Published August 30, 2012
| Sports Network
Call it a game of who blinks first or the old cat-and-mouse routine when alluding to the holdout of Jacksonville Jaguars franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Hurting a team by not participating in offseason training activities or training camp is one side of the coin, while ownership refusing to lock up one of the top running backs in the NFL is another. Jaguars new owner Shad Khan may be wet behind the ears when it comes to the NFL, but don't be fooled by this wealthy businessman.
Khan has risen to the top of the corporate world thanks to a successful auto parts business and decided to dip his toe in NFL ownership by purchasing the Jaguars in November. Now Khan is becoming experienced in dealing with disgruntled players, too, and his firm stand on not giving Jones-Drew a new deal as the 2012 season looms proves he will not be a pushover.
"This is not a team above one person," Khan said in August. "Train's leaving the station. Run, get on it."
The absence of Jones-Drew has put a crimp in new head coach Mike Mularkey's system heading into the regular season opener. The running back is the centerpiece to the Jags' offense, and without him the Jaguars know they could struggle severely.
Mularkey took over as head coach back in January after Jack Del Rio and Mel Tucker assumed those duties last season, and has an innovative offensive mindset established from his days with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Miami and Atlanta.
Jacksonville hopes some new blood on the coaching staff will help alter the future of an organization that went 5-11 a year ago and hasn't made the playoffs for four straight seasons. The Jaguars haven't won more than eight games over that postseason famine, but are optimistic Mularkey can change that.
"Everybody was ready for it to be done. For me, personally as an offensive guy, I feel like it's a good hire," Jags tight end Marcedes Lewis said early on in the offseason of Mularkey's appointment. "We're going to get new schemes, a new offense and a fresh start."
That fresh start doesn't seem like it will begin with Jones-Drew, the league's reigning rushing leader. It also could put a further damper on young quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who enters his second year in the pros. Drafted 10th overall in 2011, Gabbert's first season was a rough one, as he compiled a 50.8 completion percentage and passed for 2,214 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions over a 15-game span.
After the Jaguars released veteran David Garrard prior to last season to clear a path for Gabbert, the new quarterback left many wondering if it was the right choice to tab him as the starter almost right away. Getting sacked 40 times didn't do much for his confidence, either.
"He's a young guy, and he walked into a nightmare situation," Jags linebacker Paul Posluszny told Yahoo! Sports of Gabbert. "He had all the negative things that anybody could have happen to him. I said, 'Man, I feel bad for Blaine', because he's a good kid and he's doing everything the right way, but we're not winning on the field. And of course, he gets the blame for it.'"
Time is not running out on Gabbert, because he didn't have much in the way of weapons around him last season, but at least the team made an attempt to do so in bringing in free-agent wide receiver Laurent Robinson and drafting talented wideout Justin Blackmon.
Blackmon's first season as a pro didn't get off to a promising start, as a DUI charge and a subsequent contract holdout left a bad impression. The No. 5 overall pick in April's draft eventually signed a four-year deal worth $18.5 million in August.
Anointed starting running back Rashad Jennings, who missed all of 2011 with a knee injury, will take over the rushing load until Jones-Drew returns. That's of course, if the talented back signs a new deal.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Jacksonville Jaguars, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2011 RECORD: 5-11 (3rd, AFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2007, lost to New England in AFC Divisional Playoff
COACH (RECORD): Mike Mularkey (first season with Jaguars, 14-18 in two seasons overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bob Bratkowski (first season with Jaguars)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mel Tucker (fourth season with Jaguars)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (1606 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 11 total TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Daryl Smith, SLB (107 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 32nd overall (12th rushing, 32nd passing), 29th scoring (15.2 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 6th overall (9th rushing, 8th passing), 11th scoring (20.6 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Laurent Robinson (from Cowboys), WR Justin Blackmon (1st Round, Oklahoma State), CB Aaron Ross (from Giants), P Bryan Anger (3rd Round, California), QB Chad Henne (from Dolphins), DE Andre Branch (2nd Round, Clemson), CB Leigh Torrence (from Saints)
KEY DEPARTURES: DE Matt Roth (free agent), QB Luke McCown (to Falcons), RB Deji Karim (to Colts), RB DuJuan Harris (to Steelers), WR Jarett Dillard (to Lions), WR Kassim Osgood (to Lions), WR Chastin West (released), DE Aaron Kampman (released), DE Leger Douzable (to Titans), DT Nate Collins (to Bears), MLB Stephen Franklin (released), CB Drew Coleman (to Lions), CB Ashton Youboty (released), CB Morgan Trent (to Redskins), CB David Jones (to Redskins), S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (to Cowboys)
QB: A lot is riding on Gabbert (2124 passing yards, 12 TD, 11 INT in 2011) this season. The Jaguars are hoping they didn't make a mistake in drafting the former Missouri star, who had to digest a new comprehensive playbook in the offseason with Mularkey taking over. Gabbert recorded a 65.4 quarterback rating and completed 210 of his 413 passes as a rookie, and was sacked at least once in every game he played in last season. He went down three or more times on seven occasions for a Jacksonville team that hasn't really had a dominant quarterback since Mark Brunell, though Byron Leftwich and Garrard showed flashes of being one at times in the past. Gabbert has the tools to be better than those two, however. New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has previously worked with Mularkey in Atlanta and will be installing a new system that perhaps is what Gabbert needs. The Jaguars brought in veteran Chad Henne (868 passing yards, 4 TD, 4 INT) as insurance and is a reliable player if Gabbert goes down. He spent his first four NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins but was limited to four games because of injury last year. Jordan Palmer, who played under Bratkowski in Cincinnati from 2008-10, is also on the roster.
