Hungary for the Truth: Post-Lockout Impressions
By Zoltan Paksa
Not so long ago, I was struggling to find new ideas for articles, because nothing was really interesting happening in the NFL. Since Tuesday and the Lockout’s end, not an hour goes by without a new major headline in the NFL. It’s been especially exciting for Jaguars fans, as Jacksonville has been one of the most turbulent teams in the past few days. They are almost done addressing everything that needed improvement and there were plenty of unexpected move executed by Gene Smith and the front office. So let me morph into Peter King once again and give you the latest episode of ‘”What Zoltan Thinks: Post-Lockout”.
- I think I’m really glad that the Wayne Weaver and the Jaguars front office kept their word about being active in free agency. Six new veteran free agents in 72 hours? Nice job! They got three new defensive starters in MLB Paul Posluszny, OLB Clint Session and S Dawan Landry. CB Drew Coleman and C/G Jason Spitz also have a shot to become starters and punter Matt Turk, the oldest player in the NFL, could be a nice patch for now (more on the punter situation later). Also, the Jaguars signed all of their drafted rookies, including Blaine Gabbert. If there was one major benefit of the new CBA that has already made itself apparent, it’s the rookie salary cap. The Jaguars got their man for a nicely discount price compared to what they gave Derrick Harvey, Eugene Monroe, and Tyson Alualu. Many said that general manager Gene Smith will be 100% ready when the lockout was be lifted. So far, he has proved them right.
- I think the Jaguars should address the last big challenge on their list – give Marcedes Lewis his well-deserved new contract. It would be important for many reasons. #1 – he is a key building block for this team and offense (on and off the field). #2 – a new contract will show the message to all the young lions of the Jaguars roster, that if you playing well, you will be rewarded. I read many articles on the internet that have called Marcedes a one year wonder and warned the Jaguars not to overpay him. I cannot disagree more. He is maybe the best all around TE in the NFL and a stand-out blocker, even in pass protection. I think his 10 touchdowns were the result of Dirk Koetter’s plan for a TE-heavy offense last year. Plus, I think Marcedes represents the biggest receiving threat on the Jaguars offense. Opposing defenses will focus on him and Maurice Jones Drew, which could mean that the Jaguars wideouts including: Mike Thomas, Jason Hill, Jarrett Dillard, and Cecil Shorts, will have a better shot to make plays. Also, Zach Miller and Zach Potter could add some production from the TE position and (2012 spoiler alert!) keep your eye on Missouri TE Michael Egnew on Saturdays this college season, as I think Gene will have scouts all over him. I strongly think it’s time for Marcedes to be signed to a 5 or 6 year contract; it’s what Posluszny, Session, and Landry all got – he’s earned it, too.
- I think we will see a primetime drama in training camp between David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars’ top pick missed only one (Underwear League) practice and spent all day with Dirk Koetter and QB coach Mike Sheppard on Tuesday. In his first full practice, he wowed spectators and journalists. Gene Frenette wrote after Friday’s practice’s that he’s not 100% convinced David Garrard will be the starting QB on the Opening Day game versus the Titans. I think a real competition at the position will bode well for this team, but I ask everyone to please be patient and not rush Gabbert in and Garrard out. I heard that Gabbert entrance to his first practice received a standing ovation from the fans and double the crowd noise compared to Garrard, which is unfair to David. I know what you guys want Blaine out there and that will happen sooner or later, but let it happen when the rookie earns it, not because the fans clamor for it. One thing is clear, though – every preseason game will be a spectacle to watch because of this new QB controversy.
