I’m going to continue treating the Lockout as I would treat any common street panhandler – if you don’t make eye contact with it, it doesn’t exist. Just throw on the 1000-yard stare straight ahead and march onward unabated and that silly hobo/Lockout will get the message – I’M WAY TOO BUSY FOR YOUR TRIFLING, LOCKOUT/STREET FILTH. In this spirit, I am looking forward to training camp, that of course, will take place at the end of this month. (And why wouldn’t it? HAHAHA!!! Not so powerful when we IGNORE you!!! Take that, stupid Lockout!!!)
In the last installment of BOOK IT, we explored some of the BIG questions and BIG positional battles heading into this year’s training camp. This week, we look deeper – what BIG developments might by on the horizon for the Jaguars in 2011? How is the team changing or better yet, evolving?
The BIG Developments:
- More Two Tight End Formations in this Year’s Offense
Things seem to be trending this way in both a micro sense within the Jaguars and a macro sense in the NFL. I’ll start with the big picture. We all know the NFL is a copycat league – whatever works well for one team is bound to be copied by others (see: Wildcat, collecting pass rushers, 3-4 defense, etc). The 2-TE set is nothing new, but the Super Bowl-winning (always sure to garner some interest) Green Bay Packers used it quite a lot last year and the Patriots employed it as their base formation, mostly because they had two potent rookie TE’s and Randy Moss was lost for the year to indifference. Another league-wide development in recent years is the decline of the run-blocking fullback (aka – the Greg Jones’ of the league), who are now considered more “specialists” than every-down players. Dirk Koetter has hinted time and again that he likes using TE’s in his game planning because of their flexibility and the deception he can create with them. He’s hinted time and again that he thinks Marcedes Lewis can be one of the league’s premier offensive players and he’s hinted time and again that if Zach Miller can stay healthy, he’s the dynamic and explosive type of playmaker that O-coordinators dream about. Greg Jones is still a dominant blocker out of the backfield, but he’s approaching his twilight; the future of the league and the future of the Jaguars is the Singleback formation, which keeps more pass-catchers on the field at one time . Expect the Jaguars to start working the two-TE look into their gameplan with increasing regularity in 2011, with the aim to make this their base formation in the near future. The balance of personnel allows an adept team to both run and pass with equal effectiveness and the balanced look forces the defense to stay honest and react to what the offense offers.
- The Distribution of Carries out of the Backfield
We’ve discussed the preservation of Maurice Jones-Drew in some recent articles, including this one from Tuesday. I believe as long as he’s upright, he’s the unquestioned workhorse in the backfield – none of this running back by committee stuff. But should we expect less carries from MJD? I think so. First of all, I’ve got a hunch that the coaches truly believe they have some weapons in the passing game and want to use the aerial attack to get the 8th man out of the box and to put up more points, effectively alleviating some pressure on the defense, which even the most optimistic fans could call “developing”, at best. I don’t think the Jaguars will ever (in the next five years, at least) be considered a pass-first or “finesse” team, but I think they’re trending towards a very balanced and equally potent split between the ground game and the passing game. Secondly, I think Rashad Jennings is ready to handle an increased workload – even when you exclude his fantastic game against the Raiders, he looked far more polished last year, running with authority and doing a better job of waiting for holes to develop and following his blocks. He’s always been lauded for his receiving potential out of the backfield and the Jags seemed comfortable using him on 3rd downs last year – this could be where he carves out a more regular role for himself. Don’t underestimate his size, either – he’s listed at 6’1″ and 228 lbs, the exact same size as another Jacksonville running back who was fairly well known for his effectiveness outside of and between the tackles, Mr. Fred Taylor. Deji Karim could find himself in the mix, as well. He may have been drafted as a return specialist, but the Jaguars have always stated they want to use him in the running game and he has the perfect skill set to be an effective “change of pace” back.