RB: The absence of Jones-Drew (1606 rushing yards, 8 TD) will be obvious for a Jaguars team trying to recover from last year's offensive debacle. Jacksonville was last in passing yards (136.2 ypg) and total yards (259.3 ypg), while it finished 28th in points scored (15.2 ppg) and 12th in rushing offense (123.1 ypg). Jones-Drew was the main reason for that solid ranking in the last category, but now he's just an afterthought until his contract situation works out. Even if he does end his holdout, the question is if he will be in game shape. Tennessee's Chris Johnson was in a similar situation last season and had a down year attributed to missing out all of camp. Jennings is an attractive piece to the puzzle, however. He has seen plenty of action in his three-year tenure with the Jags, but playing behind one of the best in the game will limit carries. Fullback Greg Jones paved the way for Jones-Drew's rushing title a year ago and is entering his eighth year with the Jags. Jennings should look forward to running behind the excellent lead blocker for as much as he can this season. Jones-Drew also contributed greatly in the passing game, finishing third on the team in receiving yards (374) and making 43 catches and three scores last year.
WR: The Jags traded up two spots in April's draft to get the talented Blackmon out of Oklahoma State, swapping picks with Tampa Bay and sending another to the Bucs. He is expected to be just as good or if not better than former Jags wideout Jimmy Smith, though that remains to be seen. Blackmon is a big target at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds and can stretch the field, and the same goes for fellow newcomer Robinson (54 receptions, 11 TD). He had a great season with Dallas in 2011, totaling 858 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns. Robinson has had a slow preseason while learning a new system, but will still be an essential piece to Gabbert's development. Third receiver Mike Thomas (44 receptions, 1 TD) regressed last season from a solid 2010, but that may have been due in large part to a new quarterback.
TE: Lewis had no touchdowns on 39 receptions last season after notching 10 scores in 2010, and has been a disappointment at times since being selected in the first round back in 2006. The 6-foot-6, 272-pounder is a good blocker, however, and will try to get back to his 2010 form, when he grabbed 58 passes for 700 yards and made the Pro Bowl. Zach Miller is penciled in as Lewis' backup and hasn't had much playing time to get anything done in his first three pro seasons.
OL: One could blame Gabbert for taking too many sacks due to his still- developing pocket presence, but the offensive line still has to make the blocks. The group obviously did a good job paving the way for Jones-Drew and hopes to do so again in 2012, but the biggest goal is to keep Gabbert safe from harm. Offensive line coach Andy Heck has been with the club for almost a decade and like most teams, had to deal with injuries across the board last year. Center Brad Meester anchors the line and is entering his 13th season with Jacksonville. He holds franchise records for games played (177) and started (177). Left tackle Eugene Monroe has started 42 games at the position and will take care of Gabbert's backside. He must do a better job of that, but helped tremendously in making the ground attack productive. Oft-injured right tackle Eben Britton is physical up front and can play every spot across the line but center. He must stay healthy, however, after missing parts of the past two years with injuries. Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri are slated to start at left and right guard, respectively. The Jaguars did not draft any offensive linemen, and have the likes of tackle Guy Whimper, center/guard Jason Spitz and tackle Cameron Bradfield waiting in the balance.