- I think Gene Frenette is right, the defense cannot finish 31st against the pass and 28 overall. Even with the addition of Landry and Coleman, I have some concerns about how the Jaguars will do against the pass; against the run, they have the potential to be great, maybe even elite. Posluszny and Sessions are great tacklers. Same goes for Landry as well. If we look at the young defensive line, the 2 starting DTs were dominating against the run in the middle of the season, which means things could look very bright for Jacksonville. If everybody (especially Kampman, Posluszny and Mincey) can stay healthy, this front seven looks really impressive. Other than Kampman, all starters are under 30, the LBs are in their prime, the 2 starting DT could be the best young tackle tandem not named Suh and Fairley in the entire NFL, and don’t forget the very young backups Austen Lane, Aaron Morgan, Larry Hart and last year’s 3rd round pick D’Anthony Smith as well. I don’t know how the pass defense will look in ’11, but I expect the run defense will be great. Just bring back and keep Terrance Knighton in shape. Maybe the Richessons and Pot Roast must live in the same house…
- I think the sudden departure of Adam Podlesh to Chicago was a great shock for everybody (employees and fans). Everybody – I guess even Gene Smith- thought Podlesh will return for a couple of more seasons. Although the Jaguars reacted quickly and signed 43 year old P Matt Turk (who is the oldest active player in the entire NFL) who spent the last few seasons with the Texans, he is only a patch for this season. That means next offseason the jaguars must address this position via draft or free agency. Except if UDFA rookie Brian Saunders from Virginia Tech beats him out during the preseason and training camp…
- I think -speaking of undrafted rookie free agents- that Gene Smith has shown once again, he agrees with Vic Ketchman’s motto: “You find football players where you find football players.” West Virginia Tech, Colorado School of Mines, South Dakota State, Grand Valley State – raise your hands if you heard about these colleges! That means to me, if you are playing well even in the Div III, Gene Smith might give you a shot to compete. From the record number of UDFAs (for the 3rd straight year under GM Gene),I will keep my eyes on the following players: LB Scott Lutrus, WR’s Armon Binn, Greg Ellison and Jamar Newsome; S Matt Estrada, the already mentioned P Brian Saunders and the DE of Colorado School of Mines; Marc Schiechl. If I must bet who will make the final 53 among these players, my money is on Lustrus and Schiechl. But keep an eye on Estrada and those three wideouts as well….
- I think the leaving ex-Jaguars will find (or already found) a new chance to compete. I wish all the best to Justin Durant in Detroit (that team and that defense have a ton of potential – very soon the Lions will be a powerhouse), Adam Podlesh in Chicago, Sean Considine in Carolina, and Mike Sims-Walker in St. Louis. I hope Kirk Morrison, Justin Smiley and Tyron Brackenridge will soon find a new team, as well. I wonder if Derrick Harvey will get another shot (I assume he will) and I look forward to hearing how he performs there. And I hope the Jaguars bring back Vinnie Manuwai. His cut was such a bigger shocker, than the Podlesh departure to the Windy City. I know he was injured and his salary was too big, but since I’m not 100% sure about the Jaguars interior O-line, maybe he can return with a pay cut. I wonder how this will this effect his mentee, Tyson Alualu?
- I think the people of Jacksonville who have often hid behind pathetic demands have no more excuses left (other than “Trade for Tebow”) to buy Jaguars tickets this time. So far, we’ve heard “I’m not coming unless the Jags bring in a new QB” – well, they did this offseason. Or the other famous excuse – “I’m not coming because they don’t spend money to sign big name free agents” – well, they went on a pretty nice shopping spree this time. Folks, let me remind you of this – the Jaguars ARE the face of the city not just for America, but to the whole world. Without the Jaguars, I would not have ever heard a word about your great city. Bill Prescott and Mackie Weaver said the ticket sales are representing a serious concern right now, but they think it is still manageable. The Jaguars have done almost everything right since the lockout lifted and if the front office signs Marcedes to a new contract, the “almost” word will disappear immediately.The Jaguars will have two prime time game on Monday Night at the Everbank Field. You really want the folks at ESPN gabbing about the ticket selling problems of this franchise? I hope not. If you consider yourself to a Jaguars fan and you can afford it, and you still didn’t buy season tickets for ’11, I ask you as gently as possible to do so. This young team needs its 12th man!
– Zoltan Paksa