Jacksonville Jaguars: 5 Players to Watch in Second Half of 2011

Justin UseltonContributor INovember 7, 2011

Jacksonville Jaguars: 5 Players to Watch in Second Half of 2011

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    While a 2-6 football team may lack intrigue over the final two months of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars present plenty to study for their dedicated fans.

    Jacksonville has an interesting core of young players that, especially on defense, seem to be developing well despite the team's paltry record. While the offense continues to fight it's way out of the basement of the NFL in virtually every meaningful statistic, the Jaguars' struggles present an open opportunity for young up-starts to supplant under-producing veterans. 

    Jaguars fans may be looking forward to 2012 in hopes of the team's next playoff chance, yet still have reason to keep an eye on core development throughout the rest of this season. 

    Here are five players Jaguars fans should keep an eye on throughout the remainder of 2011. 

Blaine Gabbert

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    I took up for Gabbert during his first few starts, but there simply is no other way to find an excuse for him. He's struggled, and the offense is clearly less potent with him behind quarterback than they were in 2010 with virtually the same returning offense.

    Furthermore, with the NFL's new tiered rookie wage scale, it's not impossible that a new regime in 2012 could opt to go in a different direction than Gabbert as the franchise quarterback. 

    Although unlikely, if the Jaguars finish as a bottom five NFL team, they could potentially make a move for someone like Matt Barkley and deal Gabbert. This only happens, however, if he continues to struggle and the incoming regime doesn't believe in him. 

    There is only one person that can do anything about this, and that person is Blaine Gabbert. Despite the poor receivers, despite the ever-changing offensive line, Gabbert has to show that he can consistently exhibit correct fundamentals and improve his pocket presence. 

    Jaguars fans are short on patience, and the grumbling is starting to grow louder in relation to his struggles. If Gabbert fails to progress throughout the rest of the season, his future as the franchise quarterback of the Jaguars may be ending before it even really began. 

Jeremy Mincey

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    Jeremy Mincey isn't Reggie White by any stretch of the imagination, but he has been a disruptive force for the Jaguars in 2011.

    Given the opportunity to perform in the absence of Aaron Kampman, Mincey has emerged as an energetic and emotional leader along the Jaguars defensive line, and is starting to look like a player that may be a long-term piece of the puzzle.

    Mincey made play after play against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, seizing the opportunity on a national stage to harass Joe Flacco in the Jaguars' upset victory.

    Mincey is one of those "lunch pail" kind of guys that you can see walking into practice the same way coal-miners show up for work. All work. No play.

    While the Jaguars are sure to draft a defensive end that will eventually start in 2012, don't be so sure that it will be on Mincey's side of the football. Kampman is clearly damaged goods, and Matt Roth is a short-term fix.

    If Jeremy Mincey continues to play as he has, the Jaguars could reward him with an off-season contract that reflects that of a defensive leader and cornerstone player along the front seven. 

Will Rackley

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    I totally destroyed Rackley earlier in the season when he struggled and looked badly overmatched in doing so. 

    However, over the last few games, Rackley seems to be turning the corner as an NFL starting offensive lineman.

    Rackley dominated Haloti Ngata on Monday Night Football. Yes, you read that right. Rackley got consistent movement against one of the NFL's best defensive tackles, and followed that up with another solid effort against the Houston Texans in Week 8. 

    Rackley is a must-watch player for Jaguars fans in the second half of 2011 because his success or failure may decide whether or not Gene Smith spends another second or third round pick on an offensive lineman. If Rackley continues to develop, Smith can use the first three picks in 2012 to address the receiver, defensive end and defensive back positions. 

    However, if Rackley flat-lines, the Jaguars may be looking for yet another guard to plug into the mix and challenge for the spot next to Eugene Monroe. 

    Believe or not, with the way he's played the last few weeks, my money is on Rackley. 

Cecil Shorts

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    There were a lot of great things said about Cecil Shorts during the off-season.

    We were told that he was a fourth-round steal, and we were all told that Shorts would easily be the Jaguars third receiver. Leading up to opening day, it was thought that Shorts might even supplant Jason Hill in the starting line-up at some point.

    I was as guilty as any of putting too much faith in a fourth-round draft pick from Mount Union, but Shorts has disappointed even his most loyal supporters in 2011.

    Shorts has yet to catch a pass, despite seeing the field quite often, and struggled mightily as a returner before being replaced in Week 7.

    Fourth-round picks get cut if they don't produce, and Shorts must show some sort of pulse in November and December if he wants to guarantee a spot on the Jaguars roster in 2012.

Eben Britton

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    Seriously, what is going on with Eben Britton?

    The Jaguars right offensive tackle has rarely seen the field in eight games this season, and has played nearly as many snaps at guard as he has tackle.

    You don't play franchise tackles at guard if you believe in them, which makes me think even the coaching staff is befuddled with Britton. When he has played, Britton hasn't been terrible. However, the best ability is availability, and Britton is starting to take on the look of an injury-plagued bust that could be replaced in 2012.

    While Guy Whimper hasn't exactly stolen Britton's job, the Jaguars could potentially look for a replacement in 2012 if Gene Smith loses faith in Britton's commitment to playing through pain and ability to stay on the field.