State of The Jaguars – Preseason Edition
By Zoltan Paksa
Although the final preseason game verus the Atlanta Falcons is still ahead of us, I noticed a couple things about the ’12 Jaguars, which could be very significant for the regular season as well. Also since 1 day after the 4th preseason game Gene Smith (and every other GM in the NFL) must cut the roster back to 53, I’ll share my predictions for the final roster and practice squad.
The Jaguars have depth issues – especially at the secondary
Last year when the team had to patch the defensive backfield with new players and starters basically every week, I though that would mean a pretty deep group for ’12, when the injured players all returning to the field. Well, right now I’m afraid that’s not the case. The Saints and Ravens game showed everybody that this secondary (especially without Derek Cox) is not a very good one. Joe Flacco targeted Aaron Ross often and successfully, which is not a good sign no matter how good a WR Torrey Smith is. Rashean Mathis is still not 100% healed (it seems he will be the nickel corner against the Vikings), and Cox’s return to opening week is, according to Head Coach Mike Mularkey, ‘iffy’. If Cox cannot play, that means the Jaguars will start Ross and either William Middleton or Kevin Rutland. They both showed talent (Rutland looked improved and promising in training camp), but they are still the 4th and 5th option as outside corners. The health of Mathis and Cox will be a concern all season long.
The depth question is even bigger at safety, where there is not much behind starters Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery. Chris Pronsinski has played up and down thus far in the preseason (more often down), while Courtney Greene is most likely on the bubble once again before the final preseason game. He was there 2 years ago and he was so good he earned the starter position not much later. Now it would be enough if he’d show that the Jaguars can count on him if something happens to Landry. Behind them is almost nobody. Rod Isaac will most likely never play in a regular season game as a Jaguar, which will make Gene Smith look bad (again). Isaac is sadly not the 1st unknown player that ends up as a pick wasted (like Larry Hart or Scotty McGee, just to name a few). I wonder if the Jaguars might add a new safety around the final roster cuts.
But depth is a problem elsewhere as well. At LB, there is only one backup LB, Kyle Bosworth, who has even played in a regular season game. The Jaguars have to decide which 2 rookies they want to add next to him. Brandon Marshall and Julian Stanford were the leading candidates 2 weeks ago, but Marshall hasn’t showen much and was injured during the preseason. Meanwhile Joshua Jones and JK Schaffer are both starting to make a case for themselves. The LBs will be one area every Jaguars fan must pay attention to against Atlanta!
The team is thin at DE and at the interior offensive line too. At defensive end behind starters Jeremy Mincey and Andre Branch only Aaron Morgan has looked promising. Austen Lane will return at some point, but still the Jaguars are quite thin there right now.
At the middle of the offensive line many backups are now on IR (John Estes, Jason Spitz and Drew Nowak). Eben Britton moved to LG, which means Will Rackley lost his starter position, and now he is the 1st backup guard. Meester’s backup is rookie Mike Brewster who is the only 100% sure UDFA rookie who’ll make the final 53 (Julian Stanford is a close 2nd).
It’s safe to say that last year the Jaguars brought in one of their most impressive free agent class in the franchise history. Posluszny, Landry, Lowery, Drew Coleman and poor Clint Session were all major contributors in the defense which jumped from being 31st to 6th overall in only 1 year, with no off-season. Meanwhile I must admit based on how they played their ’11 rookie class was one of the worst. Luckily Blaine Gabbert is playing like a 1st round pick in ’12, but the rest still haven’t justified why they were picked. It appears Will Rackley has now lost (partly because of injury) his staring job. Cecil Shorts is the team’s 4th WR, but I still haven’t seen much from him during the preseason. Prosinski and Isaac have been underwhelming, as previously mentioned.
In 2012 I see the opposite. The top drafted rookies are playing really well, while the new free agents are struggling thus far. Top pick WR Justin Blackmon started with a 12 day holdout, and many feared he would be less effective in his rookie season as a result. Guess what, he is now the team’s best receiver…hands down. If he can play in the regular season the way he did in the preseason, Jacksonville has a new star player. Andre Branch proves every week that he is not just a great pass rusher, but he can defend the run as well. And Bryan Anger is having “solid” games with punting averages of 47 yards or better. From the bottom 3 draft picks I saw great run stops by Jeris Pendleton. Brandon Marshall and Mike Harris have not made any big impressions on me yet, but I expect that both will have the chance to prove himself in the regular season.
Meanwhile the high price free agents are having a rough time in the preseason. Chad Henne was a popular pick by experts as the starting QB on opening day (where are these guys now by the way?). Now unless Blaine Gabbert is injured, he had zero chance to take that job away from the 2nd year signal caller. In fact 3rd QB Jordan Palmer looked more impressive in the first 2 preseason games than Henne… Laurent Robinson is slowly starting to become a concern. While Blackmon is shining after a 12 day holdout, Robinson is struggling big time with almost full participation during training camp (he missed some time early with a head injury in camp). Robinson caught 1 ball versus the Saints for 7 yards, and failed to have a single catch despite being targeted 4 times versus the Ravens. He and the other WRs not named Blackmon need to get better, because the Jaguars top pick of ’12 will not be enough to elevate the passing game from last year’s dead last position. The other veteran WR, Lee Evans is not with the team already, and I doubt he’ll ever play again. I mentioned my concern with Aaron Ross based on what I saw in the last 2 preseason games. At least Robinson and Ross must play significantly better during the regular season, because both of them will start on September 9th and beyond.
