By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
So it turns out the quarterback position may not be the most pressing issue on the Jaguars roster in 2014. While Jacksonville is still hoping that Santa Claus brings the team a young and successful rookie to lead this team to the Promised Land, there may be other huge holes this team needs to fill along those lines. With the loss of Cecil Shorts to injury, Justin Blackmon to suspension, last year’s major free agent signee Laurent Robinson to injury-retirement and others on the field to lack of experience or the inability to catch the football, what was supposed to be the strength of this team (with a more complete Blaine Gabbert) has become a major concern.
Should the Jaguars invest in an early draft pick on a receiver, knowing they could find one in the draft after the second round and take a chance on free agency? How would Eric Decker, or Riley Cooper or Jacoby Jones and Jeremy Maclin look in Black and Teal?
Decisions, decisions. What will the Jaguars do?
After months of talking about the need for Teddy Bridgewater - who may go back to school for his senior season or Marcus Mariota, who decided to go back to Oregon, the idea of taking a chance on Chad Henne and a rookie signal caller to develop (Zach Mettenberger) and setting our sights on someone like Anthony Barr, a rush end from UCLA or even Marquis Lee of USC seems more reasonable now.
We have so many holes to fill, and progress has been made. But injuries and despair on the outside may have changed management’s plan.
Even if the choice is not a new set of hands, it is still an issue the team must address in May or in free agency.
By: Will Brown (@wwbrown19)
Earlier this month I volunteered to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. It was something I always wanted to do. However, my personal goal of volunteering for the organization is not why the story is worth telling.
On my first day of ringing I ran into a boy who couldn’t have been older than 10 and who appeared to be a big Jaguars fan.
Despite the young fan wearing a Maurice Jones-Drew jersey I asked what I assumed to be a rhetorical question: who is your favorite Jaguar? His answer: Jordan Todman. After giving him credit for his outside-the-box answer he went on with his guardian and I went back to collecting donations.
I thought of that exchange Sunday afternoon when Todman took his opportunity and ran with it against Buffalo. The third-year pro out of Connecticut had 109 rushing yards and 143 offensive yards, both of which were career highs.
Too bad Todman’s big day was mitigated by the fact his teammates forgot to take care of the football. Sunday’s four turnovers were the most all season, and the most since 2011.
The fact the Jags had a chance to tie the game late is an indicator that the much maligned defense has improved this season. Since 2008 the Jags have committed four turnovers on offense seven times. The average score in those games was 31-10 and that includes a 24-20 win over Cleveland in 2010.
Make no mistake; the Jaguars have turned it around since the bye week. However, the team is not at the point where it can make multiple turnovers, be -2 in the turnover battle and still win games. Jacksonville has won the turnover battle five times this season. It’s not a coincidence the team is 4-1 in those games.
(Since this week’s theme is turnovers, it’s worth noting that the Jags committed four or more turnovers 14 times during Mark Brunnell’s illustrious career with the franchise. Jacksonville lost all 14 of those games, which is further proof how devastating turnovers can be for an offense.)
Chad Henne is clearly an upgrade over Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, but the Michigan man is occasionally prone to turnovers. Sunday was no different. Obviously, his interception with three minutes remaining prevented the Jags from tying the game. But the critical turnover may have been Denard Robinson’s fumble into the end zone during the Jags first possession of the second half.
Jacksonville, the worst team in the NFL when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone at 40.6 percent, was trailing 20-10 at that point and had a chance to cut the deficit to three points. Buffalo may be 5-9, but the Bills are one of the best at keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns once they reach the red zone allowing touchdowns 48.8 percent of the time, which is eighth in the league.
The fact Jacksonville scored two touchdowns and a field goal on its four red zone possessions Sunday magnifies the rookie mistake from the other former Michigan quarterback on the roster.
Yes, the turnovers cost the Jags a chance for its first four-game winning streak since 2007. But the fact the words “winning streak” and “Jags” could be used in the same sentence is a testament to the turnaround this team has shown over the last six weeks. Todman’s career day may have been overshadowed by turnovers, but that’s football. Not even the hottest team in the AFC entering Sunday can win every game.
By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
Sometimes, the best decision when it comes to an athlete’s health is to shut them down for the season. That is the decision facing Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, wide receiver Cecil Shorts and the medical staff of the team when it comes to either playing the third-year player in the last two games of the season or letting him rest a groin injury that is not getting any better.
According to Jaguars.com senior writer John Oesher, “But listening to Shorts and Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley Monday, it’s clear there’s a possibility the third-year veteran wide receiver has played his final game of the 2013 season.”
Shorts was inactive on Sunday when the team lost 27-20 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. If the Mt. Union star takes time off, it will be the second consecutive season an injury has cut his season short. Last year a concussion forced him to miss the end of the 2012 season.
