Jacksonville Jaguars: 5 Players to Watch as the Jaguars Enter Preseason Play
As the NFL gears up for preseason games, every team in the league has a number of questions that require answers.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are no different.
In 2011, Jacksonville fielded the worst offensive unit in the league, and their performance led owner Shahid Khan, with help from former owner Wayne Weaver, to overhaul the Jaguars' entire offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars are as good as any team in the league. Even so, they were decimated in 2011 by a slew of injuries that turned a great secondary into a mediocre group of players.
The Jaguars are a team that could make a big jump in the standings in 2012, but they have more questions than answers right now, and that's something they will need to change before the start of regular-season play.
We'll start off our list by addressing the elephant in the room. There's no doubt in my mind that the Jaguars must be willing to be patient with Blaine Gabbert as they navigate their preseason opponents, but at some point a decision on his future will have to be made.
Blaine Gabbert was awful in 2011. There's really no other way of putting it. He had the second-lowest completion percentage in the NFL, and he was constantly harassed by phantom pressure.
The Jaguars hope Blaine Gabbert makes their looming quarterback decision simple. If he can illustrate his ability to stand in the pocket and make accurate throws, the Jaguars will be able to stand confidently behind their young quarterback. If, however, Gabbert looks as if he picked up right where he left off in 2011, Mike Mularkey has to be willing to make the move to Chad Henne before the season is lost.
The Jaguars were aware of character concerns when they moved up in April's draft to select wide receiver Justin Blackmon. They had hoped that Blackmon would reward their faith by staying clean through his career, but it just didn't pan out that way, and he was arrested for driving under the influence earlier this summer.
Blackmon now remains as the only unsigned draft pick in the NFL, but reports (via Brian McIntyre, NFL.com) are coming in that the sides are optimistic about negotiations. The Jaguars are likely pushing for protection on their end in the event that Blackmon is unable to stay clean from here on out. If Blackmon is committed to playing football for the Jaguars, he shouldn't have any outstanding objections.
The real question is whether or not Blackmon can be the top receiver the Jaguars were hoping for when they picked him in April. Last season, the Jaguars had what most considered the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL, and they went out of their way to fix the problem by bringing in Laurent Robinson, Lee Evans and Justin Blackmon.
The Jaguars are still expecting great things from Justin Blackmon, but there's no doubting that concerns are beginning to pop up before he has even stepped on the playing field.
Marcedes Lewis was set to launch into the elite ranks of tight ends following 2010, a season in which Lewis compiled 700 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, but it wasn't meant to be. In 2011, Lewis' production fell to 460 receiving yards and no touchdowns.
Even so, the Jaguars are optimistic that Lewis can return to the level of play he experienced in 2010 and even surpass it. The Jaguars' new group of receivers should take pressure off Lewis, allowing him to run more freely over the middle of the field, and the hope is that Blaine Gabbert will be able to find him for big gains.
I wouldn't go so far as to call 2011 a complete "fluke," but Lewis certainly has the ability to bounce back, and he'll need to for the Jaguars to field a solid offensive unit.
Rashean Mathis has been the Jaguars' most dangerous cornerback in franchise history. Over his nine-year career, the veteran has intercepted 30 passes, scored three defensive touchdowns and defensed 98 passes.
Still, Mathis is coming off of a torn ACL that ended his season in 2011, and Aaron Ross will challenge him for the Jaguars' second cornerback position.
If there has ever been a Jaguars player I would not bet against, it would be Mathis. He's gone through stretches of sketchy play before, but he's always bounced back. I expect nothing different from him in this effort.
Still, any time a player is attempting to come back from a major knee injury, it's worth keeping a close eye on him and his knee.
Bryan Anger was the Jaguars' third-round pick in April's draft, and he happens to be a punter.
The Jaguars were the butt of many post-draft jokes for taking a kicker so high in the draft, and it's important that Anger develops into an elite punter in short order.
Punters aren't the most exciting players in the league to scout, but they are exceptionally easy to evaluate during exhibitions.
When the Jaguars trot out their punting team during the first couple of preseason games, take a special note of how well, or how poorly, their punter places the ball down the field. After all, it's not every game that you get to see a third-round pick attempting to drop a kick inside the opposing team's 5-yard line.