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.

 

 

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Quarterbacks

Gabbert Henne Fisch minicamp
Jaguars quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (right).

by Cole Pepper

There is no one position that has been under more scrutiny in Jacksonville for the last decade than quarterback.

While that statement may be true for most losing teams (and some winning teams, too), the Jaguars don’t appear to be any closer to knowing if they have the guy or not. That may be good.

It’s roundly agreed that this is Blaine Gabbert’s last chance to prove himself in Jacksonville. Is three years enough time to show if you are a franchise quarterback? Maybe. It’s certainly enough time to show that you aren’t and Gabbert hasn’t shown enough in his first two years to merit the benefit of the doubt. However, his physical skills merit another chance.

He’s being given that chance this year. While everyone says he is competing with Chad Henne for the starting quarterback spot, all indications are that Henne will have to clearly outplay Gabbert to get the job. Both quarterbacks are downplaying the competition and seem to be reading from the same talking points when it comes to their approach.

“The competition brings out the best in all of us,” Gabbert said. “There’s competition every year, whether it’s said or not. You have to earn your pay every day.”

Henne, echoing the same sentiment, and the same approach that is being preached by new head coach Gus Bradley, says he’s using himself as the barometer for improvement.

“I just try to go out there every day and compete against myself, rather than against other quarterbacks who are here,” Henne said. “Just trying to get better everyday, improving on my craft instead of worrying about somebody else.”

The Jaguars have three other quarterbacks in camp. Rookies Matt Scott (Arizona) and Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt and the brother of Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers), and recently signed Mike Kafka.

That’s a lot of arms. Bradley said during mini-camp that he wouldn’t rule out taking all five to training camp, but I can’t imagine all five being around for long. It would take away too many snaps from the quarterbacks (especially Gabbert and Henne) who are not only competing for the starting spot, but also learning a new offense.

So why bring in Kafka? Will the Jaguars carry three quarterbacks on the active roster? Not likely. I think its more likely that the Jaguars carry two with a rookie on the practice squad. I’m looking at the competition this way: Gabbert vs. Henne, winner is the starter. If Henne wins, there is a chance that Kafka stays as the backup and the Jaguars move Gabbert. If Gabbert wins, I would suspect that Henne would be the #2, unless Kafka just lights it up in the preseason. The other battle is between the rookies for a practice squad spot, Scott vs. Rodgers. So far, Rodgers has missed time in the off-season with a sports hernia, while Scott has flashed at times, including Wednesday at mini-camp.

With all of the unknowns at quarterback for the Jaguars, we can safely say this: this time next year, the Jaguars will know who their quarterback of the future is. It will either be Gabbert or almost certainly someone they draft next April.

 

What Will Jaguars Offense Look Like?

Jedd Fisch2

(photo: Jaguars.com)

by Cole Pepper

If you are an NFL owner and you want a traditional NFL team, you hire a traditional NFL coach with experienced NFL assistants.

That’s not what Shad Khan did when he hired first time head coach Gus Bradley. And it’s conventional was certainly not what Bradley had in mind when he chose 37-year old Jedd Fisch as his offensive coordinator.

Bradley could have hired a former head coach looking for another shot or a retread offensive coordinator looking for another chance after being, say a quarterbacks coach on another NFL team.

Instead, he plucked Fisch from the University of Miami to install a more innovative offense in Jacksonville. So what will Fisch’s offense look like?

When I spoke with Fisch last week, he used several golf analogies to describe the process of building and installing the offense. Picture every player as a golf club and Fisch wants to find out who does what well.

“We treat it like a driving rang. Let’s try all of our different clubs out,” Fisch said. “Let’s put the flag at 150 and see what we want to hit. Let’s see if this guy can run this route, let’s see if this guy can handle this, let’s see if this guy can make this throw.”

The Jaguars have a number of players with quarterback experience on their roster. Cecil Shorts began his college career as a quarterback, rookie Denard Robinson spent most of his career at Michigan as a quarterback. Add to the list the quick-twitch ability of WR/KR Ace Sanders and speedy running back Justin Forsett and you have a lot of ingredients. The question is, how will they all work together?

“We have an athletic group of guys,” said Fisch. “We have a lot of different skill sets. Then you have to figure out what they do best.”

When I asked Fisch about the diminishing role of the fullback and the move to the smaller, more athletic tight end (unlike Marcedes Lewis, who plays a more traditional style of tight end), Fisch referenced some teams that had a great deal of success last year, and in the recent past.

“I do see New England using the tight end pretty well and I saw Baltimore and San Francisco use their full back pretty good, so I think that it’s just a matter of what you want to do,” Fisch said. “The way we run the football, the fullback is very involved. The way we throw the ball, the tight end is very involved. We’re excited to use these guys and most importantly, we want to take the mindset use whoever we have in the best possible position and not have one of the best 11 sitting next to us.”

Veteran center Brad Meester told me that the pace of the offense and the different looks they’ll be able to show defenses will be an advantage. Still, it all boils down to quarterback play. And in Jacksonville, the question is unanswered: who will be the starting quarterback? Perhaps even more importantly, how well will the quarterback play?

You can run all of the gadget plays, show multiple formations and run an up-tempo offense all you like, but if the quarterback doesn’t play at a high level, you aren’t likely to win the modern NFL.

For Fisch, innovation must be joined by execution. During the recent OTAs, Fisch said that the quarterbacks have been executing, throwing onl six interceptions in between 450 and 500 passes. He would take those numbers in the regular season.

So the answer the question: what will the Jaguars offense look like? We can’t say for sure yet, because Jedd Fisch is still determining that. But we can say this, it won’t look like the offense of the past several years in design. The Jaguars hope it won’t look that way in output, either.

