What is Gene Smith building?

In January of 2009, Gene Smith became the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then he has been met with loads of scrutiny for several reasons. The team really hasn’t had anything to celebrate since the 2007 AFC Wildcard game when David Garrard and the Jags beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The fan base was furious for not drafting he-who-will-not-be-named. The overall identity of the team shifted from the rough and tough big bad new team on the block with a chip on the shoulder, to a second rate, least popular team in the league.

It seems as if every move Smith has made has been laughed at. Let’s face it folks, the entire NFL is laughing at the Jaguars. There’s only one thing that can change this, and you guessed it; winning football games.

Winning football games in the NFL is no easy task. Putting the right pieces on the field to create a competitive team can be tricky. I’ve been giving this team a lot of thought lately. I’ve been going back and looking at the moves that Smith has made and trying to see exactly what the method to his madness might be.

Win now. That’s the mentality of fans everywhere. Win now. I don’t think Smith ever had this kind of mentality because you can’t win now if you don’t have the right pieces. After looking at Smith’s drafts and free agent acquistions since 2009, I now know that he’s been putting together a core of football players to build a team around. In 2012, these players need to step up and be those core players.

*Maurice Jones-Drew, Josh Scobee, Mercedes Lewis and any other player Smith did not get himself will not be included on this list.

  • Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback: In the first round of the 2011 draft, the Jaguars traded up to get their quarterback of the future. The future came pretty quick. It’s been thoroughly noted just how bad Gabbert’s rookie season was. His continued development and improvement in 2012 is key. Gabbert has to become the quarterback the Jaguars need. There is the least amount of patience with this position than other position on the field. If he doesn’t make strides in his first full NFL season, it’s quite possible we could go in another direction setting the team all the way back to square one.

    Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-US PRESSWIRE

  • Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver: Blaine’s first big weapon. Blackmon has all the makings of a big time wide receiver. In the 2012 draft, Smith moved up to get the top rated receiver. His tangibles are undeniable, but he obviously has some maturing to do. If he gets in any more trouble, struggles to learn the playbook, and doesn’t work as hard as the Jags need him to, this will just be another Gene Smith joke. Yes, rookie wide receivers struggle, but Blackmon has to show something this year. He has to be reliable at the very least; a target Blaine can count on.

    June 12, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon (14) runs away from cornerback Kevin Rutland (22) after catching a pass during minicamp at Florida Blue Health

  • Laurent Robinson, Wide Receiver: You don’t pay someone like you pay Robinson without expect him to be a core member of your team. Robinson was a 3rd round draft pick in the 2009 draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Since then he has played for St. Louis, and just last year, Dallas where he had the season of his young career. If Blackmon and Robinson combine to be a great one-two punch, look for Blaine to make serious strides in 2012.

    Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

  • Eugene Monroe, Left Tackle: With the first pick of the 2009 draft, Smith drafted LT Eugene Monroe. His development has been steady as well as his play. It’s so easy to criticize left tackles in the league by flashing up the number of sacks they’ve allowed, but Monroe’s play has been solid. It’s completely up to him to keep Gabbert upright this season so the ball can get to Blackmon and Robinson.

    Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

  • Eben Britton, Right Tackle: Britton was taken in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, but hit IR in 2011 along with 26 other players. It’s imperative that he comes back healthy as it seems like the main thing the team is counting on considering they didn’t get any offensive linemen in free agency or the draft. Both he and Monroe were drafted with the idea that they would become bookend tackles on the offensive line.

    Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

  • Tyson Alualu, Defensive Tackle: With the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Jags selected DT Tyson Alualu, much to the shock of just about everyone. It’s not a glorious position. The defensive tackle position in a 4-3 isn’t meant to be flashy and rack up a ton of sacks. If they can get pressure, great, but more importantly they have to stuff up the middle and tie up blocks. The biggest knock on Alualu has been his health.

    Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

  • Jeremy Mincey, Defensive End: Mincey was a 6th round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 2006. The Jaguars signed him as a free agent in 2010.  He got a new contract in the offseason having led the team in sacks in 2011. He’ll have to do better than the 8 sacks he racked up in 2011. Hopefully he’s just now hitting his stride and will build on last season.

    Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

  • Andre Branch, Defensive End: In the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, the Jags selected Andre Branch. This guy is athletic and is being counted on to provide a heavier pass rush. If he turns out to be as explosive as the team believes he can be, look for him and Mincey to wreak havok on opposite sides.

    May 6, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch (90) blocks running back Rodney Weaver (33) during rookie mini camp at Florida Blue Health

  • Paul Posluszny, Middle Linebacker: Posluszny was taken in the 2nd round by the Buffalo Bills in the 2007 draft. He was signed by the Jaguars last season during free agency and had a very impressive first year with the team registering 119 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble. He will be a key piece moving forward in Mel Tucker’s defense.

    Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE

  • Derek Cox, Cornerback: Taken in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft, he was another casualty of the 2011 season. Before that he was well on his way to becoming the team’s best cover corner, and could very well return to form this season if he remains healthy. He was even featured in PFF’s Secret Superstarsseries.

    Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

  • Bryan Anger, Punter: When you take a punter in the 3rd round, he better be amazing and so far reports from camp are that he is just that. I hope to see teams pinned deep in their own territory on a regular basis. I’m over the fact we spent a 3rd round pick on the guy, and am very excited to see what he has to offer in the kicking game.

    May 6, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Long Ding (7) and punter Bryan Anger (19) and kicker Jay Wooten (2) during rookie mini camp at Florida Blue Health

Quarterback, two wide receivers, bookend tackles, bookend rushers, a solid defensive tackle, a cover guy, and a field position weapon. Many would argue and say that these guys are average at best, but you have to keep in mind that besides Posluszny and Mincey, it takes three years for young football players to develop. Monroe, Britton, Robinson, and Cox were drafted in 2009. Alualu was drafted in 2010. Gabbert was drafted in 2011. Blackmon, Branch, and Anger are rookies. Maybe I’m just being overly optimistic…

Yes, there have been setbacks with injuries, the lockout, and an ownership and coaching change, but Gene Smith is building the core of this football team. This core is young. The average age is only 24 years old. Now keep in mind that’s just the average of these core players. If there’s anyone that’s not on this list that you believe should be, please let me know.

I’m not predicting that we’re going to the playoffs. I’m not even going to say that we’ll have a winning record. I’m just saying that the core of the team is still young, and if the core can stay healthy and continue to learn maybe we can begin seeing progress this year. Throw in the new coaching staff and the chances look even better.

-David R. Johns

 

Topics: Andre Branch, Blaine Gabbert, Bryan Anger, Derek Cox, Eben Britton, Eugene Monroe, Gene Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jeremy Mincey, Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Paul Posluszny, Tyson Alualu

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  • Chipshot

    What Is Gene Building?, I am not certain what is being built.  Most NFL teams have a roster mixed with veteran players as well as a core of younger players.  Typically, the difference / playmakers are the veteran players which compromise the key roster spots that win games.  From an offensive standpoint it appears our season is contingent upon a rookie WR & a 2nd yr. QB becoming the difference makers. The NFL is a QB driven league &  Mularkey is a spread it out & pass oriented coach. Now, if we throw the MJD situation into the mix, it really puts a tremendous amount of pressure on unproven players to get this team to the promised land.  The Jags are $25 mil under the salary cap.  Once they sign the remaining unsigned players, there will be money to spend to upgrade questionable areas on their roster. I hope that  we do not rely on our solid defense to carry the load week after week. Does Gene decide to continue to build as we approach the season?

