2 preseason games in the books, and we are half way in the prologue for the ’11 football season. The 2nd game against the Atlanta Falcons was a major improvement in many areas for the Jaguars. I saw plenty of reason to be optimistic about, but still I see some concerns. And I see maybe the biggest drama of the entire preseason happening, because there is still no answer at the ‘Who will start at QB?’ question. I think the upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills will be the most important since Game 3 of ’07, when Byron Leftwich lost his job to David Garrard and was released by the team. But now I think the whole position is even more complicated. But more about that later. Let’s see what I liked and had concerns with from last Saturday’s game.
The biggest positive progress for is the defense right now. Looks like in ’11, the Jaguars will finally have a defense, who can keep the opponent teams under 30 scored points, also can pressure the QB, will be good (if not great) against the run, and will be more effective against the pass. Let’s see what the defense did (without Aaron Kampman and Clint Session) last weekend. They kept one of the most powerful offense, lead by Falcons QB Matt Ryan at 11 first downs. Although the Jaguars still don’t record a single sack, the rushed the passer quite effectively, especially Jeremy Mincey, who forced even an intentional grounding, and chased Matt Ryan all over the field. He sure looked like a player who wants to grab the other starting DE position. And of course we must mention DT Tyson Alualu, who is playing like a Top 10 pick so far! Even Peter King noticed his performance and mention “he (Alualu) is hard to block”. Even I saw signs that Knighton is not far behind his ideal shape. If ‘Pot Roast’ can be once again so dominant, like he was in most part of the ’10 season and Tyson will play like he did against the Falcons, just get the popcorn ready and watch. Add a healthy Aaron Kampman to the mix and this starting defensive line is looks more than powerful. And the depth behind them looking good as well. Matt Roth and Austen Lane at DE, D’Anthony Smith, Leger Douzable, Nate Collins and CJ Mosley at DT, and Aaron Morgan as a swingman who can play at both positions. On the downside, I just don’t see Larry Hart will make this team’s final roster….
And even the Jaguars staring corners showing some positive signs. Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox made almost non-factors from Falcons Nr. 1 WR Roddy White, and this year’s top pick Julio Jones. The only big play (a 76 TD from Matt Ryan to Harry Douglas) was a result of a miscommunication by Paul Posluszny and a personal error made by nickelcorner Drew Coleman. Other than that, there was no success for the Falcons offense, which was one of the best in ’10 in the entire league, and I think they might got even better this year…If the Jaguars can hold offenses with such firepower in the regular season (and there will be many teams like that: Indianapolis, Houston, New Orleans, San Diego, NY Jets and Atlanta just to name a few…) like they did last week, that could be a major step forward.
Also special teams rebounded played (or in Matt Turk’s case rebounded) very well. Karim (if he can stay healthy) will have a kickoff return TD in this season. Scotty McGee showed the effort a coaches want/love to see from every player. Scobee looking promising again, and Turk finally showed us why he is the league longer, then the Jaguars exists. I think 4 out of 5 ST positions are locks (Scobee, Turk, Karim and Jeremy Cain as being the long snapper). I hope Scotty McGee get his opportunity this season, to show the coaches, he in fact was worth to be drafted in ’10.
Now let’s move on to the concerns section, I have two topics here. One new (quarterbacks), one old (offensive line, especially right tackle). The Jaguars QB position battle grown into (by far) the biggest question of this preseason. Sadly on last Saturday, we didn’t get any closer to the answer. Mostly because David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert had mediocre performances at best. Garrard saw action for the 1st time since the Week 16 loss to the Redskins last year. He had a couple nice throws, but ruined the day with a badly overthrown ball to Mike Thomas which turned out a 62 yard interception return by Falcons CB Ben Grimes. He finished with 7/12, 99 yards. Meanwhile Blaine Gabbert has another game, where he looked like a rookie, (with all the good and bad things). He went 11/23 and 96 yards; still don’t throw a TD or an interception. Some say and it is a valid point, that if Gabbert can produce the same performance as Garrard, then it would be better, to hand over the starting job to him (and cut or trade Garrard, because you don’t keep a 9 million $ guy on the bench. But I still think Gabbert didn’t show enough yet to deserve to be the starting QB. He had 2 mediocre games behind him (3 if we count the scrimmage game…) where he showed flashes, but also signs which says “I’m not ready – yet”. To make things even more complicated, there is 1 more QB, nobody wants to talk about. But Luke McCown played very well (I know against backups) on Saturday, and throughout training camp I heard that he is playing in a consistent, quite high level. I think he is the one who pushing the other 2 the most, yet every attention is focusing on the 2 G’s. If you ask my opinion about the situation, I’d say (right now) keep all 3 QBs on the final 53, start Garrard, (because Gabbert didn’t earned to start – yet), and see what how he performs. If he blew his (very last) chance early, then make the switch (to either Gabbert or McCown) most people in the Jaguars fanbase waiting for (I’m not on that bandwagon yet).
The other huge concerns is the offensive line, and among that group, the RT position. I know rookie G Will Rackley must learn how to play together with the rest of the line. I know that is affecting a bit C/G Jason Spitz. And I’m not even mentioning the mess at right tackle. But so far I saw little help from the O-line towards the QB, no matter who that was. They must find the way to be on the same page (That is a quite popular term in Jacksonville lately…) quickly. And they must start to think about a Plan B for RT. Eben Britton is out for the rest of the preseason. He I guess barely practiced. Expecting that he will return a good form for opening day I think is illusion. Guy Whimper is not the answer at RT, and we didn’t see a lot from Tony Moll either. I think if Eben’s health will be still a major concern around the first days of September, the front office must start to think about putting together a trade for a dependable, starting caliber RT. Because I have serious doubts, that they will find a good patch player from who’ll be cut from other teams when the final rosters will be announced….
One last little side note. So far the Jaguars in the redzone have some scoring issues. Only 1 TD drive in 120 minutes is a bit disappointing. I hope in the last 2 preseason games the team will be better in this category. I know when Maurice Jones Drew will return that could mean much more options for the offense, but even without him the Jaguars offense must be competitive!
– Zoltan Paksa