Jacksonville Jaguars: Predicting the Team's 53-Man Roster
Predictions are just like opinions when it comes to professional football -- it seems everyone has one.
While there is some good talent on this team, there is not the "wow" factor that makes fans and the media jump out of their seats, proclaiming this team as one everyone "must watch."
This upcoming season may prove to be the most important year for this team since the 14-2 team in 1999 that blew everyone away except for the Tennessee Titans.
This team will undoubtedly be less talented than the AFC championship team, but with a strong running game led by Maurice Jones-Drew and a talented defense that returns 10 starters from last season, this could be a better team than we sports writers think.
"Could be," are the operative words.
Here is a look at who should be on the team's opening day roster when they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.
This position is pretty much set with three quarterbacks in camp.
Will starter Blaine Gabbert take the next step? That is the question he must answer, and answer from the first snap of the regular season. Gabbert had what could only be described as a "rookie" season.
Well, it was worse than a rookie season. But with a new head coach in Mike Mularkey, who developed a pretty good passing game in both Pittsburgh as the team's offensive coordinator and then again in Atlanta with Matt Ryan behind center, there is hope for the second year pro.
The team signed Chad Henne from Miami in the offseason to provide competition for Gabbert and serve as the team's back-up. Henne, in my estimation, is better than people think. If Gabbert does not do the things he will be asked to do and can hit his receivers in better pass routes, then Henne could see some more action than the coaching staff would like.
Then, there is Jordan Palmer, Carson Palmer's brother, who was signed last week to the team.
Palmer may not be the passer his brother is, but he does have NFL experience and could make this team as the third-team player. If not, he could see time on the practice squad.
Could the NFL leading rusher have an even better season in 2012?
Maurice Jones-Drew did everything for the offense in 2011. He could have as much of an impact on the team in 2012 without carrying the ball as much or catching as many passes out of the backfield.
Jones-Drew led the NFL with 1.606 yards on the ground and accounted for all most half the team's offense last season. This year, he will be accompanied by Rashad Jennings, who missed all of 2011 while being on injured reserve.
Jennings is a bigger, more powerful back and looks like a throwback fullback like Sam Cunningham in Minnesota. He has proven before that he can carry the football with authority and will provide a great change of pace for the smaller MJD.
DuJuan Harris was signed to the team last season and showed some flash, both at tailback and as a blocker. He should be the team's third back and will aid the team on special teams.
At fullback, look for 9-year veteran Greg Jones to continue to be Maurice Jones-Drew's lead blocker. Jones is not asked to carry the ball much or catch the ball out of the backfield, but he is as tough a blocker as there is in the league.
The guy who I lik,e and one who I think needs more time on the field, is Brock Bolen. The former Louisville runner is younger than Jones and can play both fullback and tailback. And on special teams, Bolen isn't afraid to stick his hat in a pile and try to take the ball from the opposition.
The wide receiver position will be the most overhauled unit on this team.
The Jaguars proved to be aggressive this season in the NFL Draft when they traded up two places (with Tampa Bay) to acquire Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The All-American pass catcher gives this team the receiver they have lacked since the days of Jimmy Smith.
Blackmon will surely work his way into the No.1 slot on this team, if he has not already been anointed to that position.
Free agency was also kind to the Jaguars in bringing them Laurent Robinson from Dallas. Robinson was targeted for his play last season. He knows Mularkey's system, having played for him in Atlanta.
Robinson and Blackmon could form a really nice tandem—the likes we have not seen in some time.
The third receiver in the group should be Mike Thomas, who at 5'8" was asked to be a No. 1 receiver when he is truly better in the slot and as a second option, maybe even third, in the offense. Thomas will still be effective on the field and will be a third-down favorite of Gabbert's.
Cecil Shorts never really developed as a receiver or returner last season, but he figures to get more opportunities this year. Shorts will vie for the fourth or fifth slot in the rotation and could be a bigger presence on special teams as a returner.
The fifth opening (I am only putting five on the roster) could come down to Lee Evans, a free agent from Baltimore, and Kevin Elliott, a rookie from Florida A&M. At 6'3" and 213 pounds, Elliott could be the rookie-free-agent find of this team. Evans was only signed to a one year deal and could be beaten out in camp.
I like Elliott for the last spot on the roster.
This team needs more out of Marcedes Lewis.
The former Pro Bowl tight end received a new contract from the team last season after he started the offseason in California. It seemed to also affect his play the entire season.
Lewis can be as good as any tight end in the league, and he had a great relationship with David Garrard in 2010. He and Gabbert need to form some chemistry quickly, because the tight end is an important weapon in Mularkey's offense.
Zach Miller has shown flashes of talent, but has not stayed healthy. The former quarterback from Nebraska-Omaha could be a real weapon in this offense if he can remain on the field, not on the sideline.
Zach Potter, a huge target at 6'7" and 280 pounds, could be the second tight end by the end of the preseason. I like his ability and he looked better than Lewis most of the season.
Colin Cloherty, a second year pro, provides great special teams play, even scoring a touchdown last season.
