Sam & Cole: Jones-Drew’s Future

With NFL free agency approaching, the Jaguars cut a veteran offensive lineman. Sam Kouvaris and Cole Pepper discuss the next steps for the Jaguars including the chances of Maurice Jones-Drew returning to the team.

 

Sam and Cole Podcast art4

Takeaways from Jaguars 19-9 Loss to Raiders

Jaguars logo

by Cole Pepper
September 15, 2013

The Jaguars dropped to 0-2 with a 19-9 loss to the Raiders in Oakland. Here are my takeaways from the game:

  • Johnathan Cyprien has a chance to be pretty good-He hasn’t totally figured out all of the coverages, especially making improvised decisions on the fly, but the second round pick plays with the kind of physical intensity and aggressive approach that the Jaguars need in the secondary. He also has good awareness for a rookie, for instance punching the ball out of Darren McFadden’s grasp in the 4th quarter, forcing a fumble.
  • Luke Joeckel isn’t there yet-Joeckel had a rough fourth quarter especially. He blocked the wrong blitzer on at least one occasion and committed back to back false start penalties. Even if it is loud in Oakland, the fact that he’s committing those penalties tells me that he isn’t confident that he can win his one-on-one battles without getting an edge. That should come (and it needs to come this year) for the Jaguars quarterback’s sake.

Sam and Cole Podcast: After Jaguars Loss to Raiders (September 15, 2013)

  • The offensive line has to be better or the Jaguars won’t match last year’s win total-It’s not just Joeckel. The Jaguars interior line play has been sub-par. Without Maurice Jones-Drew in the game, the running game was non-existent (even Jones-Drew averaged only 2.7 yards per carry). The Jaguars aren’t pass protecting well and they are losing the physical battles in the run game. That’s the biggest reason the team has scored only one touchdown through two games.
  • Justin Blackmon WOULD make a difference-Would the Jaguars have won if Justin Blackmon had not been serving his league mandated four game suspension? Maybe. Here’s my observation: late in the game the Raiders began playing soft in the secondary, trying to keep the Jaguars from hitting a long pass. That’s when Cecil Shorts came alive. He finished with eight receptions for 93 yards. If there is another threat in the passing game, it should open things up for Chad Henne (or whoever happens to be at quarterback when the Jaguars get Blackmon back in three weeks). Until then, it’s going to be tough sledding.
  • The Jaguars can’t win without Blackmon, Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis-Plain and simple, they just don’t have enough good players. This is what happens when a new regime “blows up the roster,” which is, in essence, what general manager Dave Caldwell did. Too many young players, players unaccustomed to the new scheme and players looking for a leader, which the Jaguars also do not have on offense right now.
  • Who is Clay Harbor? Is Clay Harbor a waterfront boat dock? A nautical crafts project? No, he’s the only player to score a touchdown for the Jaguars this year. The one time Eagle is the all time leader in receptions at Missouri State. He was picked up by the Jaguars after the final cut to 53. Incidentally, he and J.T. Thomas, another post-cut pick up, have accounted for 8 of the Jaguars 11 points this year. Josh Scobee ‘s field goal are the only other points for the Jaguars this year.

Podcast: Cole and Sam Discuss the Jaguars QB Battle

Our midweek podcast addressing the question: who should start at quarterback for the Jaguars in the second preseason game against the Jets? Also, talk about how much work Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Blackmon need in the preseason. Enjoy.

The State of the Jaguars Offense

Gabbert Mojo Kafka Forsett

by Cole Pepper

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.

Undrafted rookie free agent Cole McKenzie (85) makes an acrobatic lunging catch at training camp on Monday.
Undrafted rookie free agent Cole McKenzie (85) makes an acrobatic lunging catch at training camp on Monday.

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.

RELATED: Jaguars Training Camp Photo Gallery

Joeckel blocking drill
First round pick Luke Joeckel works on his technique at Jaguars training camp. Joeckel has been quiet and steady at right tackle thus far.

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.

Jaguars Training Camp Photo Gallery

Some of the sights from Monday’s training camp session. Click on tumbnail to see the fullsize photo.

Top 10 Questions for Jaguars

Gus Bradley smiling
Will this man still be smiling at the end of the 2013 season?

by Cole Pepper

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.

Jones-Drew Will Not Be Charged, But What’s Next?

photo: AP/Stephen Morton
photo: AP/Stephen Morton

by Cole Pepper

Maurice Jones-Drew will not be charged in the fracas at the Conch House in May.

In a statement, Jones Drew said: “Naturally, I am pleased with this result and look forward to focusing on football. My rehab is going well and I’m anxious to join my teammates at the start of training camp.”

But there are still questions about how Jones-Drew will perform on the field in 2013.

Jones-Drew is recovering from foot surgery and hasn’t participated in team drills during any of the off-seasons practice sessions. The running back has been criticized this off-season for his apparent weight gain, although Jones-Drew says that he will be in playing shape when the season begins and expects to be ready to go in time for training camp, which begins July 26.Mojo Statement

I expect that Jones-Drew will be a little rusty during the preseason, but that by the time the regular season rolls around, he’ll be ready to go. Off-season drama involving the 2011 NFL rushing champion is nothing new.

Last off-season, he was embroiled in a contract negotiation that turned out to be one sided. The Jaguars were unwilling to renegotiate the contract and Jones-Drew missed time in the preseason. He came back and after a slow start, ran for 177 yards against the Colts in week 3, only to sustain the foot injury on October 21 against Oakland. He missed the rest of the season.

After playing the entire 2010 season with a torn meniscus in his knee, Jones-Drew came back to lead the league in rushing the following year.

And after the Jaguars let Fred Taylor go, Jones-Drew successfully renegotiated a more lucrative contract, despite the fact that he had never been the teams starting running back.

Jones-Drew likes to debate. He is the most competitive Jaguars player since Tony Boselli. He doesn’t like to lose. At anything. That includes fantasy football or a discussion about a random sports topic. Motivation is not a problem for Jones-Drew, who chose to wear uniform number 32 to remember all of the teams (including the Jaguars) who didn’t draft him in the first round.

Here are some reasonable questions to ask about Jones-Drew’s upcoming season:

  1. Can a 28 year old, physical running back with over 1500 career rushing attempts come back from another lower body injury to regain the form that saw him lead the league in attempts and rushing yards in 2011?
  2. Is Jones-Drew going to have a “contract year?” His deal is up after this season and the Jaguars can put the franchise tag on him if they wish. In a contract year, some players will get in the best shape of their lives and really focus on the game. That’s usually Jones-Drew’s approach every year, but this off-season, while recovering from surgery, Jones-Drew has not been able to do that. His goal is to be at his college playing weight of 205. He played at 217 last year.
  3. If Jones-Drew isn’t 100 percent by the time the season starts, what are the alternatives?

One question that would fall into the “not a reasonable question” category: “Will the Conch House incident be a distraction?” Answer, no. Now that charges will not be filed, don’t expect this to be mentioned in the Jaguars locker room.

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