Here are the 3 things I’ll be looking forward to seeing tonight against the St Louis Rams.
1. Will anything change at the Quarterback position?
Based on what coaches, journalists, and those really close to the team are saying, it seems that David Garrard has kept his starting job. Although he has looked like the same Garrard Jaguars fans have known for a while, he hasn’t really hurt his stock, in my opinion. Unless he is injured or plays absolutely terribly for the very few snaps the first team offense will take tonight, David Garrard will start on opening day against the Tennessee Titans. But even if David doesn’t stand out tonight, I’m really looking forward to seeing the other 2 QBs. In Blaine Gabbert’s case, I want to see progress. Many, including veteran Florida Times-Union journalist, Vito Stellino think he is not ready to take the reigns, based on his first three performances. I tend to agree with that statement, but I really want to see that Gabbert start to close the gap on ‘being ready’ today. Unless something happens to Garrard or the Jack Del Rio changes his mind, this will be his last chance to play for a while. I hope he makes a case for himself. That goes to Luke McCown as well. I don’t know what the Jaguars plans are with him – he played well in Atlanta, he was consistent in training camp, he knows this team’s offensive system, and he is a capable backup with experience. With another strong performance, he can push Garrard and Gabbert and make his case to either stay with the team following the big roster cut Saturday or maybe the Jaguars can trade him for a middle/low round pick. Thinking forward to the next 1-2 seasons, I hope he stays with the team. Garrard is the guy who’s really on the hot seat, because unless he plays absolutely Pro Bowl-level, lights out and leads the team to a Division Crown and at least one Playoff win (all of which make a very tall order!), it’s most likely his last season as a Jaguar. Even then, it is probably Blaine Gabbert’s team in 2012 and the Jags will still need a good veteran QB behind him in case of injury and McCown is a solid man for that role. In conclusion, all three QBs have their own motivations to play well in this last preseason game: Garrard to silence his critics, Gabbert to continue his progress, and McCown to stay on the roster.
2. The impact of Aaron Kampman and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Maybe the 2 best (In Jones Drew’s case, ‘the’) players on offense and defense finally got the green light from the team, and they both will play about 15 snaps with the starters. In Kampman’s case that will be something to watch because of the pass rush situation (which is – surprise- inconsistent at best) and because the Jaguars are the only NFL team in the preseason without sacks. That is not the best sign, considering how much the team spent and focused on the defense and the front 7 this offseason. It is unclear yet, who could join Kampman in the starting defensive line. DT Tyson Alualu has a small leg injury, while Jeremy Mincey is in the ‘concussion club’ after a practice collision with G Uche Nwaneri. Most likely we will see Matt Roth/Austen Lane and Leger Douzable with Kampman and Knighton. Let’s hope somehow they will record a sack during the game. Also it will be interesting to see how Kampman will play? Is he 100% healthy? Will he show any signs of rust? Can he still dominate and rush the QB as effective as he did in ’10 until the 2nd ACL injury?
Maurice Jones-Drew will be hit on Thursday night. Don’t worry though, he can’t wait for that to happen (Be careful please, MJD, this team needs you in a big way). I heard from everybody who saw Maurice practicing saying he is looks like 100%. He is the same dominant RB as he was. He shows no signs to be concerned about him. He says he feels no pain in his knee, which wasn’t the case in the past years or years. I can’t say enough what he means for this offense. We saw it in the 3 preseason games. Although Jennings and Karim (until they were not injured…) showed promising things. But the opposing defenses weren’t looked scared about them. They easily could concentrate to Mike Thomas Marcedes Lewis, Cecil Shorts or Jason Hill, because they know Nr. 32 will not enter the game. This will change from now. If Nr. 32 is on the field, opposing teams must concentrate to stop the run. All of sudden, priority Nr. 1 for defensive coordinators will be to stop the ‘human bowling bowl’. Which of course took off some pressure about the WRs, Marcedes and of course whoever will play at QB. It would be great to see that Jones-Drew (and Kampman for that matter) is ready to go on opening day. And it would be great to see some flashes of the impact against St Louis tonight!
3. Fighting for the final roster spots.
Some coaches and experts think that it is better if a GM can name his 53 players after the 3rd preseason game, and not letting influenced by a great 4th game performance from a player who was far behind to make the team. I tend to agree with this theory, but this is a special year because of the lockout. Teams had less time to know they got. And sometimes (rarely, but can happen) a 4th preseason game performance can count a lot. Don’t agree with me? I say 2 words: “Courtney Greene”.
Take a look at the site archives, and go back around the same time period a year ago. I wrote my 53 roster projection after Game 3. Courtney Greene not made even the practice squad in that projection. But Gerald Alexander had a bad game, Reggie Nelson was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals and that gave an opportunity to Greene to show what he is capable. And he did it on the 4th preseason game against the Falcons, earning him a roster spot couple of day latter. And he was the by far most consistent and best safety for the Jaguars in 2010!
Here are the players who can still fight for a roster spot. I think CJ Mosley and Aaron Morgan are battling for the last remaining place at the defensive line, so it’ll be worth to watch them to perform tonight. Also a very interesting race, who will be the other backup tackle besides Guy Whimper. Veteran Tony Moll, 2nd year player Daniel Baldridge, and UDFA rookie from Grand Valley, Cameron Bradfield will fight for the job. The maybe biggest will be for the (possible) 6th WR spot. Although I’m not 100% convinced that the Jaguars can’t start the season with 5. Jamar Newsome, Armon Binns, and Dontrelle Inam are fighting for a roster (and for sure a practice squad) job. Advantage for Inman and Binns, they are both 6-3 tall, and they could gave the offense a tall WR (besides Kassim Osgood). Although all three are considered to be a long shot for the 53, built a great game from TE Tommy Gallarda, CB Kevin Rutland and S Matt Estrada can earn a (surprise) spot. I expect all 3 to be on the practice squad though (with LB Scott Lutrus).
And last, but not least, here are my 2 players I will watch the most closely tomorrow: Luke McCown and maybe the best UDFA rookie from this class RB DuJuan Harris. I spent some words earlier to McCown, to why I would keep him. Some went further after the Bills game, and want McCown to start on opening day. A really strong performance could earn him a roster spot (at least). And Harris? Sure most likely the Jaguars have 6 backs as a lock on the roster, but since Jennings and Karim injured (Jennings even multiple times) and we don’t know yet, if Maurice Jones Drew is 100% healthy or not, it would be not a bad idea to put this young men into the 53 (for now). I think he is not a secret anymore, and the Jaguars could easily lose him, if they risk putting him into the practice squad. The Jaguars must learn the lesson the Titans taught the league, with letting LaGarrette Blount walk away from them, an be an impact player in Tampa Bay. I am not suggesting Harris is as good as Blount, but he showed enough positive flashes to keep him in the final 53. And a good performance against St Louis (with the “no-show” of Jennings and maybe Karim) can help making the case for him!
– Zoltan Paksa