Jacksonville Jaguars' Training Camp Headlines: Is Blaine Gabbert Improving?

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistAugust 1, 2012

Gabbert can't hand off responsibility for this season.
Gabbert can't hand off responsibility for this season.Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

The Jacksonville Jaguars are finishing up their first week of training camp.

Here are the major stories to date.


Blaine Gabbert Is Better than Last Year...Unless He Isn't

All other issues for the 2012 Jaguars pale compared to the big question of whether Blaine Gabbert is going to take a big leap forward.

Keep in mind that it's not enough for Gabbert to show modest, incremental improvement. He has to be significantly improved in order for his progress to be great enough that the Jaguars aren't held back by him.

Early reports have been mixed.

Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union says he's evolving. Vito Stellino said he's looking better, despite some rough stretches. Alfie Crow felt like the offensive struggles were more macro rather than just Gabbert's fault.

On the flip side, no one would claim the offense is firing on all cylinders regardless of who is to blame. Paul Kuharsky traveled to camp and didn't see nearly the progress that he expected.

We can try and parse the precise distance that Gabbert has or hasn't come, but it's clear early on that whatever gains have been made have been modest.


"Let's Focus on the Guys Who Are Here..."

I hate to go back to the giant issue of holdouts, because I covered it yesterday, but it's impossible to talk about the Jaguars without mentioning that their two marquee weapons aren't in camp.

Without Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars' receivers have looked pedestrian at best. Training camps typically last about three weeks, and one week in, the Jags still haven't been able to develop the offensive chemistry they need.

I don't want to belabor this point, but there is rapidly coming a time when the front office puts the season in jeopardy for the long-term health of the team. That's their choice to make, but it's naive to think there won't be consequences.

While it's easy to write off early struggles as the result of the men who are missing, the longer they are absent, the more the narrative changes from "things will get better" to "things are bad".


The Very Bright Side

All criticisms of the Jaguars' offense have to be placed in context. This team has the chance to field an outstanding defensive unit.

Early in camp, second-round pick Andre Branch has grabbed the eye of everyone who has seen him. He's drawing universal acclaim as a player who will be getting major reps in his rookie year and has the potential to be a difference-making pass-rusher.

For all the complaints about the Jaguars' receivers, the corners deserve a lot of credit for making them look bad. Free-agent addition Aaron Ross has been a stand out in the first week.

Regression is always a fear for a unit that had a major upswing last year, but the early reports about the defense are encouraging.

If this unit can take another step forward, even a small one, the Jaguars will be in the game come the fourth quarter more often than not.