I’m not going to lie to you. We are already trapped in the quicksand of the deadzone, we just haven’t realized it yet. But as the excitement from the draft and hope inspired by the new talent on our team subsides, we will sink into the mire – into the deadest of Deadzones we have ever seen. NFL fans have been asked for more and more exposure and entertainment in the offseasons and the NFL, ESPN, and every other sports outlet has delivered and there’s no stopping the hunger at this point. Hopefully the lockout ends soon and we will get a chance to acquire the free agents that will fill the holes on this team that everyone is so desperately concerned about. Until then, we’ll be givin’ you all the snout you can eat. Here are 5 things on my mind that have gotten lost in the fray recently…
- 1.) I’m still asking myself “what exactly happened with MJD?” at the end of last season. Jones-Drew and Del Rio have been saying that his recovery is “ahead of schedule” and he will be “ready for training camp”, but with all the mystery that surrounded the injury during the season, I can’t confidently say everything will be peaches and cream. There were rumors during last preseason of Mojo hiding an injury and later of a clandestine surgery that took place in a barn out near McClenny on a starless night with all of the doctors swearing their utmost secrecy. OK, I made up a few details there, but there was plenty of smoke and mirrors about Jones-Drew’s torn hibiscus and he told Jaguars.com and the Time-Union that he played with a bone-on-bone condition. He’s at the point in his career where missing OTA and Training Camp time isn’t going to hold him back in any way, but the Jaguars will lean on Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim to develop this offseason. I think it’ll be for the best to keep MJD under 20 carries/game.
- 2.) Before everyone starts worrying about Blaine Gabbert holding out, worry about Marcedes Lewis. Honestly, if Blaine Gabbert takes a regular season snap this season it means one of three things and two of them are very bad: 1) it’s the fourth quarter and we are beating the tar out of our opponent 2) David Garrard is injured and unable to play 3) the season has already gone down the toilet and we’re giving him some gametime experience. We don’t know what the team will even have in terms of practices, thanks to the lockout, and his in-season reps and next year’s offseason are where he’ll truly start progressing. Marcedes Lewis, on the other hand, is the superstar and most important piece of our passing game and of course, brings a very physical element to our edge run-blocking, as well. Whoever’s under center will always be the most important piece of an offense, but I think it’s a tougher call than most people realize on who’s #2 – most would probably say MJD, but I think Marcedes is harder to replace due to his versatility and dominance in the roles he’s used for (run-blocking, 3rd downs, red zone) and that there’s not a vialbe alternative behind him (Potter’s a pure blocking TE, Miller’s a pure receiving TE). Marcedes is coming off a career year and has caught the eye of the league’s other GM’s. This could very well turn into a tense/ugly situation. He won’t be happy with a franchise tag (if they exist in the new deal) and likely wants to test free agency, not necessarily to leave, but to let the market set the price the Jaguars will need to pay – and it will be high.
- 3.) The effectiveness of our defense will once again rest on the progression of our young D-linemen. I don’t doubt that the front office will address the gaping holes at LB and DB, but the foundation of our team in both philosophy and actuality are the homegrowns. Can Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton go over the top to become an elite interior duo? Will D’Anthony Smith recover from his Achilles injury to provide another penetrator up front who allow us to keep Tyson and Potroast fresh? Will Larry Hart become a viable 3rd down rusher? Can Jeremy Mincey stay healthy? Did he overperform last year? Can Austen Lane bulk up enough to be a regular LDE starter? Can he get to the quarterback? Don’t be quick to write these guys off based on what they did last year, because they’re just beginning to develop. If these questions are answered to the affirmative, the defense isn’t looking quite so bad.
- 4.) Worrying about Toronto rumors or ticket sales being behind is like worrying about the Large Hadron Collider ending mankind. If you don’t know what that’s referencing, click here. But either way, the rumors are completely overblown and definitely not worth the stress. Yes, the Jaguars are behind on season ticket sales and that’s a bigger deal for our franchise than most, but despite everyone’s promises that “we will have pro football in 2011″ and “even if we miss a game, money will be refunded”, several hundred (or several thousand) dollars is a lot of money to have tied up when things seem this uncertain. Once this labor situation is smoothed over, the tickets will be sold. Or Tony Boselli will slit your tires.
- 5.) LL Cool B? Ladies love Cool Blaine – the new face of Jacksonville. The Jags Blainia is picking up steam quick, folks. I myself know of at least a couple of girls who are already completely heartstruck, following him obsessively on Twitter, and have reserved their pink #11 jerseys. So that’s the answer, I guess – the women and teenage girls of Jacksonville will bear the burden of unsold season tickets and ultimately, bring this franchise into a financial juggernaut. OK, maybe not. But what it does mean is we have a guy who can be a celebrity in Jacksonville. We all know how much Maurice Jones-Drew means to the franchise in terms of national exposure, but he’s our lone superstar. Blaine is a good looking and well-spoken kid playing the most important position in all of sports – he’s got a long way to go in terms of developing into a professional quarterback and the team’s field general and locker room leader, but once those roles are filled, Gabbert could be a valuable liaison in the city of Jacksonville and potentially fill the void that has existed between the franchise and a larger segment of its market. Is the wide-eyed, bushy tailed Midwesterner ready to take on a role that big? He’s got to work his butt off on the practice fields and in the video room and there will undoubtedly be some growing pains along the way. But I think he’s got it in him.
- Andrew Hofheimer