“Probably that’s the best thing,” Shorts said Monday. “We have an idea what we’re going to do. That’s probably the best thing, honestly.”
The Jaguars have dealt with Shorts and injuries as part of this season’s litany of events. He had a calf injury that forced him to miss most of the preseason, but has played through the groin injury, which has not gotten better, according to team officials.
I personally think it is the best thing to do. Injuries are a part of the game. Players play through them, especially if they are playing on playoff contenders and have incentive to fight through what is debilitating them.
This is a different situation where the Jaguars are 4-10 on the season, have not qualified for the playoffs and are looking at a high draft pick. There are other players this team must access in determining who stays and who goes for next season’s roster. It also, obviously, gives the team’s biggest receiving threat at the moment, a chance to heal and be back next season for another rigorous season.
Four wins so far this season with games against Tennessee and Indianapolis at the tail end of the season are for draft positioning and division standings. If the Jaguars win on Sunday, they will finish second in the AFC South. A win on Sunday and a win next Sunday in Indianapolis means the team finishes with six wins – which is totally sick based on the first half of the season this team has had.
When it comes right down to it, player health and safety outweigh wins and losses. This is not about bettering draft position as some fans are hoping for (which I do not understand why they are not happy with wins). Shorts needs the rest, the Jaguars need to valuate players and regardless of the team’s record at the end of the season, those issues are what matter most.
Shut him down. Shorts will still be here next season. Others may not be so lucky.
By: David Levin (davidlevin71)
About eight months ago, the Jaguars were ever so excited about its draft and the speed it added to the roster with Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson. Not only had youth been served - but speed, agility and hope.
Eight months later, Sanders is firmly entrenched as a key cog in the Jaguars offense. Robinson is still trying to find his way.
By all accounts, the Jaguars hit it big in the draft with its secondary, its big offensive tackle in Luke Joeckel (even if he is hurt) and Sanders - who can light up a scoreboard when given a chance. Robinson for his troubles, fumbled today on the 1-yard line on Sunday, which could have been the trying score in a 27-20 loss to the Bills, where another rookie, EJ Manuel helped Buffalo to a fifth win of the season. The loss formally ended any hope of the Jaguars being a playoff team (somehow, they were mathematically alive as of Sunday morning).
I have to wonder if this is a draft pick we all will be talking about in five seasons when we could have had receiver Kenny Stills, running backs, Zac Stacy and Joseph Randall and Mike Gillislee? We still jump all around about the fact we took Bryan Anger in the third round instead of Russell Wilson, but right now - it seems Anger was a better decision.
In other columns and conversations, I have said drafts are made by the picks in rounds four, five and six. I think I told a guy named Frank Frangie that 20 years ago. He said he agreed with me. This is one fifth round pick the Jaguars have to wait on.
Watching Robinson in OTAs, training camp, and the preseason, there was a real belief that this former Michigan quarterback and cult hero of sorts would be a real find for this team - practicing in the Wildcat and showing speed this team need on the outside. But we are still waiting. And with the Jaguars, you have to wonder how long this franchise can wait for their weakest draft pick to come through.
Seems to me we as fans are waiting as well. And I wonder which side will flinch first in deciding whether this former football great was a find or a bust.
By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)
The Jaguars will have major decisions to make in the offseason. Which players to keep, which players to release and who should remain as part of its coaching staff.
But the most pressing issue that this team has - beside whether or not to re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew and who to draft depending on where the team drafts in May - is what to do with Justin Blackmon. The pace this team has been on since the bye week, which coincides with the suspension Blackmon received by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy for the third time, does not help Blackmon’s cause, but we should not draw any conclusions just yet. The Jaguars are winning - and have won all their games without No. 14 on the field. Other receives and tight ends have taken up the slack for him in his absence.
While Blackmon’s situation is not on the same level as a Jeremy Mincey in that team rules were violated, the fact Mincey was given another chance and not cut by the Jaguars tells you head coach Gus Bradley puts a lot of stock in his players getting second and in Blackmon’s case, a third chance.
Even with the more production on offense, this team still needs a star receiver opposite Cecil Shorts. The offense looks better now, but it would look even better. Who knows, maybe Blackmon playing now would mean the Jaguars could have won their last eight games. It could have meant this team would have beaten Oakland earlier this year.
The truth is - and we all know this - the NFL is not built anymore on just one superstar. Teams need two running backs and two great receivers and two great tackles to move ahead of the pack. The Jaguars are winning with half their quotient at the receiver slot. If the Jaguars wipe their hands of him, more than likely someone like New England or Chicago or Houston will claim him and he will instantaneously wind up in the Pro Bowl - because that is what happens to former Jaguars.
Is it worth the risk? That question must be answered by Bradley and Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. But in the mean time, while this team keeps getting better, the decision this team has to make continues to draw closer. But the Jaguars - a team with a lot of upside right now, are in a better place to handle the ramifications one way or the other.