I’m going around the division and checking in on the AFC South Rivals starting with the Jacksonville Jaguars—the seeming winners of Free Agency from the AFC South. Join me for an in-depth look at this team, looking at their free agents and other players that stood out.
The Jaguars led the AFC South entering the December-stretch and pulled a gigantic meltdown going 0-4, unfortunately for the team this has become a trend in recent years. Head Coach Jack Del Rio proclaimed that the young team hit the rookie wall and just ran out of steam. Some would say JDR merely threw up an excuse and hoped Owner Wayne Weaver would catch it. I think there’s at least a little truth to what he said. I remember reading on Pro Football Focus that rookie DT Tyson Alualu played an insane amount of snaps, along with up-and-comer DT Terrance Knighton. The Jaguars lacked depth, and it caused the team to wear down.
After gutting the roster the last 3 years and pulling off what have been overall good drafts, the Jaguars are now at a point to where the starters will be able to make each game competitive….. if they play up to their potential, yet they still lack depth. After watching the pre-season game vs the Patriots, both of these facts were strongly portrayed by the team’s play.
Free Agent Additions
The Jaguars signed LBers Paul Posluzny (MLB, Bills) and Clint Session (WLB, Colts). They then added nickel corner Drew Coleman from the Jets, who is known mainly for rushing the passer. Coleman was part of a Jets secondary that finished second in the league in yards allowed. Next, they got SS Dawan Landry from Baltimore. Landry was the guy that played opposite future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, and a lot of people thought that Landry’s play was mostly due to Reed. Pro Football Focus seems to disagree as he ranked 4th overall for Safetys in 2010. The Jaguars also added a reserve interior lineman in Jason Spitz, just before adding OLB/DE Matt Roth, formerly of the Browns. With the woeful pass rush and gap-filled secondary the Jaguars have laid claim to the last few years, an identity change was in order and, after this additions I can tell you that their new identity is this: We Hit Hard.
The new Jaguars defense only played in the first quarter, though not the whole first quarter, and made their presence felt early on causing 3 fumbles. It seemed as if every time the Jaguars went to tackle, they were there to hurt somebody. New MLB Paul Posluzny seems like he can tackle anyone. The entire time he played, I was just waiting to see someone break one of his tackles and after watching his play last Thursday, I’ve decided it might not happen this year. I can’t wait to watch what happens when he has only a hand on Chris Johnson. It could really go either way. Safety Dawan Landry showed a tremendous amount of strength on a goal-line play in which rookie Patriots RB Stevan Ridley tried to get into the endzone. Landry stood Ridley up with one arm and turned him backwards. Upon review the play was ruled a touchdown, thought I’m not sure how. Ridley seemed about 10-12 inches short. Regardless, we aren’t watching the Jaguars defense we’ve become accustomed to and it will be much harder to run against them. The pass—that remains suspect until truly proven otherwise, but with star DE Aaron Kampman, newly-acquired DE Matt Roth and the previously mentioned Knighton all held out of the game, well anything is possible.
So, let’s break it down some more.
Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert started in place of an injured David Garrard (now playing again). If you check around online, the popular comments for Gabberts performance seem to be that he played like a rookie but showed flashes. Keeping in mind that Gabbert has less than two weeks of practice, I’ll be less critical than I feel I should. My thoughts so far are that Gabbert seems to push the ball at the end of his delivery and that keeps his passes from being as smooth as possible, but it works for Philip Rivers in San Diego so it may not be a problem. Gabbert comes from the spread offense in Missouri and he seems less-affected by taking snaps from under center than I thought he would be, but he could still quicken up some of those actions. For instance, his handoffs seemed to be in slow-motion at times. Gabbert has a strong arm and while he is no Matt Stafford, he can still gun the ball into tight windows. A few of his throws appeared to be made from a star quarterback, while most showed us that Gabbert is still learning…as he should be. The only rookie I have high expectations for are Cam Newton, the number one overall pick for Carolina and this is merely for my own amusement, but mainly because Newton labeled himself an “entertainer and icon”. One last issue on Gabbert is that he can’t duck away from pressure yet. Jacksonville’s David Garrard is in the top tier of QB’s that have forcibly learned that talent. Once Gabbert gets more comfortable in the pocket, then perhaps he won’t overshoot his receivers so bad—and let’s point that out, Gabbert doesn’t ‘float’ the ball above receivers. No, his arm is too strong to merely ‘float’, he overshoots, like a canon aimed too high at a carnival.
The Offensive Line
The Jaguars took LT Eugene Monroe high two years ago and most reports indicate that he struggles. I can tell you that based on his play in the first quarter and some of the second, he seemed fine on an island in pass protection. He gave the 3 seconds that you expect, though at times Gabbert didn’t get the ball out in time–expect this from a rookie as well as anyone throwing the football from behind that line. The pass protection overall was embarassing. The run-blocking was absolutely atrocious. Maurice Jones-Drew will have his hands full to just break a thousand yards, on the ground, if this doesn’t improve.
Deji Karim (pronounced Day-jhi)
The kickoff-returner/3rd string RB made a strong push for the backup job. This guy is quick! He doesn’t have top-end speed that will remind you of Devin Hester, Reggie Bush or Chris Johnson but his shiftiness became present on the 84-yard kickoff return (not for a TD) he had. He seemed to move laterally at a pace quicker than the Vikings Percy Harvin, who I previously thought was the ‘shiftiest’ runner in football. For those of you about to argue for Chris Johnson, he doesn’t necessarily shift as much as jump at you.
The backup FB and heir apparent to star blocking back Greg Jones, Bolen showed up on special teams with two tackles on the first two kickoffs. If Bolen keeps developing on special teams, the Jaguars can add him to what might be the most elite roster of gunners: Kassim Osgood, and Montel Owens. Both are Pro Bowlers for their special teams tackling.
This guy was drafted just to return punts, but after an injury last pre-season, we never saw what he could be. McGee showed shiftiness and quick-footedness to go along with a very direct, down-hill running style. The college cornerback didn’t flash anything, but it was easy to tell by his running style that he wouldn’t dilly dally with a ‘Reggie-Bush’ style of dancing before moving forward. McGee was direct, he went forward.
Backup linebacker for the Jags, made a great break-up on pass protection.
If you don’t watch any AFC South games, you somehow know that the Jaguars are talent-challenged at the wide receiver position. Most Jags fans would tell you that the WR’s haven’t had a chance to grow yet and they’ll emerge with enough time. I guess we’ll see, but right now my money is on Jarrett Dillard. Dillard is the guy that had 19 touchdown catches at Rice. Who cares if it wasn’t the SEC, that’s amazing. Dillard was a smooth route runner, but was only found two times. I’ll use the word smooth to describe him one more time. He may not be a dynamic playmaker type but he is the WR version of Jags MLB Posluzny. Neither player flashes, but they complete their assignments in a smooth fashion. Mike Thomas might lead the Jaguars receiving corps, but Dillard should come on strong, barring injury to starting QB David Garrard. Jason Hill also made a fantastic cover-up on a catch he caught just above the ground. Time will tell on this group.
They don’t really have any. There a few names that jump out, such as DE Austen Lane. Lane at this point doesn’t seem to be anything more than a bull-rusher. The backup DE’s that the team looked to really be counting on were handled easily enough.
Keep in mind that these conclusions are not conclusions, merely observations from the first half of a pre-season game the team played with less than two weeks of practice on the year. The Patiots quarterbacks looked in control the entire ballgame and I was very impressed with #2 QB Brian Hoyer’s ability to throw downfield. WR Taylor Price showed an ability to be an absolute star. RB Stevan Ridley was very solid and deserves the praise he received.