Now let’s move on to some concerns. I have a couple of these (as always), starting with some of the offensive and defensive lineman, most importantly DT Terrance Knighton and RT Eben Britton. In Eben’s case, I have a little more understanding – his shoulder injury was a very serious one and coming back from that is anything but easy. Those attending training camp practices have said that he is more silent then in the previous two seasons, when he was considered a vocal presence on the offensive line. He is clearly not 100%, which raises serious problems for the Jaguars and the QBs (no matter if it will be Garrard or Gabbert), if that stays an issue. Partly because Britton should be a key contributor for this team, and partly because I’m not so crazy about his backups. Kevin Haslam is out for the season because of an MCL and the (mighty sized) Daniel Baldridge is young players with upsides, but I just don’t think he can handle players like Robert Mathis, JJ Watt/Mario Williams on a weekly basis. And let’s not forget what happened in the right side protection after Britton went down. That was no coincidence, that backup RT Jordan Black was released in Febuary(!)… And since the Jaguars got just UDFA OTs in this offseason, Haslam and Baldridge should be back up Britton. The Preseason games will gives us a better picture about how serious this issue can be for the Jaguars in ’11.
The other tackle raising questions (again) is Terrance Knighton. Yes, we’ve been warned that his weight issues might be a yearly obstacle, but after last year’s terrible start – Jeff Lageman was calling for him to be benched after the season opener against Denver and his horrendous performance in San Diego game – I thought that the “Pot Roast” would take this issue more seriously coming into this season. He let the team down by again reporting to camp out of shape and as of now, he still can’t practice. He is risking the trust of his young teammates on the D-line with his irresponsibility; while Tyson Alualu came back looking in best shape in his life, Knighton once again has to battle his extra pounds on the sidelines. I wonder why he wasn’t together with Kampman & Co?…because I can’t imagine Aaron and his group letting him get away this. I hope he returns to form earlier than last year, because the Jaguars need him right from the start in a big way.
Another position expected to be consistently under the microscope in 2011 is wide receiver. The rest of the internet seems to be set on the fact that the Jaguars WRs are one of the weakest, if not the weakest, group (yet again) in the NFL. I disagree with this statement, because I think Mike Thomas and a healthy Jarrett Dillard will be key contributors. Jason Hill showed flashes last year and Cecil Shorts is the most-touted new Jaguar besides Blaine Gabbert. It’s a young group, but there’s plenty of potential here. I think the 6th WR spot is up for grabs (Kassim Osgood is a lock as the 5th WR, because he is a ST ace) and don’t be surprised if an UDFA rookie like Armon Binns or Jamar Newsome makes the final roster. There may once again be no true #1 on the Jaguars roster, Mike Thomas being more of a multi-fuctional weapon than a real “X” receiver, but I think we will see plenty more production than the media and blogosphere expects. Right now, let’s give these young players time to prove themselves on the field and let Gene take short-term corrective measure (signing or trading for a veteran WR at the final roster cuts) and draft a replacement next year if the problems we’re seeing in training camp like failing to separate from DBs, poor route running, and dropped passes don’t go away.
3 Things I will be Paying Attention to against the Patriots:
- 1.) The 4 P’s: the Passing attack, the Pass protection, the Pass coverage, and the Pass rush
The pass coverage and pass rush have a great test before them – a test simply called, “Tom Brady” (and in the second half, Ryan Mallett will also be very interesting to watch). Although the Jaguars will see the three-time Super Bowl champion for only a limited time, they must remember that in the teams’ last two meetings, the 2007 Divisional Playoff game and the week 16 slaughter in 2009, Brady had more touchdowns (7) than incomplete passes (5). If the Jaguars defense is truly improved, they cannot surrender these kind of numbers to Brady. Although I don’t expect that much improvement just yet from the pass coverage, as Landry and Coleman have not practiced that much with the team, I want to see pressure from Lane, Alualu and Aaron Morgan.
The pass protection will be interesting to observe. The O-line has had some problems at right tackle, although Eugene Monroe looks superb. As for the passing game, we talked about the receivers already and it’s no secret that every preseason game will focus on the Garrard vs. Gabbert comparisons. Don’t forget about Luke McCown either, who had very impressive preseason games last year. Like everyone, I’m highly antipating Blaine Gabbert’s debut as a Jaguars – going head-to-head against Brady and the Patriot’s 1st team defense will be quite a challenge.
- 2.) Battle of the First Teams
We know that final scores in a preseason game are worthless. Ask the Detroit Lions about that (4-0 in the preseason, 0-16 in the regular season in ’08), but the battle of the first teams will be a great barometer to see where the Jaguars look good and where they need to work . The Patriots are one of the serious contenders of the NFL, so if the Jaguars starters are competitive against them, that is a very good sign. But if New England blows them away, like the 1st team of the Eagles did with the Jaguars a year ago in the first preseason game, then it will be a serious warning to the coaching staff and the players.
- 3. How these players will perform?
Although everybody will be watching how the starters play, preseason games are great for seeing how strong or weak the team’s depth players are – the 2nd and 3rd stringers. I can’t wait to see some of the lesser known players perform. Jaguars 3rd round pick from last year DT D’Anthony Smith will play for the first time in the NFL and I’m curious to see if the buzz about Colorado School of Mines DE Marc Schiechl is legit or not. At LB, my eyes will be on the UDFA rookie from UConn, Scott Lutrus. Is he a real candidate for a roster spot? We may find out on Thursday night. I can’t wait to see Prosinski and especially Rod Isaac in action. Let’s not forget, the Patriots also have drafted a talented rookie QB, Ryan Mallett, so the battle of the backups will be something to look forward to, as well. Also, Jags safety Michael Hamlin has had a pretty decent camp so far, but can he show that in live action? On offense, I want to see the UDFA WRs, mostly Jamar Newsome and Armon Binns, to see what talent they have. Either Blaine Gabbert or Luke McCown will throw them the ball, so they’ll get the opportunity to show their talent. Also, Boise State’s TE Tommy Gallarda might can push Zach Potter a bit for that 3rd TE spot. Take a deep breath and enjoy it everyone – football is BACK!!!
- Zoltan Paksa