Eight weeks into the 2012 season, and things aren't looking good for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their quarterback has a labrum injury and their star running back is out for multiple weeks with a foot sprain.
They're 1-6 for the season, ranking in the bottom five in the NFL in every major offensive category.
The Jaguars still have four division games left on the schedule; therefore, they have plenty of opportunities to turn their season around. While this team won't be making the playoffs, the performance of several key players could be critical in deciding the future of this franchise for years to come.
The rookie from Oklahoma State has been a massive disappointment on and off the field in the season's first eight weeks. After blowing a BAC over .15 in a June DUI arrest, Blackmon has registered only 18 catches on 193 yards with no touchdowns.
With the Mike Thomas trade on Tuesday, look for offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski to put added focus on making the most of his first-round talent. Blackmon leads the team in targets with 45; therefore, it's only a matter of time before the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner begins to flourish for the Teal and Gold.
Whether Blackmon develops or not is critical for the overall success of the offense and the health of key performers like Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert.
Despite the Jags' record, Gabbert is actually much improved from his horrendous rookie year, which Football Outsiders recorded as the fifth-worst quarterbacking season they've ever measured. In 2012, Gabbert has already upped his completion percentage by five points and has a solid 7:3 touchdown to interception ratio.
Gabbert played well without Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield two weeks ago versus the Raiders. Unfortunately, the young quarterback tore his labrum. The tear is in the non-throwing shoulder, however, which means he will still be able to play through the injury.
The injury could either turn Gabbert into the skittish rookie of 2011, or it could change his entire reputation within the locker room. The second half of this season will likely determine whether the Jaguars see him in their long-term future.
According to Adam Schefter, the Jaguars expect star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to be sidelined for multiple games with a sprained foot. This will undoubtedly open the door for backup Rashad Jennings to prove himself.
Jennings is actually used to the starting role, as he served as the team’s primary back during Jones-Drew's offseason holdout.
Many running backs have burst on the scene due to injury, including defending rushing champ Arian Foster. Expect the Jennings to average around 20 carries a game during MJD's absence, allowing him ample opportunity to improve on the 2.9 yards per carry he is averaging at this point.
The schedule sets up favorably for the offensive line to open big holes for Jennings, as the Jaguars' next five games see them taking on three defenses ranked no better than 29th against the run.
If Jennings comes through, it could make MJD expendable and make Shad Khan look like a genius for refusing to give his star running back a large extension.