The LiveBall Sports Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview
Checking in on the 32 NFL teams, continuing from the bottom.
What we said about the Jaguars prior to the 2012 season
The Jaguars probably made a catastrophic mistake with the Laurent Robinson contract. It’s unfortunate that Robinson will get paid like a no. 1 reciever, because he won’t be the no. 1 receiver even on a team with Mike Thomas. Robinson, when healthy, improves the Jaguars starting lineup.
But the Jaguars continue to find pieces to build their defense, leaving a pass rusher as the only need remaining on that side of the ball. With the Texans losing Jason Allen and Demeco Ryans, the Jaguars enter 2012 as potentially the strongest defensive unit in the NFL.
I liked the offseason the Jags had on the defensive side of the ball, but didn’t think they added enough to the offense. Maurice Jones-Drew ended up holding out, and didn’t play the first series of the teams Week 1 game against Minnesota. The Jags started off competitive behind competency at quarterback from Blaine Gabbert, but quickly faded as Gabbert faded, then got hurt.
The Jaguars defense was excellent in 2011, and while defensive unit performance tends to be very tough to predict from year to year, I seemed to be confident that the Jags could sustain a majority of their gains from 2011, when they went from being one of the worst units, to one of the best. I certainly didn’t see any reason to suggest the Jags would fall off while the division rival Texans would manage to maintain their gains.
What should we have known, given the benefit of hindsight?
The Jags did not sustain their defensive gains and were a considerably worse team in 2012 than 2011. Blaine Gabbert made the necessary strides to maintain viability, given how awful his rookie season was. A better quarterback, and the 2011 Jags probably compete. With a better quarterback the 2012 Jags are dead in the water the second Maurice Jones-Drew got hurt.
Two things I surely overrated about last years Jags were the invulnerability of Jones-Drew, and the impending regression of the defense. The regression on defense probably was more obvious than I gave credit for — I thought Mel Tucker and the Jags defense was capable of sustaining and I gave them the benefit of considerable doubt. Specifically, the back seven just collapsed, as Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny made the dive from useful veterans to over the hill linebackers.
Given how poorly managed this Jacksonville franchise was, they do not deserve our sympathy. However, one of the main reasons I had overrated this team is because they had years and years of established consistent performance from Smith and from Jones-Drew, and all of a sudden, that production simply wasn’t there in 2012, and likely isn’t coming back in 2013.
Where does the team appear to think it is at?
Full scale rebuilding. The Jags did absolutely nothing brash this offseason, taking the same approach the Seattle Seahawks did in 2010 when Gus Bradley was a first year defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll and John Schneider. That approach is to not make any major decisions on players on the roster without first seeing them play in your system. The first year under this group is a mulligan year, and the real test will begin in 2013.
The Jags did not force Blaine Gabbert out of the lineup, because the mere probability that Gabbert isn’t a starting NFL quarterback isn’t certainty. Under Jedd Fisch, he will be learning his third offense in three years. That is never a good thing, but this coaching staff will have an advantage the other one did not: their jobs are not tied to Gabbert, and they are free to go in a different direction at any time. Gabbert will be challenged by Chad Henne, but Henne hasn’t looked great. Jacksonville appears very comfortable finishing in the Teddy Bridgewater-Jadaveon Clowney realm of next year’s draft, but it doesn’t take anything more than a short hot streak where a team plays well to knock them out of contention for the first pick.
How did the team improve itself in the draft and through free agency?
Addition by subtraction, only. You have to feel a bit for former Jags head coach Mike Mularkey, who simply made a bad career move to take a head coaching job on a sinking ship. When you went as far as Mularkey did between head coaching gigs, you can understand that decision, but he was saddled with Blaine Gabbert, a dreadful roster, and a superstar running back who didn’t want to be there, and was expected to save a bad general manager’s job. Mularkey didn’t save anyone, and was promptly let go from what is likely his last head coaching gig.
Getting rid of that group of executives and coaches was an immediate addition by subtraction upgrade, and the other coaches who weren’t Mularkey landed on their feet (Tucker will coordinate the Bears defense this year).
The team drafted Luke Joeckel with the second pick in the draft, meaning the team’s two best current players are left tackles. Obviously, one of the two will start at right tackle this year. Gabbert is still the quarterback. Denard Robinson is on the roster, and gives you a reason to watch the Jaguars. Jonathan Cyprien comes up the road from Florida International and should start as a rookie at safety. Free agency focused on adding young (26-28 year olds) players at bargain prices.
Overall, the Jags focused on best player available, and will spend the 17 week season worrying about finding its cornerstone players. They know that they won’t have to worry about offensive line in the future, but every other position is fair game. Changes will be made throughout the season as players play themselves into what is a coherent plan in Jacksonville for the first time since the Tom Coughlin days.
What is the team’s outlook for the 2013 season?
Overall, it’s pretty bleak in the short term, though the competition level in the AFC South isn’t scaring the Jaguars or any pundits. The Jaguars rid themselves of enough dead weight in the offseason. It’s hard to tell how long Blaine Gabbert’s leash is going to be — it could be anywhere from yanked in training camp to getting the majority of the season before the Jags will consider a switch. I get the sense that the Jags aren’t worried about Gabbert “proving” anything to them, or have him on any sort of developmental timetable.
Gabbert is a very young player, and who knows how Philip Rivers’ career would have turned out if he was forced into his lineup the first two years he was in the league? He could be a case of NFL fans just getting to see too much of the developmental process too soon. As fans and observers, we are conditioned to pass judgment quickly on players, and it is clear that the Jags are very determined to not do that here.
This could go a long way towards changing the culture of the new administration that comes in and wants to change everything in the building from the desk chairs to the team culture to the quarterback. One certainly get the sense that ownership is behind management’s plan here. If things go according to how many expect, you can bet the Jags will be aggressive in the quarterback market next season.
Once the Jags strap it on for training camp, any talk about the team tanking the season will be forgotten. This is a team that is capable of winning games with the amount of talent it currently has on the roster. It’s a more talented roster than what the new Chiefs management inherited, which is why it’s so interesting (and pretty cool) to see two very divergent philosophies: the Chiefs who see a weak conference and a short term opportunity, and the Jaguars, who are taking their time and not rushing to judgement off any parts of the roster based on a mere scouting hunch. It does mean that the Jaguars, who have little depth at a lot of key positions, are probably going to be overrun in November and December by more cohesive teams who have been building for longer.
But nothing is a certainty, and all Jacksonville has to do to get to .500 is put together two or three quality performances a month, from coin toss to final whistle. A 4-12 season sounds about right, if you ask me in May (you didn’t, but you can pretend you did). The real intentions of the Jags will come clearer in pre-season. Right now, the team is content to sit back, conserve its resources, and not tip its hand about its true intentions.
Previously: Kansas City Chiefs,