After yet another disappointing season in 2012, the Jacksonville Jaguars are headed back to the drawing board.
The team has a new general manager in David Caldwell, a new head coach in Gus Bradley and even a new logo.
Given recent comments made by new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch it appears that the team will also be implementing a new blocking scheme, and that transition could have a significant impact on how the Jaguars approach April's NFL draft.
Generally speaking, the zone-blocking system calls for smaller, quicker offensive linemen. However, Fisch told Stellino he believes that bigger linemen can also be successful in the system and that Jacksonville has the personnel to make the transition.
If they don't, that's a problem that must be remedied. At its best with the proper personnel, the zone-blocking scheme can be incredibly effective, as evidenced by coach Mike Shanahan's success on the ground with both Denver and, more recently, Washington. But, run without the right pieces in place, as was the case with the Oakland Raiders in 2012, it can be an unmitigated disaster.
At first glance, Fisch would appear to be onto something.
For a team that employed more of a power running attack in the past the Jaguars line is actually fairly svelte, with none of the five starters weighing in at over 310 pounds.
Most importantly, starting guards Steve Vallos and Guy Whimper aren't gargantuan "road grader" types. There's nothing wrong with a 330-pound beefeater on the inside of an offensive line that blocks "straight ahead" but, given the number of cuts and shifts that a zone-blocking schemes employs, bigger linemen can run into trouble fairly quickly.
That isn't to say that there aren't still improvements to be made up front and they begin at the center position.
Brad Meester has been a fixture in Jacksonville for a very long time, but the simple fact is that the impending free agent will be 36 years old in March and doesn't have a lot of experience in this sort of scheme. It's a difficult decision given Meester's years of service, but it may be time to move on.
In a perfect world, Barrett Jones of Alabama or Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina would be there for the taking at the beginning of round two in April's draft. Not only do both players possess the size and agility to make them good zone blocking candidates, but each is also a versatile player capable of playing center or guard.
That's not to say that it's the end of the world if those players aren't available. There are many other players that will be available later in the draft that could suit Jacksonville's needs, such as Georgia Tech guard Omoregie Uzzi, whose quickness makes him an excellent fit in a zone-blocking scheme.
As a fan, if you want to "scout" linemen that the Jaguars might be interested in, watch the NFL Scouting Combine later this month or peruse the results of the workouts. However, instead of focusing on the raw power of the bench press, look for linemen who perform well in shuttle and cone drills.
It's that agility and ability to change direction that will appeal to Caldwell and the Jaguars.
That brings us to running back Maurice Jones Drew.
I have no doubt that a healthy Jones-Drew can excel in a zone-blocking scheme. That scheme requires a back who is decisive, making one cut and then hitting the hole with authority.
Jones-Drew was never a back who wasted a lot of energy running laterally, dancing around in the backfield.
However, what is of major concern to the Jaguars is that Jones-Drew (who missed 10 games last season) has over 1,500 career carries, including 406 offensive touches in 2011, his last healthy season. He is coming back from a significant foot injury and entering the last year of his contract.
Caldwell realizes this, but he told Stellino that the team isn't jumping to any conclusions about Jones-Drews' future in Jacksonville.
“That’s going to be an evaluation process. He needs to get healthy first. He needs to get on the field and we’re going to need a full body of work to evaluate him.’’
That concern could easily lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to search for at the very least a back that could spell Jones-Drew, and potentially serve as his heir apparent.
Stanford's Stepfan Taylor could fit that bill nicely in the middle rounds.
Granted, Taylor isn't the flashiest running back out there, nor is eye-popping in any one facet of his game. However, Taylor is solid in just about every facet of the game and, even more importantly, can serve as one-cut runner who hits the hole with authority.
The names I've listed here are hardly an exhaustive list, and whether the zone-blocking scheme is effective in Jacksonville will have as much to do with how well the players they have buy into the switch as the additions they make.
With that said the success (or failure) of this schematic shift will have a huge effect on how quickly the Jaguars are able to reverse their fortunes.
Now if they could only find a serviceable quarterback...
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