble.

So back to the question about success. Can the Jaguars have a season that is considered successful without quantifying it with wins? Yes, but it will be hard to sell to fans if the team is picking in the top three again next year (although, the opportunity to select a top quarterback or Jedeveon Clowney might make Jaguar nation feel a bit better about it).

A six win season would not give the Jaguars optimum drafting position, but it would mean that the quarterback position would have shown growth. Whether that’s Gabbert or Chad Henne, that remains to be seen. Just as an aside, I expect that Gabbert will be the starter on opening day, but I’m not ready to bet the farm on that.

However, if Gabbert falters and Henne doesn’t show any more than he has to this point as a Jaguar, Dave Caldwell will be in the position to draft a potential franchise quarterback and will have a need for one.

And that’s when the clock starts ticking on the new regime. As soon as you draft your quarterback, you are on the clock as a GM. Ask Shack Harris. Ask Gene Smith. Ask the guys who drafted any of the unsuccessful top 15-pick quarterback over the past 20 years. Get the right guy and you win. You win, and you keep your job. It’s a simple formula.

What is success for the Jaguars in 2013? Ultimately, that will be judged on opening day 2014 when, one way or another, they should be able to answer this simple question: Who is your franchise quarterback.

On Fan-dom and Media

“C’mon, you can admit it,” said a friend of mine. “You’re a Jaguars fan.”

No, in fact I am not. At least, not the way he assumed. For some, it’s hard to imagine passionately covering or following a team without being a fan. But for me, there is a clear distinction. A fan has his emotions invested in the outcome of a game.  For me, the outcome of a Jaguars game doesn’t matter. It’s the story.

Okay, that’s the pure journalist side of the story. But I’ll be honest: sometimes the outcome of the game did matter. Or at least, I thought it did. I will tell you unabashedly, that I am a fan of the city of Jacksonville. Not a blind acolyte of whoever is currently in power, but I am an advocate for what Jacksonville is and what it can become. I’ve turned down jobs in other markets to stay here because I love what life can be like in Jacksonville.

When the Jaguars do well, its good for business. It’s good for the city. At least, it can be.

I don’t think we’ve done enough to really capitalize on the Jaguars, but that’s a topic for another time.

Back to the topic at hand. And really, it’s a question: as a fan, do you want another fan giving you analysis or do you want informed, opinionated analysis?  I suppose it’s the same question we should all be asking ourselves about political coverage.

For my part, I’ll continue to cover the Jaguars, not as a fan. In fact, because I no longer work for the organization, there may be more of an opportunity to serve as a watchdog. Afterall, the media’s most important roles are to disseminate truth and serve as a watchdog for government and business, and there is no more important business in Jacksonville than the Jaguars.