  • Nomad72

     @Chipshot
     That $25 mil is going to be VITAL for re-signing all the guys who have their contracts expire at the end of this year. Spending it now will likely result in us NOT being able sign players we would like to keep. I’d hate for this team to lose a player like PotRoast or Daryl Smith because we don’t have enough cap space to re-sign them.
     
    You are right in that a lot of pressure is being put on young offensive players, which obvously isn’t ideal.  But, Lewis, Jennings, Thomas, Evans and Robinson are not exactly rookies and we should expect some production from them. Also, the offense is built on a lot more than just the skill positions. Our O-line, if healthy, should be a talented, experienced bunch.

  • Davjay1983

    I kind of like some of the points Chipshot has made. A good roster should always be churning. It would be a shame to lose Daryl Smith, but if Knighton can’t improve from last season why keep him around? What if his best season was 2010 and thats it?
     
    What we have on the roster currently is a 5-11 football team. Yeah there’s been some new pieces added, but it doesn’t mean a thing until you put it on the field. Up until then it’s all speculation. Why not continue to improve the team?
     
    I don’t see Lewis having a better season that what he did 2 years ago. Thomas could be effective in slot, but nothing to write home about. Evans has an impressive body of work, but this is the same as the Torry Holt move a few seasons ago-gettin’ him old and cheap. I am looking forward to seeing what we have in Jennings and Robinson though.
     
    In a nutshell, the Jags ARE depending on this core of young players. It’s especially evident in the way they are handling the MJD and Scobee contract situations.

  • Nomad72

     @Davjay1983
     I gave some thought to a comprehensive reply, but in truth I’m not sure how to respond to someone who doesn’t think Knighton is an extremely good DT who is worth keeping. We clearly view football through “different lenses”, so it makes it difficult to debate things.
     
    And yes, we certainly ARE relying on our youngsters to perform in order to be competitive. There is no getting around that. 3 or 4 years from now, that won’t (hopefully) be as critical to the team being competitive, but it’s not totally unexpected given the complete roster overhaul of the Gene Smith era. Remember that there are only 8 or 9 guys still on the roster from the “pre-Gene” time…. that sort of turnover obviously is going to put a lot of responsibility onto young shoulders.

  • Davjay1983

    @Nomad72 We obviously do view football through differently. His production can be replaced. He’s average at best. He’s a very good run stuffer, but he’s not athletic enough to collapse the pocket. That shows in his struggle to keep his weight down. Thanks for reading though, and thank you for your input.

  • Davjay1983

     @Davjay1983  @Nomad72
     Meant to say we view football differently. I’m not one of these guys who expects DTs to rack up a ton of sacks. I’m familiar with the responsibilies of the position. I’m simply saying that he can be replaced. If you think that he cannot, then that’s fine. But there’ a lot of defensive tackles in the league who can do the exact same thing he can. Don’t pretend he’s Haloti Ngata.

  • Chipshot

     @Davjay1983  @Nomad72 The premier DT’s in the NFL have quick hands & feet that allow them to display superior mobility for men of their size & stature. These traits distinguish the average DT from a Pro Bowl DT.  How can there even be a debate regarding the interior defensive line of the Jags regarding quickness, speed, & mobility?  These characteristics do not exist within the Jags interior DL. 

  • Nomad72

     @Davjay1983
     There is a considerable difference between “irreplaceable” and “worth keeping”. But, even if you are 100% correct and PotRoast is average at best, do you assume that he won’t play better this year, and thus don’t need to “save” money for a contract extension? I wouldn’t.
     
    As far as I know, these are some of the players that (if we keep them) will need a new contract next year: Cox, Knighton, D. Smith, Monroe, Britton, Miller. I know that some of the players on this list have to prove themselves this year – either from a health perspective, or from a talent perspective. But, that’s sort of my point: it would take a very foolish GM to assume all these players will not be worth keeping, or could be kept cheaply…. just so you can bring in an extra Free Agent or two this year. That’s the kind of decision that leads to capspace hell.

