Remember how you felt about the Jaguars this time last year? Three weeks into the 2012 preseason, that team had beaten the Giants and the Saints, before being blown out of the water by the soon-to-be-champion Ravens.
I remember how willing I was to dismiss the debacle against Baltimore in the dress-rehearsal game, especially when they came back and topped the Falcons a week later. They were winning, and winning felt good.
Three weeks into the 2012 campaign there was some doubt. Some… but most didn’t see the disaster on the horizon. We were still so willing to gloss over the glaring issues with the offensive line and the fourth-quarter defense, and to cling to the notion that 2012 was our year.
The good news is that we all learned a hard lesson: numbers mean something. To be certain, the only numbers that matter when it’s all over are the ones under in the “Wins” column, but I think that as a collective, this is a fan base that understands winning will take time. For now, the focus has to be on the finer details.
What we’re seeing emerge as the Bradley-Caldwell era begins to take focus is a team being built deliberately on character, speed, youth, and (in case you hadn’t heard) competition. For the most part, David Caldwell’s first draft is delivering as promised.
Both the General Manager and Coach were up front about their expectations and goals for this team. They deliberately sought the aforementioned attributes from any source possible, never refusing to give a player with potential the opportunity to compete.
The good news is that we’re seeing improvement from the starters, at least on the offensive side of the ball. From the woeful performance of a first-team unit that failed to score a single point in week one, they’ve progressed to show that they can function as a cohesive element. The up-tempo appears to be playing to not only Gabbert’s strengths, but to those of Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon, and a whole lot of new faces who have impressed the coaching staff.
For as much potential as there is in the offense, the off-season defensive acquisitions Caldwell pulled out of his hat have proven even more exciting. I don’t think I’ve felt this comfortable with the interior of the defensive line since Stroud and Henderson lined up shoulder-to-shoulder (bold statement, it’s true… not saying they’re that good again, but this is certainly the right path to be heading down).
Potential, though, is a fickle beast. Bradley has spoken about “flashes” constantly over the course of the off-season program. This team lacks two key components to long-term success: depth and consistency. Gabbert’s week two performance was fantastic, but his 2013 debut left quite a bit to be desired. The defense was suffocating in week one, before looking more like last year’s fourth-quarter team in week two. When will the flashes turn into something more?
To be fair, several players have been consistently good this preseason (just as some have been consistently bad). Justin Blackmon’s performance has met all expectations, and he has shown that he will probably one day be an elite receiver. Cecil Shorts has given a lot of fantasy owners good reason to pick him early. Much of the rest of the team, though, needs to find a way to play to their potential week in and week out if they want to be good in November.
With roster cuts looming, the waiver wires will be full of potential. David Caldwell and Gus Bradley will have their hands full this week as they search for what they need. Twelve players are gone so far (to include veteran long-snapper Jeremy Cain) and with many, many more players coming available across the league this week they will undoubtedly not be the last. Can the Jaguars find the consistency this team needs to compete late into the season? I don’t know, but I’m sure excited to find out.