- 1. The defense will carry this team for the first half of the season. Man, who expected to even think that the defense could be the stronger point of the team at any point this season? Make no mistake, though; the defense is flashing the kind of talent and playmaking ability that could carry the Jaguars in 2011. It’s not unbelievable to think this unit could make the jump from one of the league’s worst to a top 10 unit this year. As we know all too well, last year’s defense was mediocre to average in most areas and GOD AWFUL in pass coverage. I’ve seen enough of the DB’s to be confident that they will no longer be a gaping hole begging to be exploited. They have sufficient ability to keep opposing receivers and prevent the big plays that were so routine against the Jaguars in 2010. By patching our biggest weakness and making huge gains in our linebacking talent (thanks to free agency) and with the D-line looking like our young players are hungry, faster, and stronger, all of a sudden the Jags defense is nothing to scoff at. We are playing the run better than I’ve seen since the Henderson/Stroud heyday and playing that way during the regular season will force offenses to be one-dimensional and give our rushers the chance to tee off. Tyson Alualu is looking like he could become Gene Smith’s crown achievement before anyone knew what hit them. He already love Pot Roast and what he’s able to do – with TnT playing at elite levels, the defensive ends and linebackers are going to have a fun season of racking up big stats. I’m going to be extremely bold here and say that the Jaguars finish the year as a Top 8 overall defense and a Top 5 run defense. Book that.
- 2. I still believe the QB job is firmly Garrard’s, but is he really an upgrade? The most common argument we’re hearing for why Garrard should start over Blaine Gabbert is that his veteran experience means the game won’t feel too big for him, he’ll handle himself better under pressure, and he’ll be more capable of making the split-second decisions that define the quarterback position, frequently touted as the toughest position in all of sports. That basically translates to “even if Gabbert appears to be David Garrard’s equal as far ability to make the throws, he will still be the backup this year because Garrard has the poise under pressure and experience to make the right decisions that Blaine doesn’t”. Is that really true? Right now, we’re saying that Gabbert has looked a little hurried in the pocket, has gotten too “excited” and sent some throws off target, and has waited too long in the pocket and taken unnecessary sacks. Aren’t these all points that are typically throw around about Garrard throughout a season? I still think Garrard’s our starter for 2011 – but it’s closer than we might think and might be close enough for Gamblin’ Jack to roll the dice one more time before week 1.
- 3. The offensive line remains the biggest and most important question. We saw in the 2008 season how much the O-line dictates the viability of the offense when starters Vince Manuwai and Chris Naole were lost before halftime of Week 1. This positional group requires the most inter-communication and chemistry and it’s nearly impossible to just throw someone in and not expect a drop off in performance. We know that Eben Britton now has some injury question marks and it now appears that rookie Will Rackley will be the starter at LG, in spite of a severely shortened offseason. Jason Spitz is seeing time at RG – whether that’s to speed up his familiarity with his teammates along the line in case he’s needed during the season or it signifies Uche Nwaneri is underperforming, we can’t be sure yet. The pass protection has been underwhelming in the first two games, but it appears that the problems have been with communication, as opposed to being straight up beaten. The line should iron these issues out soon, but at this point, the line may look different on opening day than first anticipated and it may be a few weeks before pass protection is acceptable and the running game returns to the form we expect.
– Andrew Hofheimer