For The Jags, There's Nowhere To Go But Up
Everybody seems to know that the Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t really been on top of their game for several years now. It seems like the franchise has never fully reached their contender status since Tom Coughlin left. Their legacy as the most successful expansion team in the league has become merely an afterthought as we have watched them flounder for nearly a decade. As we see in the world of professional sports, and more specifically, within the NFL, the only constant is change; and the Jaguars have had an awful lot of change in the past several seasons.
They have had a change in ownership, a new general manager, new head coaches and a dicey quarterback situation. Even their uniforms have changed! Unfortunately for the Jaguars, it seems as if they are going through a perpetual identity crisis. This preseason they have already been plagued with uncertainty and injury surrounding what feels like all of their key players.
With everything in constant flux, it is no wonder that the Jags haven’t been able to get their footing. The NFL mentality is often that when something doesn’t seem to be working quite right, to immediately change it. This method doesn’t seem to be working for the Jaguars.
While this hasty mentality sometimes work out well, it also has proven that in the long run, nothing is a safe bet. Seeing as how the Jaguars only won two games last season, reevaluating everything is the obvious course of action, and should be taken. However, it seems as if they need to find a way to achieve a little more stability and consistency even if it doesn’t garner immediate results. Jacksonville has tried shaking things up to no avail, but hasn’t yet found a formula that works, when the formula may very well be to just stick to one plan for a little bit longer.
Even fans of Jacksonville are starting to become disenchanted with rooting for a perennial losing team. The Jaguars need a morale boost now more than ever. If we learned anything from the loss against the Dolphins in the preseason opener, it was that their defensive line doesn’t look too shabby. Two sacks and plenty of pressure on the quarterback is nothing to complain about. While this alone isn’t going to bring the team back around to where they were in 1996, it’s something; it’s a foundation to build upon. Jacksonville is also a relatively young team, which gives them time to learn to work together without worrying too much about the impending problems and fears that come with an aging team. They also don’t have all of their eggs in one basket and have an entire team relying on one player (like our friends in purple from the NFC North). This gives them a wonderful opportunity to use this time to begin building their identity to put themselves back on the map.
In preseason game two against the Jets (who are currently in the midst of their own quarterback competition) we saw the Jags come out swinging. The first quarter of the game showed us a team from Jacksonville that was confident, collected and ready to start climbing the ranks again. What happened after the first quarter is anybody’s guess, as they fell apart and the first ever Jets-Jags preseason matchup ended in a disappointing 37-13 loss for Jacksonville.
Once the great quarterback debate is settled and we know whether it’s going to Gabbert or Henne leading the team, we may start to see things fall into place. Gabbert has started against both the Dolphins and Jets, so things may be leaning in his favor, but only time will tell. Part of the reason the Jaguars are lacking identity is because they’re lacking on-the-field leadership. When we think of some of the best teams in the NFL currently they are almost always synonymous with an elite quarterback, or at least a very good one. Last year the NFL was buzzing with excitement over the incoming class of rookie quarterbacks who proved themselves to be able to deliver at the NFL level.
Gabbert, whose rookie season was 2011 had definitely struggled in the NFL after leaving the University of Missouri one year early to sign with the Jaguars. His sophomore season proved to be no different and he was met with plenty of adversity. Currently, Gabbert is fighting to keep his job while back-up QB Chad Henne nips at his heels. Hopefully by the end of the preseason we will see a more clear direction for the Jaguars. One of the two quarterbacks will rise to the occasion, and whether its Henne or Gabbert doesn’t matter so much as the final decision being made matters.
While that may solve one problem, the rest of the offense will also need to figure out a few things. WR Cecil Shorts III has a calf injury, RB Maurice Jones-Drew had foot surgery last winter and there is a lot of talk that Jones-Drew may not hold up over the course of the season. Would be star rookie, OT Luke Joeckel is now benched with a hip-flexor injury... and so on and so forth. All of these lingering injuries leave questions in the minds of the rest of the team and only distract focus from where it should be. Crucial decisions will need to be made.
The preseason is a time to hash out details and figure out what works and then run with it. Here’s to hoping that within this final stretch we will see the beginnings of a new narrative for Jacksonville begin to unfold. It may not be that of Cinderella, but as long as its not Old Yeller, that is good. Jacksonville may be currently at the bottom of the NFL, but the good news is that there is nowhere to go but up!
Gus Bradley is a winner- I've watched how he transformed the Seahawks defense and he will try to do the same with this Jaguars team. He wants to bring in big, physical corners and safeties to play bump-and-run coverage, while also having athletic ends who can rush the passer without being liabilities against the run. He knows how to coach defense and that will turn itself around. Still don't believe they have a long-term solution at quarterback on the roster and unfortunately, MJD is running low on shelf life, but there's plenty of reason for optimism with Bradley being in charge.
Good story, hopefully the coaching change will instill some life into that team. If not this could be a much longer drought than anyone ever imagined.
This is a remarkably upbeat piece about a team that hasn't earned a ton of optimism in recent years. I agree entirely -- this is a team in search of an identity, although I don't think they were shooting for second-rate villain status (their new helmets evoke Two-Face from "Batman" or Bele from "Star Trek;" come to think of it, maybe schizophrenic is the appropriate motif for a team with a two-headed quarterback battle but no true No. 1). Alas, I suspect the identity crisis will continue until the Jaguars are firmly rooted as the NFL's first international team, based permanently in London.