Expect Maurice Jones-Drew to return from his holdout soon.
Okay, so I know Maurice Jones-Drew hasn't returned from his holdout with the Jacksonville Jaguars yet, but with all of the news that came out last week, it's starting to sound like it's only a matter of time.
When he does return, what should we expect from Jones-Drew and this Jaguars offense?
First off, it will depend on when he returns.
I see Jones-Drew returning prior to the Week 1 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, I see him showing up this week; not soon enough to play in the preseason finale, but soon enough to have some practice in before making the trip to Minnesota. That should give him enough time to learn the playbook, if he doesn't know it already.
Jones-Drew would have to beat out Rashad Jennings, who has assumed the starter position in Jones-Drew's absence, but he should be able to do that, no problem. Nothing against Jennings; he is a good running back and has been successful when on the field. It's just that he's not better than Maurice Jones-Drew.
Depending on when MJD returns, Jennings could be the Week 1 starter, but probably not much after that.
When Jones-Drew does return, the Jaguars will be getting 2011's top rusher back. More importantly, they will be getting the player who was one reception (47) shy of leading the team in receptions (Mike Thomas had 48) and was third on the team in receiving yards.
Jones-Drew also led the Jaguars in touchdowns last season with 11 and was undoubtedly the most important factor to the Jaguars offense last year.
That was last year, though.
Last year, the offense played with a scheme that was developed for David Garrard; remember that he was the presumed starter during the preseason.
How could it be different? Well, for starters, Blaine Gabbert now has the ability to call an audible at the line when he sees a defense that would run right into the play. He couldn't do that last year.
Think about it. With no threat in the air, teams regularly were keeping eight or nine defenders in the box close to the line of scrimmage. Teams knew that Jones-Drew was getting the ball, and if he didn't, they were taking a chance on loose coverage and going after Gabbert.
Gabbert recognized this and at times would call a timeout in order to save the play, save the drive—even save his neck. But you only get so many timeouts. With only a handful of blockers in front of him, Jones-Drew was able to lead the league, rushing into eight or nine defenders.
And that was last year.
This year, Gabbert has the ability to read the defense and change the call at the line if he believes the original play would fail. The Jaguars offense also has an upgraded receiver corps after adding veteran Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon, which should change the way teams play their defensive backs.
Robinson appeared in 14 games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, starting four of them, and had 54 receptions for 858 yards. Those numbers, through 14 games mind you, are more than every Jaguars player earned through 16 games last year.
We don't have a season to judge Justin Blackmon with, but while on the field through two preseason games, he has shown the skill set the Jaguars were hoping for when they drafted him fifth overall in this year’s draft. Blackmon has eight receptions for 120 yards.
These receivers are going to demand tighter coverage, and if it isn't given, Gabbert should make the read and the right play. If it is given, then Jones-Drew should have more room to run with the ball.
I wouldn't expect Jones-Drew to be drastically improved over last year's performance, but I wouldn't expect him to be any worse, either. I'd still expect to see him receive about 300 rushes this year (as long as he stays healthy), and he should average about the same yards per carry that he did last year.