How Companies Can Make A Difference

Elkins Check
Joe Newell (right) presents a check to Daniel Foundation Executive Director Kellie Ann Kelleher and Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships chairman Cole Pepper.

by Cole Pepper

This post is a little bit off the beaten track of what you might expect from this site, but I think there is a good point to make.

I had the pleasure of attending a check presentation on behalf of Daniel (I’m the Vice Chairman of the Board of the Daniel Foundation). This event took place in the clubhouse near the top of the Berkman Plaza and was hosted by the folks from Elkins Constructors.

Elkins has participated in the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships each of the last three years and they really adopted the Glyn Cook Memorial Scholarship for Daniel kids as their pet cause. This year, they not only competed in the BBQ contest as a team (two teams actually, one that won the Grand Championship), but they also sold tickets to the event and held several mini-fundraisers throughout the year. All told, Elkins donated over $8,000 to the scholarship fund and to Daniel.

And they tell me that they get more out of it than Daniel does.

How do they do it?

First, they have a strong team leader. If a business is going to adopt a cause (or several causes) you really have to have someone on the inside, driving the efforts. This creates motivation, accountability, even someone for the employees to go to for simple questions. For Elkins, Joe Newell is that guy. He’s not only a passionate BBQ chef, but he’s passionate about Daniel’s cause. Daniel, for those of you unaware, is Florida oldest child-service agency and the oldest charity in Jacksonville (founded in 1884).

The Glyn Cook Memorial Scholarship helps pay the cost of college for formerly homeless kids who have gone through the programs at Daniel. It’s named for my late father-in-law, a former Chairman of the Board at Daniel.

In addition to strong internal leadership, its essential for a company to have buy-in from the top. If management doesn’t support a cause, they may not look favorably on employees spending time on it. At Elkins, they believe in active participation in charitable fundraising and it shows.

Third, Elkins has fun with it! Okay, so forming a barbecue team isn’t the toughest thing to enjoy, but it does take time, energy, planning and resources to do it well. Elkins cooked over 1,000 pounds of meat over the past year in preparation for the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships. The crown they won as the Amateur BBQ Kings of Jacksonville is being handled like the Stanley Cup. Each team member gets the crown for a week and can take it anywhere.

The Crown is awarded to the winning Backyard Division Team each year at the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships.
The Crown is awarded to the winning Backyard Division Team each year at the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships.

Here are a few of the ways Elkins raised money:

  • Selling BBQ dinners to employees, business neighbors and groups.
  • Bake sale
  • Drawing for an Elkins truck
  • Selling tickets to the BBQ contest to vendors, clients and partners

Here’s the wild part about this: Newell told me that its one of the best team building activities they’ve ever done. It’s not just the barbecuing. Truthfully, only a few people really have an influence on how the chicken, ribs and pork come out. But they have people in charge of games for the area, some handle handing out the BBQ to the patrons, others are there to help when needed and generally enjoy the contest. But as much of that team building comes in the months leading up to the contest as on the actual day of the contest. That’s what makes the Elkins story such a great one for companies. Build team morale, get positive attention in the community, make a difference for those in need and be a part of a great community event.

If you know of a company who would like to get involved, like Elkins has, email info@jaxbbqchampionships.com.

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Tight End

Marcedes-Lewis

by Cole Pepper

The tight end position has evolved in the NFL over the past dozen years or so. Everybody wants a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates to create match-up problems. It’s rare to to find a big powerful tight end running down the seam like the league featured in the 80s and 90s.

But that’s the kind of tight end the Jaguars have, at least, at the top of the depth chart, in Marcedes Lewis. The former first round pick had a better year in 2012 than his disastrous (at least, as a pass catcher) 2011. Still, Lewis can be better. In 2010, with a healthy David Garrard under center, Lewis enjoyed a career year with 10 touchdown catches. He was the Jaguars main red zone threat. He looked like a Pro Bowl tight end.

Then came the quarterback change, Blaine Gabbert’s struggles and the dysfunctional season that had Lewis hearing it from coaches and fans. Last year, despite inconsistent quarterback play, Lewis was better, but still…you look at him and just know that there is the potential for more. Even with a former tight end as a head coach, Lewis was too often put in a position to fail. Spend anytime at all watching him and you know that he isn’t likely to turn a curl route into a big play. He’s a big, powerful tight end, not the quick elusive H-back type. Too often last year, Lewis was asked to run routes that resulted in him catching the ball with his back to the defense.

To get the most out of him, new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch must design routes that play to Lewis’ strengths: his size and strength.

Which brings us to the biggest question about the Jaguars tight ends this year: how will they be used. From what we have seen so far, Fisch’s offense is going to be based around speed. With players like Cecil Shorts, Denard Robinson, Ace Sanders and Justin Forsett, the Jaguars will have the ability to strike deep and create mismatches. On the surface, Lewis doesn’t seem to fit.

This is the ultimate challenge for an offensive coach. The good one’s find a way to utilize the talents and abilities of everyone on the field. Gus Bradley has talked a lot about that, albeit, mostly in conversations about the defense.

This is Fisch’s first stint as an NFL offensive coordinator. Clearly, the spotlight will be on the quarterback position this year, but keep an eye on the tight end position. It’s a group in flux. Gone are Zach Miller and Zach Potter. Matt Veldman and Brett Bracket are returning from injuries. Isaiah Stanback is trying to rejuvenate his career after switching from wide receiver. Those are the top contenders to be the #2 tight end. Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done at this position.

Defining Success: If the Jaguars can get numbers out of Lewis that more closely resemble 2010 and get any kind of productivity out of the backups, you would have to consider it a victory. This position, that looked like it could be one of strength this time last year, looks very thin at this point. Then again, sometimes things don’t follow the script. You need only to look back one season to see that.

Projected tight end depth chart:

TE Depth chart

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.