I sped home from work with a singular thought in my mind – Jaguars football is BACK! No time to join the coworkers for a drink, no time to stop for food, no time to pull to the shoulder as police officer put on his blue lights behind me and started firing shots at my tires – that didn’t happen, but had it happened, the only choice would have been to keep going. When I kicked down my door and logged into my NFL.com Preseason pass to watch the game, I realized…that I was 35 minutes early. Not sure how I missed that one, but I was pretty positive if I didn’t get logged on before 6:59, I would miss Blaine Gabbert’s first NFL drive. Two beers and some delivery Chinese later, I had settled in and was (again) ready to watch some Jaguars football. It wasn’t pretty out there, but the preseason has never been about style. There was a lot to build on and not too much to be concerned about – let’s take a look…
- 1.) The last thing in the world I’m gonna get my panties in a twist over is a preseason game. ESPECIALLY with that many *key* starters not playing, as an added measure of caution…sure, the final score was pretty ugly, but these games area bout evaluating players in a lot of different situations and no one’s really sure just what the coaches are trying to see. I’ll grant you that the second half was pretty gross, with 90 players on the roster and the 24 undrafted free agents signed by Gene Smith, you’re gonna see a bunch of guys that don’t look like they belong in the NFL and well…we did. Ryan Mallett I think has an impressive amount of polish – the kid looks like he belongs in the NFL and I believe will be a top 10 QB at some point. He tore our 3rd/4th/invalid defense to shreds. As for the second half offense – it’s Todd Bouman, people. He hasn’t thrown a pass since the Chiefs game last year. I thought our 1st team (or the 1.5 team with all those missing starters) offense and defense looked good in an otherwise tough game to make solid evaluations.
- 2.) So what did I think of Blaine Gabbert? Exactly what I expected. Exactly what I hoped for. I think the most simple way to say it is – he looked like a 1st round rookie quarterback with a helluva lot of upside…and I think that’s exactly what you want to see. He looked calm, focused, sharp, and very capable. But he also looked like a guy that was relying on his talent and a “cram session” version of training camp to get him through his first two quarters of professional ball. He’s not going to challenge David Garrard for the starting job anytime in the first half of season and as I’ve said before, I think that’s for the best – David gives us a better chance to win in 2011 and Blaine is not ready for all of the situations he’d be encountering as the starter. On the negative side, there were definitely a few moments where Gabbert had a temporary lapse on what to do (or had forgotten part of the play) and at times, it looked like he was feeling the pressure a little before he needed to. On the other hand, there definitely was a lot of pressure bearing down on him and he stood up strong, continued to make his reads, and made a few nifty evasions on his feet. His release and arm strength are something special, that much was clear – his second pass to Jason Hill was through a window that couldn’t have been more than a few feet wide, right through three defenders and it arrived before they could react. Some of his passes looked a little rushed and thus a little wobbly and reminded me of the superhero movies where the guy first gets his newfound powers and is a little unwieldy with them at first. It was nice to see his talent and I’m starting to think we’ll be in good hands for the next several years with Gabbert at the helm.
- 3. The defense looks ready to step up in a big way this year. The free agent signing wasted no time in making their presence known. In 10 snaps, Clint Session was credited with two forced fumbles and showed his penchant for big hits. Dawan Landry recovered a fumble on the Jags first defensive play and every time there was a run out wide or a swing pass, new MLB Paul Posluszny had already sniffed it out and was there to greet the running back. Tyson Alualu looked beastly, defeating his blocks quickly and doing exactly what Gene drafted him to do – be disruptive in the backfield. Rashean Mathis looked faster and more aggressive than he’s looked in years. The safety play looked improved in what we were able to see of them (keep in mind, it was Brian Hoyer, not Tom Brady, throwing at them) – Landry and Greene didn’t appear to be a glaring weakness, which would indicate improvement from 2010. The biggest developments with the defense are not in the individuals but what your eyes tell you about the whole – the defense looked hungry, aggressive, and fast. Players across all three levels were swarming to the ball and bringing the contact. I think our starting defense is ready to step up in a big way in 2011 and we will see marked improvement.
- 4. Wide Receiver remains to be decided. No one stood out Thursday, but the starters didn’t look as bad as everyone would like to believe. For as much grief as Jason Hill’s been getting for not looking like Jimmy Smith II in training camp, he didn’t show anything in the game to indicate we’re in trouble with him starting. Mike Thomas had an uncharacteristically ugly ugly ugly drop, but he doesn’t have a history of the dropsies, so there’s no reason to panic over that. Jarrett Dillard only had one target, but looks healthy and sharp by all mean. Marcedes Lewis and rookie Cecil Shorts (who’s expected to win the #3 WR role) were absent and with defenses having to account for #89, coverages will look different. I’m not going to make full judgements until we see what happens when the offensive line is protecting the way they’re supposed to be (the pass protection was very weak, especially up the middle), but right now, though there wasn’t anything to be *real* excited about in the receiving corps, there wasn’t anything to panic about.
- 5. Hopefully, most fans are able to put the preseason in perspective. Gene Frenette’s article claiming that the lopsided loss would harm ticket sales was too reactionary for my tastes. Frankly, I don’t think the fans that are up in arms over this game are the ones the Jaguars ticket sales department is targeting to make up the 14,000 remaining tickets to be sold. If you’re not already a season ticket owner, the most poignant thing I can tell you is that I made the trip down from Atlanta for most of our home games last year, including the Hail Mary win against Houston and when the overcoming euphoria of that game faded later that week, all I could think about was how much it meant to me to be in the stadium, with my friends and family next to me, jumping up and down and feeling the entire stadium shaking with unbridled excitement. I couldn’t imagine giving that up – if you don’t have tickets yet, I urge you to make that small investment and if you do own tickets, remind your friends just how much this organization means to them and the city of Jacksonville. There’s a lot to be excited about this year – we’ve got a young, inspired team and a franchise quarterback who will be growing up and ready to lead this team to some special places in the near future. Plus, Marcedes Lewis, David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Aaron Kampman are back on the practice fields and should be playing next week – maybe if we blow the Falcons away by 30+ points all these naysayers will call up the ticket office and help us sell out Everbank…or maybe they’ll just keep bitching about flushing the tickets they never actually bought down the toilet.
- Andrew Hofheimer