With training camp around the corner, there will be certain things I will be watching for come late July. Here is a quick list.
- First and foremost, it will be all about the quarterback for me. Who will have a better showing? Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne? This camp will be crucial for Gabbert. It seems we talk about this every season, but this statement is more true than ever right now. An NFL training camp and preseason is the closest thing to real NFL action we can get at this point, and Gabbert has no choice but to respond. How will he pick up the new offense? What happens if Henne performs better than Gabbert? Who do they go with? My money is still on Blaine Gabbert, but the quarterback play behind him will be just as important. What about the young guys in Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers who will be returning from injury? Could Mike Kafka possibly beat out Chad Henne for the number 2 spot? Whenever a team carries 5 QBs going into training camp, you can bet that the competition will be extremely intense.
- With Justin Blackmon having surgery this week and with his four game suspension, it’s anyone’s ball game for the spot opposite Cecil
Shorts. Mohamed Massaquoi looks to be the guy for now, but that isn’t very reassuring at this point. Massaquoi has been less than stellar during his first four years in Cleveland, and will be looking for a brand new start in Jacksonville. He’s going to have to show why he was taken in the 2nd round in 2009 and reboot his career.
- Maurice Jones-Drew and his health. We know he can play, and he seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder regarding questions about his abilities. Hopefully he uses this as motivation and reminds us why he lead the league in rushing just two years ago.
- The competition along the defensive line, the pass rush, and the Leo. Jason Babin is coming back from surgery which is exciting seeing as how he is slated to play the Leo. It sounds as if his responsibilities will be very simple in this system: rush the quarterback. I’ll also be looking to see how Andre Branch performs. It would be terrible if Branch turned out to be another one of Gene Smith’s busts, but I’m under the impression that with new coaching and guidance, he will significantly improve. The defensive line competition overall will be interesting to see. I especially admire how Caldwell has gone about addressing this area of the defense. Signing Roy Miller, who should be healthy by now, and Sen’Derrick Marks in free agency, picking up Brandon Deadrick and Kyle Love off waivers, and signing young UDFAs in Abry Jones and T.J. Barnes, competition for the defensive tackle rotation will be something to watch later in the month. Tyson Alualu moving to right end could be the best thing for the former 10th overall pick, and should play to his strengths. This unit needed an overhaul, and though Caldwell didn’t go flashy, he definitely went smart.
- The secondary. Fielding two rookies in Dwayne Gratz and Jonathan Cyprien could prove risky. Alan Ball looks to be the favorite starting opposite Gratz while Dwight Lowery should man the other safety position. Josh Evans was said to be the front office’s second ranked safety. I’m interested to see what we have in him in camp. The entire secondary is very, very young. Hopefully Marcus Trufant can provide some much needed guidance and leadership within the unit seeing as how he’s well-versed in Bradley’s defense which will require much more man coverage.
- The rookies. Drafted, undrafted, all of them. This team is trying to get younger, and developing these young players will be the first step.
Those are just a few things I’ll be looking for come July 26th. Of course there is much, much more, but to me these will be the most deciding factors regarding the future of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
-David R. Johns