Jacksonville Jaguars: 5 Reasons Team Will Improve in 2012
At the end of the 2011 season and a 5-11 record, it was apparent the Jacksonville Jaguars had lots of room for improvement.
The offense was awful. Their rookie quarterback showed little, if any, progression as the season advanced, the special teams were nothing to write home about and the coach seemed clueless at times, choosing to "stay the course," as opposed to change things up.
But 2011 seems but a distant memory.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, 2012 brings the most anticipation since their inaugural season in 1995. This season brings with it a new owner, a new coaching staff, new players and a new attitude.
It is this combination of elements that will help the Jaguars improve on a lackluster 2011 season.
Wayne Weaver was the person responsible for bringing professional football to Jacksonville. It is hard to find a more beloved and respected man in the city, so it came as a shock when he made it known that he had agreed to sell the team to Shad Khan.
Khan wasted little time in putting his stamp on the team. He committed to renovating the team weight and locker rooms, he is willing to spend money on quality players and he has planned on altering the Jaguars uniforms.
He has made it known that he wants to win and bring a championship to Jacksonville.
This kind of attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to win can be infectious. It spreads from the owner, to the coaching staff, to the players, and that infuses the fanbase with excitement. That is something that fans of this team have been lacking for over a decade.
There is no replacing what Wayne Weaver brought to the city and what he did for the Jaguars, but the energy and passion that Khan has displayed is something that can rub off on everyone within the organization.
If his passion and drive spreads throughout the team and city, then wins and sell-outs should follow, sooner rather than later.
After nine seasons and only two playoff berths in that time, the Jaguars decided to fire long-time head coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio finished with a 69-73 overall record, and only three times posted a winning record in those nine seasons.
Under Del Rio, the Jags were primarily a ground-and-pound team, electing to play good defense and control the clock on offense. He never really attempted to open up the offense, regardless of the quarterback.
In his time in Atlanta, Mularkey developed a very balanced attack, while grooming young quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. They were both high first-round picks, like Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon for the Jaguars.
He has the experience as a successful offensive mind to have a great impact on this team, and the Jaguars offense can only improve from the 2011 season, literally.
Defense Still Intact
The surprise of the 2011 season for the Jags was, by far, the play of the defense. This unit was the 28th-ranked defense in 2010, and after the additions in free agency finished the 2011 season as the sixth-ranked defense.
With several key pieces of that squad having expired contracts, the Jaguars made keeping this group intact their top priority in free agency. By reaching new contract agreements with defensive end Jeremy Mincey, cornerback Rashean Mathis and safety Dwight Lowery, they assured that the majority of this unit would be back.
Even with the stability of 10 returning starters, possibly the biggest news concerning the defense, was the return of Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker. Tucker flirted with leaving for another team, but decided to return to Jacksonville.
The Jaguars did not rest there; they added free agent cornerback Aaron Ross to compete for a starting job, while also adding depth to the secondary. They then used four of their six draft picks on defense, selecting Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, Nevada linebacker Brandon Marshall, Florida State cornerback Mike Harris and Ashland defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton.
In both free agency and the draft, the Jags did everything they could to improve on an already stout defense, and that can only help the team as a whole in the long run.
Upgraded Receiver Position
Prior to the start of last season, the Jaguars traded up in the first round to nab Blaine Gabbert in hopes that he would be the franchise quarterback they've been trying to find since busting on Byron Leftwich. To say that Gabbert struggled last season would be a vast understatement. He was a step above dreadful.
Gabbert might just not pan out as an effective NFL quarterback, but let's be honest, he was throwing to an inferior receiving corps. The Jags, for years now, have had one of the worst groups of wide receivers in the league, so that was an area in desperate need of an overhaul.
It came as little surprise that Jaguars' General Manager Gene Smith addressed this position early and often.
Shortly after the free agency period opened, the Jags signed former Dallas Cowboy receiver Laurent Robinson to a contract. Robinson had a very productive season for the Cowboys in 2011, hauling in 54 receptions for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Later in free agency they added former first-round pick and Baltimore Ravens receiver Lee Evans to the mix. He may just be a training camp body they're taking a flier on, but his track record could make for an interesting evaluation; either way he's a fairly inexpensive gamble.
Then on draft night, the Jaguars move up in the first round to select Oklahoma St wide receiver Justin Blackmon. He was the top receiver in the draft on the majority of scouting sites, so the Jags feel they got a legit weapon in the passing game.
The addition of these players can only improve a Jacksonville passing attack that ranked dead last in the NFL in 2011.
Gambled on a Punter
This may seem like an odd choice, but considering how bad the Jaguars punting game was last season, a quality punter would play a vital role in the field position game.
Veteran Matt Turk was brought in to be a directional punter. That did not turn out the way he or the Jaguars wanted. After a horrendous game against the Bengals, that included a 22-yard kick that set the Bengals up for the eventual game-winning field goal, he was subsequently released the following Monday.
Nick Harris was signed to take over for Turk and fared better, but still nothing like what they were hoping for.
The Jaguars were left with a definite need for a quality punter, as they ranked near the bottom in punting average.
With their defense, adding someone that had the ability to drastically change field-position would be a huge advantage. Knowing this, the Jags made the surprise of the draft, selecting punter Bryan Anger in the third round, making him the highest drafted punter since 1995.
If Anger has the type of career that the Jaguars are anticipating after drafting him with the 70th overall pick, then he will be a vital weapon in the field-position game, and this will just help an already impressive defense.