Thursday, January 3, 2013

Four Questions: Jacksonville Jaguars

1. What will the team do with Maurice Jones-Drew?
Jones-Drew stated prior to the 2012 season that he would "be open" to a trade, and after only playing in six games prior to going down with a season-ending foot injury, only decided to opt for surgery this past week. When healthy, MJD is one of the best running backs in the game, as he's a great pass-catcher and a strong pass protector in addition to his obvious ability to run the ball. Turning 28 this next year, Jones-Drew should still have some productive seasons left, though his heavy workload over the past three seasons and a lengthy holdout before this season likely had a lot to do with his injury.
The Jaguars clearly have a lot of holes to fill, and while Jones-Drew is without a doubt their best player and it might be un-popular, it may be in their interests to move him for draft picks or players this offseason. Jacksonville is clearly still in rebuilding mode, and Jones-Drew may no longer be the elite back so many have become accustomed to in recent seasons when the Jaguars are able to compete for a playoff spot.

2. Who will be starting quarterback in 2013?
New owner Shahid Khan and new head coach Mike Mularkey have no real investment in Blaine Gabbert, the team's first round pick in the 2011 Draft, and his play to this point in his career hasn't exactly instilled confidence in either man. I viewed Gabbert as a bit of a project player coming out of Missouri, and it showed in his rookie campaign as he struggled going from a shotgun-based spread passing attack in college to largely being under-center with Jacksonville. While fans have grown tired of Gabbert relatively quickly, he performed much better with young receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon in the lineup.
Former Dolphins and Chad Henne looked like he might have an inside track on the starting job after consecutive strong showings on the road against the Houston Texans (354 yards, 4 TD) and at home against the Tennessee Titans (261 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT). Since those games, Jacksonville lost their final five games of the season while Henne has thrown for just 4 touchdowns against 9 interceptions over that time frame.
I don't foresee the Jaguars investing another early pick on a quarterback just two years after selecting Gabbert, but I fully expect the team to have an open competition for the quarterback, whether that is with a re-signed Henne, or the addition of a veteran free agent.

3. How will the team fix their pass protection and pass rush?
The Jaguars should have a plethora of options to help fix the trenches on both sides of the ball. This April's draft has a bevy of talent at offensive tackle like Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, as well as pass rushers like Georgia's Jarvis Jones, A&M's Damontre Moore and Florida State's Bjoern Werner. All of those players will likely be available when the Jaguars select #2 overall, and there is also some second-day players that can fix the offensive line.
While I love the overall depth of this draft class, it's extremely unlikely that Jacksonville can fix all their problems in one weekend, and will likely need to acquire help via free agency. Among the potential options on offense include New England right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Minnesota right tackle Phil Loadholt and Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert. Along the defensive line, Cliff Avril (Lions), Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Michael Johnson (Bengals) are all viable pass rushers.

4. What does GM Gene Smith's dismissal mean for Jacksonville?
Jacksonville fired general manager Gene Smith this past Monday, and are now actively searching for his replacement. Smith joined the Jaguars in 1994 as a scout, and eventually worked his way up to general manager in early 2009. His draft history hasn't been impeccable, and his likely "miss" by taking Gabbert over J.J. Watt will likely go down as one of the bigger mistakes at that point in the draft in recent memory.
Head coach Mike Mularkey didn't exactly make a great impression in his first season for the Jaguars, and with a new general manager coming in, he shouldn't expect his seat to cool off any time soon. New general managers often will bring in someone who shares the same vision for his team, so I expect that Mularkey will be given the 2013 season to see what kind of progress the team can make, though his leash will probably be pretty short considering their 2012 record.

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