Jacksonville Jaguars: Finding the Unknown Talent on Roster
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Every year around this time, I start to get beyond excited. My team is about to take the field again for 16 (hopefully more) meaningful games.
The thing about rooting for a "bad" team is that, despite the media, you try to look at the bright spots on your team and hope that they outshine the dull spots.
Last season, I had a weird feeling that I had not had since I have been a Jaguars fan. That was the feeling of entering the season with a team that I knew was going to be, for lack of a better term, bad.
It was confusing to me, as I thought, what is this team doing with this offense? Luke McCown was the starter, and our wide receivers consisted of Jason Hill, Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Cecil Shorts.
I still stuck up for a roster with the passing attack of a varsity high school football team, but after watching Week 2, I knew my original thoughts were pretty spot on.
Now comes the 2012-13 NFL season and another roster for the Jaguars that consists of a bunch of guys the national media doesn't know about.
Finally latching onto guys like Derek Cox, Terrance Knighton and Daryl Smith, the Jaguars' "lack of respect" campaign within the national media seemed to have a couple of guys break out last year. To the above-average Jaguars fan, these guys are no surprise. Cox, Knighton and especially Smith have been staples in this team's defense the past few years.
Which position are you most confident in?
The mainstream has really latched onto Rashad Jennings. That's obviously in part because of Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, but this guy really is something special at running back.
With a 6'1", more-than-230-pound frame, Jennings has the capabilities of being a 1,000-yard rusher in the league. Unfortunately, he will not get that chance once MJD is back, but he is a guy who not only will help give MJD some rest but can also catch out of the backfield and become a big part of the passing game. Jennings should be looking at around 600-650 combined rushing/receiving yards this year.
Austen Lane is a guy who just can't seem to stay healthy since he was drafted out of Murray State. However, he has proven to be a pretty solid edge rusher and run stopper when he is.
Although the team drafted Andre Branch in the second round of this year's draft, Lane still had the starting spot until proven otherwise. Lane is a guy who can easily come away with five or more sacks if he stays healthy, but that will be the hard part, as he is already fighting an injury this training camp.
Cecil Shorts displayed glimpses of becoming something special in this year's training-camp scrimmage, but that is exactly what it is—a scrimmage. Shorts has the best chance of developing a rapport with Gabbert since they were together last year and both rookies.
What's tough is that Shorts is from a small school and still has to prove he is capable of playing with NFL defensive backs. If he can, he becomes a guy who can play the "x" that Blackmon is going to start at.
Shorts has good size, speed and hands, so there really should be no surprise that he can become a go-to guy for Gabbert, especially with Robinson and Blackmon taking away the top backs for each team.
Shorts is not going to be receiving for 1,000 yards, but he does have a chance for 400-500 yards and three or four TDs.
Russell Allen is a guy who has done everything that has been asked of him so far in his career. Undrafted, and out of San Diego St., Allen filled in last year in place of Clint Session, and with the report that Session's season (and possibly career) may be over, Allen is the guy to step in alongside Smith and Posluszny. He's quick, tough and smart, and Allen could become a 100-plus tackle guy this year if he stays healthy.
Will Rackley is a second-year guard out of Lehigh who got to see some starting action last year. He struggled a bunch throughout the year, but he also showed why this team can see them as one of their guards of the future.
Rackley is currently recovering from injury, but he should be ready to go by Week 1 and looks to be a big reason as to why this team's offensive line is looking to take a big leap forward from last year.
Kevin Rutland is a second-year CB who went undrafted. He saw some playing time last year after the injuries piled up in Jacksonville's defensive backfield and played pretty decently. The team has high hopes for him, and he adds great depth to a very nice group of cornerbacks.
After Cox, Mathis and Ross, it is unclear if it will be Middleton, Rutland or Youboty, but Rutland looks to have the advantage with his size and age. He may not play the most significant role, but he is sure to have a few key plays this year.
Sure, there are a bunch of guys I could put here as guys that are simply unknown but could be good, but these five guys are looking at a year where they are going to be relied upon and will need to step up.
The Jaguars have a roster filled with great and unproven talent, and one of the hardest things to do is watch national media who talk about three guys: Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Blackmon and Blaine Gabbert. It's a shame that the Jaguars seem to get knocked around quite a bit, but I can promise that this is a team that should be nowhere near counted out of the AFC South.
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