DL: Tucker served as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator before taking over head coaching duties when Del Rio was canned, and the players are greatly appreciative that Mularkey kept him on board in his old post. He guided a solid stop unit that finished ninth against the run (104.2 ypg) and sixth in total yards allowed (313.0 ypg) in 2011. End Jeremy Mincey (57 tackles) led the Jags with eight sacks last season thanks to a breakout year and is looking for even more success in 2012. Jacksonville used a second-round pick on Andre Branch in April's draft and has high expectations for the former Clemson star. Branch has great size for the right end spot at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds and will learn under the athletic Mincey. Former first-round pick Tyson Alualu (40 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is hoping to have an better success in his third pro campaign as one of the anchors of the run defense. The nearly 300-pound tackle will again team up with Terrance Knighton (29 tackles) at the interior spots. Knighton doesn't have much quickness, but his bulk will come in handy when stopping the run. Remember, the AFC South is a division with that contains Tennessee's Johnson, Donald Brown of the Colts and Arian Foster of Texas. Tackle Jeris Pendleton was drafted out of small-school Ashland in the seventh back in April, while veteran end Aaron Kampman was released in June after being slowed by constant injuries.
LB: Posluszny (119 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) led the Jags in stops last season and is one of the smartest middle linebackers in the game. He has the quickness to shed blockers and cover tight ends, and was one of the keys to the team's run-stopping efforts last year. A proven leader from his days at Penn State, Posluszny is also fortunate to play alongside strongside linebacker Daryl Smith (107 tackles, 3.5 sacks, INT), who is as consistent as they come and can play both inside and outside spots. He set a single-season franchise record with 15 tackles for loss in 2011 and has a streak of five straight seasons with 100-plus stops. Besides the Texans, Jacksonville probably has the best linebacker corps in the division thanks to the performance of those two. Russell Allen (48 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT) is expected to start on the weak side and has played in all 48 games over three seasons. He re-signed with the team this offseason. Clint Session (30 tackles, 1 sack) played in nine games (6 starts) in first season with the Jaguars in 2011, but will begin this year on the reserve/physically unable to perform list with concussion issues. Rookie Brandon Marshall, an inside linebacker, was drafted out of Nevada in the fifth round to add to the depth.
DB: The Jaguars were eighth against the pass in 2011, allowing 208.8 yards per game through the air, and made several moves in the secondary during the offseason. They released cornerback Drew Coleman, signed veteran Leigh Torrence, re-signed corner Trumaine McBride and placed cornerback Reggie Corner (knee) on injured reserve. Jacksonville also added veteran and Super Bowl champion Aaron Ross (60 tackles, 4 INT) from the Giants and drafted cornerback Mike Harris (6th Round) out of Florida State. Ross is expected to start on the left side and push veteran Rashean Mathis (34 tackles, 1 INT) into a nickel role. Mathis is still a very talented cover corner, but now 32 and coming off a knee injury. Derek Cox (22 tackles), who played in only six games in 2011, is now healthy and slated to start at right corner. Dawan Landry (97 tackles, 2 INT) and Dwight Lowery (36 tackles, 2 INT) are back to man strong and free safety, respectively. Landry is a big hitter, while the ex-Jet Lowery looks to build on a solid first season in Jacksonville. The Jags' defensive backfield will face some formidable passing attacks in the AFC South this year, and also have tough matchups against Green Bay, Detroit and New England.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Jaguars will have kicker Josh Scobee back in the fold after he inked a long-term deal in July. He has spent each of his eight seasons with the Jaguars and last year made all but two of his 25 field goal tries while connecting on each of his 24 extra-point attempts to finish with 93 points. Scobee also made good on a career-best five field goals of 50 yards or longer. Rookie Bryan Anger takes over for both Matt Turk and Nick Harris at punter, and was drafted in the third round out of California. Anger has a strong leg and can direct his punts to all parts of the field, and was a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist in college. Reserve wide receiver Cecil Shorts will return punts and Thomas is expected to work the kickoffs barring injury for the upcoming season. Deji Karim and DuJuan Harris both handled kick return duties in 2011, but both are no longer on the roster. Jacksonville will need to excel in those departments to give Gabbert and an offense that's had trouble scoring points good field position.
PROGNOSIS: Jaguars fans breathed a sigh of relief after general manager Gene Smith said the team has no plans on trading Jones-Drew despite the holdout. Whether Jones-Drew, who has two years remaining on a five-year deal, gets what he wants is still a mystery. The saga will most likely continue into the regular season, so don't expect him be dodging defenders in the Week 1 opener at Minnesota on Sept. 9. Jacksonville has to move on for the time being and hitch its wagon to Jennings' legs. There is some optimism for the team, especially on defense, but a lot is riding on Gabbert in hopes of him having a productive sophomore season. The young quarterback has a few new weapons around him, but it may not keep Jacksonville from finishing third or last in the AFC South. Even if Jones-Drew was happy and in camp, the Jags are a mediocre bunch.