JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars have a young quarterback rushing throws, receivers running wrong routes and dropping balls, an offensive line giving up sacks while trying to find continuity and a veteran defense failing to stop the run or generate pressure.
All those issues have resulted in one of the worst starts in franchise history. The Jaguars are 1-4 heading into their bye and have been overmatched in three home games. They believe things can turn around after the break.
But there seems to be one missing ingredient. A key one, too.
"We've got to become a more talented team," general manager Gene Smith said this week. "It does start with talent. We can be a more talented team. You're always looking to add. We can do things better than we've done, and that's clearly my goal. Your greatest need is talent. That is where it starts. We've got to continue to upgrade this roster to win more games."
Smith has been assembling Jacksonville's roster the last four seasons — Jacksonville is the only team with four consecutive top-10 draft picks — so his comments are sure to irk fans who have grown tired of watching their team miss the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons.
But anyone who has seen the Jaguars play this season would know Smith is offering an honest assessment of his team's on-field performance.
Jacksonville ranks last in the league in total offense — the same spot it finished last season — and hasn't been much better (30th) on defense.
Smith has been blamed for the shortcomings, creating speculation about how long new owner Shad Khan will stick with him, quarterback Blaine Gabbert and even first-year coach Mike Mularkey. All three are under contract through 2014.
"I feel very confident that we'll improve as a football team," Smith said. "There are eight one-win teams and nine two-win teams. There's going to be some teams come out of that pack. As we get healthier and we start making more plays, I believe good things will happen. I have a lot of belief in this team and the staff shaping and preparing this team."
He might be in the minority.
Blaine Gabbert's pocket presence is still a concern. Mularkey said Gabbert is feeling phantom pressure, not trusting his protection and getting rid of the ball too quickly. Gabbert had the same issue as a rookie, meaning he has yet to eliminate a troubling habit after 19 starts.
"It's been a point of emphasis to let things develop," Smith said. "There is a time to get the ball out quick and then there's a time to allow things to develop more. That comes with playing time and trusting what's going on around you, inside with the offensive line and outside with the receivers."
Both have been shaky through five games.
Receiver Laurent Robinson, who signed a five-year contract worth $32.5 million in March, has missed all or part of three games because of concussions. First-round draft pick Justin Blackmon has been slow to develop, with the former Oklahoma State star dropping passes and struggling to get separation.
"It's a different game at the NFL level," Smith said. "In college, you can be a little more physical with the cornerback until the ball's in the air. He's still learning to run routes and set up defensive backs. As he's involved more with what we do, you'll see more play-making because he's certainly capable of that."
With Robinson injured and Mike Thomas failing to produce, the Jaguars have decided to get Cecil Shorts III more involved. The second-year pro has eight receptions for 205 yards and two scores.
"More playing time means more opportunity to help the team move forward and hopefully we can get some wins going," Shorts said. "It's exciting. I'm just going to go out there and make the best of my opportunities."
The offensive line had to be shuffled in three games because of injuries to guard Eben Britton and right tackle Cam Bradfield. Making matters worse, guard Uche Nwaneri has played with a sprained left knee and a sprained right ankle. All three hope to get healthy during the bye.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe has been a bright spot, giving up one sack and two quarterback pressures while facing defensive stars Jared Allen, Robert Mathis, J.J. Watt and Julius Peppers.
Jacksonville's biggest concern is on the other side of the ball. The Jaguars have recorded just three sacks in five games.
Jeremy Mincey, who signed a four-year contract worth $20 million in March, has five quarterback pressures. Rookie Andre Branch has been mostly a non-factor, too. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been benched in favor of C.J. Mosley. And former first-round pick Tyson Alualu hasn't been the same since offseason knee surgery.
"We're not getting four-man pressure," Smith said. "The guys that are matched up one-on-one, they've got to win more — no question. And if you bring five or six, you've got to get there, and we haven't gotten there enough. That's the one area I clearly thought we'd be better and we haven't been at this point."
The return of linebacker Daryl Smith and backup defensive ends Austen Lane and George Selvie could help. But Jacksonville's talent issues are hardly limited to one position.
"Clearly, as a football team, we've got to get better in all three phases," Smith said.
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