- The Depth Chart at Wide Receiver and What the Squad is Capable Of
By now, we can presume that Mike Thomas and Jason Hill will start the season as the number one and two receivers. Hill is built a little more like the “X” or split-end and Thomas’ smaller stature and slipperiness probably make him more suited to the “Y” or flanker position. Honestly though, it’s fun to use the jargon, but this isn’t of huge importance. What is important is, who comes after them? Cecil Shorts III was a fourth rounder this year and will in all likelihood make the final roster. Jarrett Dillard has not gotten much game experience due to injuries thus far, but he’s someone the coaches really seem to like, so if he stays healthy, he will likely make the roster. Kassim Osgood is a special teams beast and will take situational snaps at receiver, so that’s another spot. Assuming the Jaguars carry six receivers (and I think they will since Osgood is more of a special teams guy) the final spot will come down to a battle between Tiquan Underwood, Nate Hughes, John Matthews, and/or whoever else the Jaguars add in UDFA. For now, we’ll examine the first four players on the depth chart – what are they capable of as a unit and what are their individual strengths?
Mike Thomas is coming into his own as a traditional receiver, but possesses all kinds of ability to be used schematically. He’s got the speed to go over the top, the acceleration to break away, the hands to make the tough catches, and the toughness and frame to go over the middle (200 lbs on a 5’8″ body is pretty thick and he’s had no injury issues, thus far). He’s been used on screens, end-arounds, and every type of route you can imagine. I think his coaches and coordinators will feel good about asking him to execute any play in the playbook and he’s got the ability to do so. In 3+ receiver sets, I expect to often see Mike in the slot to create mismatches and to let him get the ball in space on quick passes and drag routes, so he can get yards on the ground and make plays in the open field.
Jason Hill remains a bit of a mystery. He didn’t play much at all in San Francisco and his limited time in Jacksonville was surely impressive – he showed the ability to beat a defense over the top, made big plays down the sideline, and showcased a few circus catches, to boot. It’s started to leak out that the Jaguars had their eye on him in the 2007 draft and by the way they pounced on him when he hit waivers and immediately re-signed him after the season, it would seem they see something special in him. Jason was the fastest receiver in the 2007 draft, which makes his humble 10.0 yard/catch average with the 49ers seem very peculiar, especially after posting 22.5 yards/catch in six games with Jacksonville. He’s certainly a wild card, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Luke had a great point in his “Leap of Faith” article yesterday – we know what this Cecil Shorts guy did in college, which though extraordinary, was at D-III college, making it impossible to predict what he’s capable of in the NFL. It’s like Tyson Alualu playing at 3-4 DE and coming to Jacksonville to play 4-3 DT or Zach Miller converting from a college option-style QB into a pro TE in the mold of Dallas Clark – you just gotta trust that the scouts saw something that we, the laymen, don’t have the eye for and if we give these guys time, they’ll make their skills apparent (or not). Cecil seems to have average size and average speed for the wide receiver position, so there’s no “tip off” to what role he was drafted to fulfill. Right know, no one knows what he will be, but this year, it would seem from GM Gene’s and the coaches’ speech that Shorts will compete for time in the slot.
We’ve spoken about Jarrett Dillard plenty, too. Insanely productive in college. Great hands, routes, and vertical ability. Can he prove that he can withstand the physical rigors of the NFL? Dillard seems like he’ll be used in the slot or may bounce outside on three-receiver sets. I can’t tell you if this is a gut feeling or is being conjured from one of the thousands of Jaguars articles I’ve read in the past few years, but something tells me that Dillard can be a type of third-down specialist – the guy who on 3rd-and-7 can make that ankle-breaking cut and get the quick reception one yard past the first down marker. At this point, coaches might be losing patience, so if Dillard wants to be a part of the Jaguars’ plans moving forward, his destiny is in his hands.
Overall, I think we have a very interesting group of wideouts. Upon examination, they have a quite complementary skill set and while we aren’t going to confuse anyone on the squad for Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, each seems to have enough talent to be productive. Mike Thomas is the default leader of this group and could be in for a big season, especially if Jason Hill gets going and defenses aren’t keying in on M-80. Having two moderately productive pass catchers would be a vast improvement for Jacksonville, who hasn’t had two wide receivers combine for 1500+ yards since Jimmy Smith (1,023) and Ernest Wilford (681) did in 2005.
– Andrew Hofheimer