How To Fix The Jags In Five Simple Steps
By Andrew Kates
Not since a 2007 playoff victory on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers have the Jaguars been a competitive franchise. The Jaguars have been one of the worst teams in the NFL since that playoff run that ended in Foxborough with a 31-20 defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the Patriots.
After being bottom feeders the last five seasons, the Jaguars and new owner Shad Khan are in the process of turning things around. With that said, the Jags have plenty of work to do and won’t be vying for the Lombardi trophy next season or even an AFC South crown, but with the revamped jerseys, new front office and plenty of new players on the roster, that uphill battle seems less daunting.
The Jaguars need to make a number of improvements to get back to elite status, and it can’t be done in a single offseason. But with that in mind, I have compiled a list of five ways in which the Jags can improve and get back to being playoff contenders.
1. Running Back:
Maurice Jones-Drew has clearly lost a step or two, and has become injury prone. After carrying the Jaguars offense the last few seasons and the brunt of the carries, it is understandable to slow down. The punishment that running backs take is brutal, and it seems likely MJD is on the tail end of his career as a prime option at RB. While his skills speak for themselves on the field, his actions spoke louder as he held out last offseason, showing his “me first” attitude was more important than being a strong locker room presence. Rashad Jennings did not work out as a feature back, and Justin Forsett is just a role player, so an heir to the RB throne is of great importance if the Jaguars want to get back to winning football.
Tony Brackens is the only real franchise pass rusher the Jags have ever had, playing his entire career in Jacksonville. He compiled 55 sacks and 469 tackles in eight seasons with Jaguars. Since his retirement, the team has tried and failed to find an All-Pro to fill the void left with his absence. Some of those busts include Bryce Paup, Hugh Douglas, Quentin Groves, Derrick Harvey and Aaron Kampman. The Jaguars must find a franchise player at DE if they hope to get back to the playoffs or make a Super Bowl run.
3. Revive The Tight End Position:
The tight end is a versatile and key component to the high-powered offenses in the NFL and the Jaguars need to give theirs CPR. The ageless Tony Gonzalez has helped the Falcons as they fight for a Super Bowl berth, as have Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in New England. There are plenty of playmaking tight ends in the league, and Marcedes Lewis is one of them. Last year was an immense disappointment and he really hasn’t been effective since his lone Pro Bowl season in 2010. The 6-6 beast of a target is looking to get back to All-Pro form proving he is still a luxury the Jags can’t afford to lose. Lewis has the strength to block like Kyle Brady and hands to catch like Pete Mitchell. He has shown the ability to be a threat in the middle of the field, along with being a great option in the red zone, but the dropped passes and missed blocking assignments must cease for Marcedes to get back to being the veteran leader Gus Bradley is expecting him to be.
The Jaguars have been plagued with conservative play calling for the past decade. Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey were coaches that played run first football, and left the passing game to rot. Run, run, pass, punt won’t suffice any longer as the league has shifted to a pass-first aerial attack over the smashmouth run game of the past. While the coaches might have lacked the talent to execute the gameplan on the field, there is no excuse for the lack of creativity exhibited by past coaching staffs. Jaguars fans hope that Jedd Fisch can incorporate a more wide-open scheme than his most recent predecessors Bob Bratkowski and Dirk Koetter. The last time the Jaguars made a halftime adjustment or managed the clock for a two-minute offense, the rookies were in diapers and fans have to go back to the days of Jimmy Smith and Mark Brunell to remember what a pass over seven yards looks like. The new staff needs to develop a game plan around the talent they have because a square peg will not fit in a round hole no matter how hard you try.
The Jaguars biggest and most glaring need is at the quarterback position. The Jags have drafted five QBs during their existence with Rob Johnson, Jonathan Quinn, David Garrard, Byron Leftwich and Blaine Gabbert. Not exactly the who’s-who of quarterback lists, but the front office cannot shy away from finding that franchise quarterback even with the past failures looming over the team. It is obvious that Gus Bradley has an open competition at quarterback this offseason, but not many fans or experts around the league believe in Gabbert or veteran Chad Henne as being the one to lead the Jags out of the NFL cellar. This season will be the final opportunity for Blaine Gabbert to show he has what it takes as a Jacksonville Jaguar. If he isn’t the answer, David Caldwell and Gus Bradley will have to get back to the drawing board.