After a dismal 5-11 campaign last season, the Jaguars need some serious improvement to become a legitimate contender in the AFC South. But unlike many teams that were drafting in the top six last year, the Jags know exactly where they need to improve to start winning. Their focus needs to be on Blaine Gabbert and the passing game.
Jacksonville’s defense remained solid last season, ranked sixth in the league in total defense, and eleventh in points allowed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, perennial All Pro Maurice Jones Drew led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards. Unfortunately, he also led the league in carries with 343, a full 42 carries more than second place (Atlanta’s Michael Turner), and had 43 receptions on top of that (second on the team in receptions).
The Jaguars needs a more balanced offense to reduce the pounding on MJD and to keep defenses from keying on him. Jones Drew is only 27 years old, but he has averaged over 360 touches per year for the last three years. He needs some offensive help and the onus is clearly on the passing game.
Last year, the team picked quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first round with the tenth pick overall. Gabbert didn’t play as well as the other first round quarterbacks. In fact, of the 34 quarterbacks that threw enough passes to qualify, Gabbert ranked 34th on passing efficiency (65.4) and 33rd on completion percentage (50.8 percent, just edging out Tim Tebow to stay out of the basement).
The team has committed to Gabbert as their starter, and he needs to show significant improvement to earn that trust. The Jaguars did pick up Chad Henne as a backup, who could potentially step in if Gabbert falters.
But as part of their vote of confidence in Gabbert, the front office went out and significantly upgraded the receiver position to give Gabbert better targets. The newly imagined receiving corps consists of Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, and Lee Evans.
Last year, they only had two receivers break the 400-yard mark and no one broke 500-yards. Laurent Robinson had 858 yards receiving in Dallas as the third option. Lee Evans missed much of last season, but prior to that never caught for less than 500 yards in his prior seven season, including two 1000-yard season. Finally, Justin Blackmon was the top rated wide receiver in the draft, and his last two years at Oklahoma State, he caught 232 passes for over 3,300 yards.
So far, the Jaguars are liking what they are seeing. They have focused on improving protection for Gabbert, and head coach Mike Mularkey like the progress. “Things we addressed yesterday we thought we needed to address,” he said of Tuesday’s practice. “We had more time to throw, and we hit some bigger plays down the field. That was good to see.”
Robinson bounced backs from some drops on Monday and made a couple of impressive grabs in Tuesday’s drills. Mularkey said, “I told him, ‘It’s early in camp, just be yourself and you’ll be fine.’ ’’
They’ve got the pieces in place and if the passing game can just improve to middle of the pack rather than dead last, with Jones Drew running the ball and their stingy defense, they can instantly become a legitimate threat in the AFC South.
Justin Blackmon Highlights:
By Evan Ertel