Brad Meester returns for his 13th season with this team.
The center is the anchor of a line that opened holes for Maurice Jones-Drew, but had a hard time with pass protection. He and his linemates will need to do a better job of keeping Blaine Gabbert upright and safe in the pocket.
Eugene Monroe, the ninth pick in the 2009 draft, finally showed he could be a true NFL left tackle. In his third season, he played more solid football and battled injuries early in the season. If Monroe plays better in 2012, it will prove that general manager Gene Smith made the right choice to take him four seasons ago.
The other right tackle slot should be manned by Eben Britton. The 2009 second-round pick from Arizona was injured most of last season, finishing 2011 on injured reserve. If he comes back healthy, the teaming with Monroe could prove to be aces for this team.
The interior of this line will also be anchored by Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley, a second year player from Lehigh.
Nwaneri has proven to be a steady, if not spectacular player for the Jaguars the past six seasons. Rackley had his moments as a rookie last season, but also looked lost at times. Another full season should help him grown and develop.
The Jaguars re-signed Guy Whimper to play both guard and tackle. There were moments when Whimper looked like John Hannah, and then there were times when he looked like a spinning top. The team must get more productivity out of him.
Look for John Estes, Daniel Baldridge and Cameron Bradfield to also make the squad.
If there was ever a need for a unit to return to the same form as last season, then the defensive line is that unit for the Jaguars.
The team welcomed back their leader in quarterback sacks when Jeremy Mincey re-signed in free agency. Mincey was the glue of the line, adding eight sacks and mounting pressure on passers and constant help in the run game.
The Jaguars drafted Clemson's Andre Branch in the second round to be the bookend pass rusher opposite of Mincey.
Branch is 6"5" and 258 pounds, and could be a real find for this team, much like Tony Brackens once was.
The interior of the line is a question. Tyson Alualu returns for his third season with the team and having now had both knees operated on in the offseason, he is primed for a big year. The team needs him to play better than he has, given he was the 10th overall selection in the 2010 draft.
And then there is Terrance Knighton. The Temple product could be one of the better tackles in the NFL and is solid against the run. But an offseason eye injury has his play in doubt for the beginning of the season.
Having a healthy Alualu and Knighton goes a long way toward stopping the opposition's running game.
And then the team must decide what to do with Aaron Kampman, who only played a handful of downs last season. If the team keeps the veteran, he will be placed in the rotation with reserves like C.J. Mosley, John Chick, Austen Lane and Jeris Pendleton, the seventh-round pick in this year's draft.
The team could not have asked for better play from its free agent find last season, Paul Posluszny. The middle linebacker was the heart and soul of this defense last season and responded by leading the team in tackles.
Daryl Smith continues to be a stellar player who rarely gets recognized outside of the AFC South. Smith has been the glue of this linebacker corps for years.
Clint Session played well until a concussion knocked him out for the season with five games left to play.
Russell Allen is one of the better backups in this league and could start for some teams. He is also great on special teams.
Look for fifth-round pick Brandon Marshall to make the team and provide speed on the outside. I like him as a special teams player as well with Kyle Bosworth.
This unit is led by its two "additions" from last season, Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery. Both played at such a high level for this team all season long. Hopefully, that intensity will continue.
The Jaguars also re-signed veteran Rashean Mathis to a 1-year deal. The Jacksonville native is a great locker-room presence, and his leadership is needed with many younger players trying to make the team.
Derek Cox looks great when he is on the field. But injuries seem to find him and his time on the field has been limited. If he can put together a full season without being injured, he could be a real find and could be a Pro Bowl-type player.
The team signed Aaron Ross to compete with Mathis. The former New York Giants star could give this team more solid pass coverage on the back line.
Courtney Greene provided good backup at safety last season and looks to do the same in 2012.
Rookie Mike Harris from FSU figures to be a player not only in pass coverage, but also on special teams. He may have been the reason the team released Drew Coleman.
Look for T.J. Heath or William Middleton to win one of the last remaining defensive back spots on this team.
The team has a "starter" in Bryan Anger.
The California punter was the talk of the NFL draft, being taken in the third round.
The Jaguars had better hope he is the next Ray Guy.
Josh Scobee remains a holdout and was offered the team "franchise tender," but the veteran would prefer a long-term deal. Scobee could be a holdout, but at some point, you figure he will sign the offer or work out a long-term contract.
Scobee is an important part of this team and was second most important scorer last season.
Jeremy Cain remains the long snapper and should make the team again.
This team looks a lot like last season. A new coach, a new owner and a new attitude. Look for them to be better than their 5-11 record of last season.
I like the make-up with the new additions of Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Andre Branch. But there needs to be a buzz and burst of excitement.
If Blaine Gabbert comes out firing like Boomer Esiason, and the receivers play like Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, the fans will have an exciting team to watch.
If not, it will be another long season.
The components are in place and the coaching staff has a plan to produce a higher powered offense. Now, let's see if the players on this team can execute it.
It could make for an exciting season.