  • Nomad72

     @Chipshot
     I agree that our interior D-line is not elite (yet), but I disagree with it being called average.
     
     According to some people, we have worse than average DEs, average DTs, good LBs, average corners (and worse than average after the injuries struck) and decent Safeties. And yet, we had a top 10 defense with all these average players.
     
    This is just my (very optimistic) opinion of course, but I think our DT rotation is above average and could well develop into an elite unit. Alualu will be interesting to watch after his surgery, and if PotRoast keeps his weight under control (this is his contract year afterall!) he will be a far more consistant player. Will they be dominant? I don’t know yet, but I highly doubt they will be “average”.

  • Davjay1983

     @Nomad72
     I certainly hope he plays better. He very well could go out and have an amazing season, and in that case I would sincerely apologize to you and wash your car for a month (that’s going a little far)
     
    I want to see ALL of these guys perform well. I want them to be worth keeping. I want them to pan out. Truth is, until this team gets out of the gutter, I have no interest in keeping the players that have gotten them there. I think if Cox and Britton can stay healthy, they can make strides. Cox could even end up starting. Monroe is highly undervalued. Smith is one of the best LBs in the league, but no one knows it. I’d like to see Miller become a reliable target for Gabbert since Lewis only wants to play when his contract is on the line. You know how I feel about Knighton.
     
    Right now in this very moment, in my very humble opinion, the only guys that would be missed are Cox, Monroe, and Smith.
     
     

  • Davjay1983

     @Nomad72  @ChipshotWith all due respect, the team had a top 10 NFL defense. But the team was 5-11. It just goes to show you that having a good D and an amazing RB isn’t enough anymore.
     
    So basically you’re saying this line isn’t elite, but isn’t average.  31 sacks. Is that average? I’m not quite sure where that put us in the whole grand scheme of things as far as sacks go, but you can also look at it in the sense that despite the lack of pressure, we still had a good defense. 
     
    I do know we’re going to have to generate more sacks in 2012 considering the slate of QBs this DLine will be facing. I’d be thrilled if we put up dominant performances.
     
    By the way where did I say the entire line would be average? I said Knighton was average, but I can’t find where I called the entire line average. It’s an honest question, not a sarcastic rhetorical one.
     

  • Nomad72

     @Davjay1983
     An honest question deserves an honest answer: I don’t think you said the entire DLine was average… which is why I never claimed you did. I said “according to some people”, and then listed a variety of defensive positions.
     
    Personally, I think our DLine weakness is the DEs rather than the DTs. Mincey (our best DE) racked up 8 sacks, which is not exactly awe-inspiring. The DEs were a loooong way from putting up the kind of numbers you would associate with an elite D, or even a very good one. I think the DE rotation is really what keeps us from being an elite D, but that’s just my opinion.
     
    And, I agree completely that we need to generate more sacks. No question about that! I hope Mincey continues to improve, and that Branch turns out to be a good player.
     
    One thing is for sure: I’m really looking forward to this season!

  • Davjay1983

     @Nomad72
     Oh OK I see now. Sorry for putting words into your mouth. Man me and you both, brother. If Mincey builds on last season’s momentum and if Branch is everything they say he is, I’m looking forward to seeing them wreak chaos on opposing QBs.
     
    Thank you for your opinions, btw. I really appreciate you reading and throwing in your 2 cents. It’s nice to have a good Jaguars debate!
     
    The season can’t seem to start soon enough can it?

  • Nomad72

     @Davjay1983
     Quite right, it IS nice to have a Jaguars debate… and especially nice when it doesn’t dissolve into a series of personal attacks!
     
    I enjoy this site for a few reasons – it’s a Jags football site, good articles, and actual debate is still possible. I’m sure we will have plenty of chances to prove this as the season gets going :)
     
    One other thing: your comment about washing my car for a month made me laugh! Mainly because I live in South Africa, and you would need to spend an absolute fortune to accomplish this :)