Who needs to play well against the Falcons?
QB Chad Henne and Jordan Palmer. This is the game where Henne must prove that he is the 2nd best option at QB. Meanwhile Palmer can earn a roster spot, or with an outstanding performance even more than that…
WR Kevin Elliott. I thought 2 weeks ago he was a lock for the 53. I don’t think so right now. His game winning TD versus the Saints was nice, but he needs to play better at special teams, and he must prove his statement he made earlier this year, “I’ll make the team not because of what I can do as a special teamer, but because of what I do as a receiver.”
RB Richard Murphy and Keith Toston. I don’t know at this point if Toston will play, but I hope he can. He was the 2nd best RB behind Jennings in this preseason, and if he is healthy, I think the Jaguars could use him, especially now with the uncertain situation of Maurice Jones-Drew. Murphy played well versus the Ravens, had a nice TD, and is still on the roster while last year’s preseason sensation DuJuan Harris is not (he was claimed by the Steelers). If the former LSU player has another strong game, he could earn at least a practice squad spot.
TEs Colin Cloherty and Zach Potter. Since Zach Miller is already injured and can’t be on the field this Thursday, this is a huge game for Cloherty. He can earn the 4th TE spot, or with a strong game he might take Miller’s place and role on the team. Zach Potter is the 2nd best blocking TE, so he might be safe since Matt Veldman (on IR) and Miller are ruled out against the Falcons, he could catch a few passes as well.
OT Daniel Baldridge. Guy Whimper is the team’s first backup tackle, but with a good perfomance the gigantic player (6’8″) from Marshall can earn a spot on the roster.
DT Jeris Penleton. Some say the Jaguars don’t need 3 (Knighton, Mosley, Pendleton) run stopping players at the middle. I say they do, but Pendleton can silence everybody with a strong showing Thursday night.
DE Ryan Davis and Corvey Irvin. As I wrote earlier the Jaguars are quite thin at the DE position behind the starters. Austen Lane and George Selvie are banged up, John Chick starts the season on PUP. The UDFA rookies, Davis and the DT turned DE Irvin can make the case for themselves as the 5th DE of the roster (and 4th until Lane is back) with a good game and with 1-2 sacks and QB hits…
The rookie backup LBs (Brandon Marshall, Julian Stanford, Joshua Jones and JK Scheffer). For me this will be the highlight of the 4th game – which rookie will earn his spot behind the starting 3 and (most likely) Kyle Bosworth? Brandon Marshall should be a lock, because he was a 5th round pick, but he hasn’t shown anything special yet. Besides Mike Brewster, Julian Stanford has the best chance among the UDFA rookies to make the final roster. Don’t forget about Jones and Schaffer as both have made a push lately for a roster spot. Most likely 2 of them will earn a spot in the final 53, 1 at the practice squad, and 1 will be a street FA. If I must make a projection, Stanford and Marshall will make the team, Jones will be on the practice squad, and the former heart and soul of the Bearcats defense must find a new team this weekend. But with a strong game from Scheffer this can change.
Antwon Blake and Antonio Dennard. The rookie UDFA CB from UTEP (Blake) had 2 takeaways on special teams in one preseason game. Since Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey both want players who can contribute in this area, another good performance at ST could earn a surprise roster spot for Blake. Meanwhile Dennard had a pick six against the Ravens last Thrursday. If he plays well against the Falcons, it could earn him a place at the practice squad.
Courtney Greene. Another good special teamer who needs to improve at his position. If Greene had been rated as a saftey alone he might be on trouble. But since plenty of the core special teamers now have bigger roles (Owens, Allen) or are injured (Bolen), he might be safe. He is also the best example that anybody can earn a roster spot with one good game. 2 years ago even I predicted that Greene would be cut after the 4th preseason game. But he had a very strong performance against the Falcons which earned him a place on the 53 men roster first, and 1 week later he even became the starter at the SS position. So even the 4th preseason game can change everything for a player on the bubble.
And finally here’s how I would cut the roster (starters’ names in bold):
(3) QB: Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Jordan Palmer
(6) RB: Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, Jalen Parmelee, Greg Jones, Keith Toston, Maurice Jones-Drew
(5) WR: Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Mike Thomas, Cecil Shorts III, Brian Robiskie
(3) TE: Marcedes Lewis, Zach Potter, Colin Cloherty
(8) OL: Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri, Cameron Bradfield, Will Rackley, Mike Brewster, Guy Whimper
(5) DT: Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu, C.J. Mosley, D’Anthony Smith, Jeris Pendelton
(4) DE: Jeremy Mincey, Andre Branch, Aaron Morgan, Austen Lane
(6) LB: Daryl Smith, Paul Posluszny, Russell Allen, Kyle Bosworth, Jullian Stanford, Brandon Marshall
(6) CB: Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis, Aaron Ross, Kevin Rutland, William Middleton, Mike Harris
(4) S: Dawan Landry, Dwight Lowery, Chris Prosinski, Courtney Greene
(1) K: Josh Scobee
(1) P: Bryan Anger
(1) LS: Jeremy Cain
Practice squad: Kevin Elliott, Richard Murphy, Daniel Baldridge, Corvey Irvin, Joshua Jones, JK Schaffer, Antwan Blake, Rod Isaac
George Selvie might get cut or may go to IR, Zach Miller can be waived or put on IR, but right now I think he’ll never play again in Black and Teal.
– Zoltan Paksa