By: Rob Johnson @RJ1452
Last week provided fans of the Jaguars a chance to take a much-needed break. Six weeks ago, most were very anxious and excited about the 2012 season, and it seemed like they had good reasons to feel that way.
A new owner had breathed life into the franchise and the city. A new head coach and his staff had a full off-season to implement their system and prepare for the regular season. The NFL's 6th best defense was returning with the coordinator who led them last year. The second-year starting quarterback appeared to be making improvements during training camp, and although it was uncertain, the NFL's leading rusher was ready in Week 1.
Today, many fans find themselves disappointed and disheartened with a 1-4 Jaguars team that has more questions than answers. The record accurately reflects the Jags. They should not have lost to the Vikings, but they should have lost to the Colts. There was no hope for a victory against the Texans, but games against the Bengals and the Bears were winnable. However, the Jaguars are a bad team, and bad teams make mistakes that lose winnable games.
This Sunday begins an eleven week stretch that should be an evaluation for 2013. Players and coaches are under the microscope of fans and hopefully, owner Shahid Khan. There are six victories waiting to be earned by the Jaguars starting with the game against the Raiders. That would make them a relatively respectable 7-9 team and restore hope that the franchise is headed in the right direction. In order for any win, let a lone six, to occur, major improvements must be made.
First, Blaine Gabbert has to start proving he belongs in the NFL. Gabbert has played better this year, but he is still making too many mistakes while making too few plays. A comparison between him and his peers (Andy Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton) finds Gabbert behind all of them in most categories.
To his credit, Gabbert is better than Luck in completion percentage, interceptions and passer rating. That may come as a shock to many of you, because of the hype surrounding Luck and his impressive win over the Packers. Plus, Gabbert fails a very important test right now - The Eye Test.
While he has the look of a NFL quarterback off the field and even in pads, Gabbert often appears lost and indecisive on the field. He has also made too many bad throws. Gabbert is improving, and not all of the offensive problems are his fault. Nevertheless, the team is 1-4, he has thrown only 5 touchdowns and has only one play that was worthy of SportsCenter.
The second area for evaluation isn't one position. Rather, it's multiple positions. The lack of talent on the Jaguars has been discussed at length on 1010XL, so we all know that this roster is far from ideal. However, there may be players on the team that will be worth keeping in 2013. The Jaguars won't be able to completely replace the roster, so deciding who is worth keeping will be key to helping improve the Jags next year.
This means players have a chance during the next eleven games to prove they deserve to be a part of the future in Jacksonville. Not all of them will, nor should they, return as starters. However, there could be a small core to propel this team to the next level, if the right additions are made.
A third area that should be evaluated is the head coach and his staff. With Mike Mularkey being in his first season, talk of him being replaced may seem premature. Nevertheless, how he handles the players and the games for rest of the season is vital. With an inferior team, game planning and game management is extremely crucial. If Mularkey puts the players in a position to succeed, he should be given another chance in 2013 regardless of the number of wins. If he does not, a change must be made, either with him or his staff.
I'm not going to break down Gene Smith. We all agree that a new general manager must be in place next year. That may require Mr. Khan to re-think his "stay the course" approach, especially when this season ends. It will be a public relations and football operations nightmare if Smith returns in 2013.
Regardless of Jacksonville or London, in order for Mr. Khan to have the multiple levels of success with the Jaguars, he must have a double-digit winning team. That will require some major changes and a fresh perspective. Mr. Khan has proven he is capable of setting a new tone, and I hope he continues his willingness to take chances.
As I've written previously, the fans are ready to provide support like never before in Jacksonville. They just need legitimate reasons to do this.
Sunday begins an evaluation process that is the most important in the history of the franchise.
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