The new age of the Jaguars under Head Coach Mike Mularkey began with a victory over the New York Giants. That’s a good first step, but the Jaguars may face a tougher challenge against the New Orleans Saints. The home team will play for the first time at home since the “Bounty-gate” scandal, and several members of the front office, coaching staff and players were suspended by the league. So we can expect a loud crowd, and an “us against the world” atmosphere. This sounds to me like a great test for a young, developing team.
Here’s my list about what I’ll be focusing during the game:
Justin Blackmon’s Debut
Finally the Jaguars 1st round pick of ’12 will taste the atmosphere of an NFL game. Blackmon has been practicing in full pads since Monday. He struggled early in the week (as expected), but reports came that he looked better and better as the week progressed. I’m not sure how much playtime Blackmon will get against the Saints and at which position (as a Z receiver or in the slot), but I hope he’ll show a little flash with his great talent. Earlier in OTA’s and minicamp Mularkey said that when Blackmon knew what was going on he performed well, but when he didn’t, he looked lost. It will be interesting to see if this is still the case.
Also it will be interesting to see who’s playing time will be limited in this game. Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts got the snaps in Blackmon’s absence and Thomas had a great game against the Giants. Some have suggested that Blackmon should play in the slot early in his career, and let Shorts play in the Z receiver position. That would mean a 3 WR set, and I don’t know the Jaguars want to use that often or at this point.
Speaking of wide receiver, after the Gianst game there were a couple roster moves at the position. Lee Evans, Taylor Price and Charles Gilbert were relased and the Jaguars added Demetrius Williams to the roster. I think the Jaguars have the 5 but more likely 6 receivers almost set for the final 53 men roster. Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III are guaranteed locks. Mike Thomas made a good case for himself at the Ginats game. Kevin Elliott and Brian Robiskie (who also had a good game last Friday) are battling for the final position, but since Ellioott can contribute on special teams as well (and they need some boost there after Kassim Osgood was cut earlier this year), the Jaguars will likely take all 6 players. Mike Brown needs a good game to make for a case for himself as a practice squad player. Meanwhile Chastin West can make this team only if one or two of the 6 WRs I mentioned get hurt.
Offensive Line Issues
Many experts said the Jaguars were thin at O-line before camp even started. Now it seems injuries are testing the depth here very early. The injury bug bit the interior very hard as Will Rackley, Jason Spitz, and John Estes all can’t play. Estes could possibly end up on IR. This wek LT Eugene Monroe had a head injury (most likely a concussion) and even Eben Britton was seen limping (luckily only from being dehydration). Still, the Jaguars are now very thin at the left guard position. If the Jaguars don’t move Britton to this position, they have just UDFA rookies here. Mike Brewster, DJ Hall and Drew Nowak (who was a DT 2 weeks ago) seem to be the most likely fits. At tackle the team can take a deep look at Cameron Bradfield if Monroe does not play against the Saints – most likely that will be the case; there is some buzz around the 2nd year OT from Grand Valley Sate, he may even become a starter and not be just some jar on the shelf. Even with these players I have concerns about how this patchwork O-line will protect Blaine Gabbert or help in the running game. The O-line with Monroe and Estes allowed 8 sacks (six sacks and two fumbles, one recovered) last week. That is way too much, even if we consider how great the Giants’ pass rush is. Now Uche Nwaneri & co will face Will Smith, Sedrick Ellis , Curtis Lofton and Cameron Jordan. Their job will not be any easier this week, especially at the Superdome in front of one of the best audiences in the NFL.
The even bigger fear is, who will play during the second half? At tackle there are backups Daniel Baldridge and the totally forgotten Guy Whimper… but who will play at center or guard in the second half? If Meester is benched for rest, Mike Brewster must take over at center. That means Nowak and Hall will get at least a half or even more playing time at guard. The Jaguars also signed Josh Beekman this week as well. Chad Henne and Jordan Palmer could be in for a very rough night.
The old-new D-line
Tomorrow Tyson Alualu will play for the first time since his knee surgery in the offseason. Most likely Terrance Knighton will also return to the starting lineup, since he was dominating against the Giants 2nd tier Offensive lineman (which indicates he is ready for more). But maybe the most interesting matchup will be the Jaguars starting DEs(Jeremy Mincey & Andre Branch) vs. the Saints tackles (Zach Streif and Jermon Bushrod). Bushrod struggled against New England last week and he is considered to be a better OT than Strief. Joe Cullen praises Branch’s development in camp, so it will be interesting to see if that will show in QB hits or sacks. Also Aaron Morgan is continuing to make a strong case for himself as the 3rd best DE right now. He finished with a team high 1.5 sacks last Friday. Keep your eye on him. D’Anthony Smith also looked promising in his start at DT. It will be interesting if he can dominate the at the level Knighton did last week.
Who will be Jennings’ backup?
Sadly Maurice Jones Drew is still holding out, so the Jaguars are now seriously planning for the regular season without their best offensive player. Luckily his backup, Rashad Jennings, plays really well, and it seems the starting RB position is a no brainer even without Jones-Drew. However the next player on the depth chart is the real question. Jalen Parmele was really good in camp and during the scrimmage, but he looked lost vs the Giants. DuJuan Harris, who backed up Jones-Drew in the final games last season also struggled. So the Jaguars now moved two time Pro Bowler and special teams ace Montell Owens to be the 2nd RB on the depth chart. Owens is a very intelligent player, with great hands and good blocking skills. But as a runner the Jaguars have barely used him in previous seasons. That is a major concern to me. So the backup RB position is up for grabs still between Owens, Parmele, Harris and Richard Murphy. And let’s not count out Keith Toston who played really well in the 2nd half last week. So there are plenty of candidates, but the most welcomed development would be if Maurice Jones-Drew ends this standoff and returns to the team. If that happens, all of sudden the Jaguars will have one of the best 1-2 punches on the ground…
I thought Gabbert looked like a totally different player in the opening drive last week. Even the massive crowd of critics accept this. He was efficient, made good decisions, and converted four 3rd and long situations in the opening drive against the Giants starting defense. Of course the critics found him on the fumble in his 3rd drive and accused him of a “chuck and duck” in a situation when every other QB would act the same. In fact Eli Manning just did the same in that game and nobody noticed… Seriously I wonder what this kid did to the media to earn such one sided criticism… Anyway he can tone down the criticism with another great performance against the Saints. Sadly, the New Orleans defense kept the Patriots to 7 points last week, and that was in New England. Imagine how fired up the team and fans will be at home…
Also it looks like there will be a QB competition which involves Chad Henne. But instead of challenging Gabbert he must defend his position against Jordan Palmer, who looked quite good in the 1st preseason game. If this is the case versus the Saints (and if Palmer even plays, considering that the starters will play the entire first half) that’s not too good a trend for Mr. Henne. If Henne plays above average (and he will play behind a very, very shaky offensive line) things could turn into a QB controversy. At least at the backup QB position….
– Zoltan Paksa
Tags: Brad Meester Brian Robiskie Cameron Bradfield Cecil Shorts III Chastin West DJ Hall Drew Nowak Eben Brittion Eugene Monrioe Guy Whimper Jacksonville Jaguars Justin Blackmon Kevin Elliott Laurent Robinson Lee Evans Mike Brown Mike Mularkey Mike Thomas Montell Owens New Orleans Saints Rashad Jennings Taylor Price Uche Nwaneri Will Rackley