I think we can all agree that the 3rd pre-season game against the Buffalo Bills did not exactly go the way most of us expected. Sure, key players like Maurice Jones Drew, Aaron Kampman, Jeremy Mincey, and Tyson Alualu (the D-line is not the same without him, which is a pretty high praise) didn’t play, but even without them, there were lot of familiar problems for the Jaguars. No pressure on the opposing QB, pass defense being torn apart (once again) by Ryan Fitzpatrick, way too many dropped passes by our receivers, and of course, inconsistency from both of our top two QBs. There are some new injuries, as well – Rashad Jennings, again; D’Anthony Smith, again-; and Montell Owens) – but hopefully these are just preseason over-caution. Overall, I must say that the Buffalo game showed me the Jaguars are not yet 100% ready for the season, which is a little disconcerting considering the home opening versus the Titans will be played next Sunday at Everbank Field. Let’s hope we shake the rest of that rust off soon.
Let’s start with the hottest topic in Jacksonville, the QB competition. It’s not a controversy yet, despite the wish of many fans, but the situation is getting more and more difficult with each week. Let’s face it, we’ve only seen one solid performance from a Jaguars QB in the preseason and that was 3rd-stringer Luke McCown leading a comeback against the Falcons backups. We’ve seen three quarters of action from David Garrard and in that time, he’s failed to throw a TD and had one badly overthrown ball that was intercepted against the Falcons. In true Garrard fashion, he had a great-escape-turned-rushing-TD against the Bills. He showed his other trademark as well that night – inconsistency. While Fitzpatrick and the Bills offense were storming all over the field, the Jaguars 1st team offense managed only 1st down for quite a long time. After a Maurice Jones Drew pep talk at the sideline, the offense started to show signs of life. With Garrard’s ‘great escape’, the first team offense scored their 1st TD. In game 3, in the end of the 2nd quarter…The Jaguars (most likely) starting QB had another “middle of the road” game (another trademark of his). Nothing special, but nothing awful either. Once again his gave an opportunity to rookie Blaine Gabbert, to take his spot. But like in the last 2 preseason games, Gabbert came short to take over the job. Although he had his 1st TD as pro (for the maybe most promising player from this year’s Jaguars UDFA class DuJuan Harris – sad, that he is an RB which is a Jaguars’ stronghold, although, if the small injuries keep continuing hit Karim & Jennings he might can be a member of the 53 man roster), but also his 1st interception, which was as awful, as David Garrard’s pick a week ago. And quite frankly, although see some promising signs from Blaine, he didn’t impressed me that much, to say -” Start him!” – yet.
My mantra is and has been about the QB competition this year is this: Earn it! I don’t want to see Blaine Gabbert as the starter of this franchise until he’s fully earned it. He has tons of upside, I agree. But after 3 games I saw a rookie QB, who is just not ready- yet. And sorry I’m just now buying yet the argument about “8-8 veteran QB who we know what he is capable of or inexperienced rookie, who we all hope, very soon will be great -well with the rookie we can hope this team can be good”. Hope is great but sometimes it can mislead you. We hoped that with the arrival of Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves the pass rush will be a major weapon, and we know how it turned out. I’m not suggesting Gabbert will fail in opposite. But what if Gabbert gets the opportunity to be the starter early, and struggles, losing games everybody thought the Jaguars should won it (Titans, Panthers, Bengals) because he wasn’t ready?
I’m a “best option right now” kind of person when it comes to the Jaguars. And although I have issues and questions about David Garrard (for example his slowly erasing durability) I think he is right now a better option than Blaine Gabbert – yet. Also I think he knows this is his very, very last chance to be a starter here, which can boost someone who is a competitor. And I think we can say that about Garrard. If the QB question is come down to Blaine or David, I would take now Garrard- yet.
But if we drag Luke McCown into this whole “who should start at QB?” question, then it’s a whole different story. McCown is silently had a very solid camp, he produced the best overall performance in the preseason (I know against the Falcons B and sometimes maybe C unit). But if he’d repeat that performance on Thursday against the Rams, while G & G will continue where they left off in Buffalo…that could create a very interesting situation. And I fear then there will be hard to manage the situation without hurting the chemistry in the locker room… Ideal would be keeping all 3 QBs, let David start in the first games, and if he can’t live with the opportunity, then move on with the Gabbert -McCown tandem.
The other area which surprisingly bad against the Bills is the pass defense. Both in pass rush and pass defense. In the pass rush, now that Jeremy Mincey wasn’t played, Austen Lane and Matt Roth should have been take the opportunity and make their case for the starting DE job. Instead the whole Jaguars pass rush tallied 3 QB hits. That’s very bad, because the Bills O-line not that good at all… And sadly I am starting to notice a bad trend. Do you remember who looked like the real deal early in training camp amongst the pass rushers? Derrick Harvey. But when the pre games arrived he disappeared. Not we the same with Austen Lane (and it is very bad personally for me, because I was the one who raved about him even before he got drafted by the Jaguars). He sadly so far was a non factor in the 3 games of ’11. What is the reason, that somebody looks like he is found the right way early, and when the games are arriving, he just fall back all of sudden?… By the way, I mentioned among the opening lines, that some commentators said, the D-line is different without Alualu. That is I guess a huge payback for Gene Smith. He was everything but a wise man (“Millen on LSD” – to quote an infamous football site…) on Draft Day, now everybody talking about Tyson as the real deal. Isn’t it ironic that the very risky pick (Alualu) is showing huge progress, white the safe and “steal” pick (Monroe) is now struggling and he is far from the dominant (Top 10 maybe 5)LT everybody thought he’ll (and still could) be?…
About the pass defense, I don’t know if it was the lack of the pass rush, a little disrespect for Fitzpatrick, or just the DBs are not always the same page yet, but boy that was (once again) ugly. The Bills starting QB showed in the past years that maybe he is not the second coming of Joe Montana (although he played like that on Saturday…), but he is capable to make big plays. I think The former Harvard QB would love to see the jaguars twice a season, because it seems he just know where the weak points of this defense is, no matter who are his receivers, which is worries me. Because if Ryan Fitzpatrick can read the defense (and have a pleasant time in the pocket, because of the lack of pass rush) and then picked it apart, then I think many other QB can do the same. Which can lead into very bad things…?
A (sadly very few) words about what I liked about this game. The offensive line played I think better then the last 2 weeks, and they matched up against freshly paid Kyle Williams, and a little bit injured Marcell Dareus. Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri could handle the 2 for most of the time, which is a good progress.
DuJuan Harris is really what insider sources described in training camp practices – a very talented RB, who maybe the gem of this UDFA rookie class. If the injuries will present bigger problems than expected for Karim or Jennings, I might consider him to be the 7th back on the 53 man roster.
Speaking of the running game, I’m more and more confident, that if everybody is healthy from the projected starters in the defense, this team will be a real roadblock against the run. I don’t know what shape Chris Johnson will show up in on September 11th (if he ends his holdout before then), but he better be ready for face a near “Steelers-esque” run defense at Everbank Field…
– Zoltan Paksa