By: James Johnson
Just two days away from the start of preseason football the Jags will start their preseason against the 2011 Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants. It’s been a longtime coming, but I guess it’s safe to say football is back. With that said, I wanted to suggest a couple of players to watch in Friday’s game.
It’s been said countless times that this team’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the team’s franchise QB, Blaine Gabbert. Fans are eager to see his improvement, from his mechanics, to his drops, reads, accuracy, and most importantly his ability to stay in the pocket. Gabbert received praise from the team’s offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, calling Gabbert the offense’s most improved player. However, Bratkowski also stated that the passing game around Gabbert hasn’t been very good which concerns me. From the couple practices I witnessed, the Jags receivers had good moments, but really struggled with drops. Not to mention the offensive line, being that they aren’t the best pass blockers in the game, and the injury of their starting Guard Will Rackley. You take that into account with the fact that the Giants have the best defensive line in the league (at least to me), it could be a long quarter or two for Gabbert. My advice to Jags fans is to not expect much of Gabbert for THIS game. If he struggles later in the preseason then is the time for concern, but not now. On a positive note, Gabbert can shine in this game if he has time in the pocket. Keep in mind in the preseason the coverages are very vanilla. If the offensive line gives Gabbert time, and the receivers catch the ball, he could have a great game.
Next to Gabbert, I’d say Jennings has had a great camp (Maurice Jones-Who?). To keep the heat off Gabbert the team could have a plan to hand off the ball to Jennings. Though Will Rackley is out at Left Guard, the Jags could have success running to that side by simply going to the right side. Right Guard Uche Nwaneri had a silent pro bowl caliber year last year, too, and Right Tackle Eben Britton is back and healthy. As 1010 XL’s very own Rick Ballou said, Britton has had the best camp of all the offensive lineman, and I’d agree. Jennings best chances of having a good game relies heavily on those two. Not to mention Jennings is a pretty good pass catcher as well.
I’m not mentioning Robinson because he’s supposed to the team’s #1 receiver, or because they paid him a ton of money, but because he’s familiar with the Giants. He played in the same division as the Giant’s last year as a Dallas Cowboy. One would think he’s seen his fair share of film on them and it shows. In his first game against them last year he racked up 137 yards on them and came down with a TD. What’s even more crazy about it is that he did it with only 4 catches (an average of 34.3 yards a catch). Two games later in a rematch he got two TD’s for 64 yards on them. As I said, the coverage will likely be very vanilla and if Gabbert has the time he and Robinson can have a good showing.
One thing I worry about is a player getting payed and then their production drops. I don’t think that will be the case with Mincey. He approached camp as if he was still making minimum wage and was constantly in the backfield. It’s clear that he is now the leader of the Jaguars young and talented defensive line group. That being said, I’d expect him to lead by example and have a productive night.
Other players to watch
The Remainder of the WR Group
Since Justin Blackmon is coming in late to camp, he won’t be able to suit up under the new CBA rules. In his absence Cecil Shorts has started in his place and has had a good camp. So good that I wouldn’t mind seeing him start OVER Blackmon moving him to the slot. The reason I say that is because at this point, Shorts will be more effective than Blackmon because he missed a week and some change worth of camp. Keep in mind that Blackmon struggled grasping the playbook in the Jags OTA sessions. After the DUI, Blackmon came back with A chip on his shoulder playing well at the end of OTA’s. He could have simply come to camp on time AS a starter, continued his progress, and kept his spot as the #2 WR on the depth chart. He didn’t, though, and now has to play catch up. As for Shorts, I’ve always felt he had potential based off of last years practice sessions, but as we all know, that doesn’t matter when the pads go on. Simply put, Shorts will be given a chance to start and prove to be more than just a practice star. Mike Thomas will be in the spot where he’s suited best–in the slot with Brian Robiskie 4th on the depth chart. Thomas struggled at camp and Robiskie has been decent since the pads have been on. This is the perfect chance for him to show off his skill set and win a roster spot. Lee Evans, in my opinion, has caught the ball the best which has been a problem for the receivers group as a whole. He’s currently fighting for one of the last WR spots on the roster. The last player I’d recommend the fans to watch out for is Kevin Elliot. He’s been constantly mentioned as one of this years training camp stars. I’ve seen him make some crazy catches and believe he has a good chance to get a roster spot or a spot on the Jags practice squad.
Veldman was a player I thought would’ve been drafted late this year. However, he wasn’t, and the Jags scooped him up as an undrafted free agent. Veldman’s size caught my eye, standing at 6’7, 255 pounds. Other than his other Tight End teammate Marcedes Lewis, Veldman is one of those types of players that looks more like a basketball player with pads on. According to Rick Ballou, he’s silently had a good camp. He’s showcased soft hands and I’ve seen him come down with a couple TD passes in practice. Taking into account that Zack Miller was spotted with his shoulder wrapped at today’s practice, I could see Veldman getting significant playing time Friday night.
Like Robinson, Ross is very familiar with the Giants seeing as it was just last year that he was playing with them. At this point, Ross probably knows the Giants offense like a book. Look for him to have a good game.
With Austen Lane out for 3 weeks, the Jags announced that Branch will get to start opposite of Jeremy Mincey Friday. Branch has really impressed at camp. Most would say he’s the defense’s version of Cecil Shorts this year in terms of practice. What’s surprising is that Branch has been great in terms of his run stuffing abilities which, was a concern about him coming out of college. We all know what he can do as a pass rusher based off the 10 sacks he racked up at Clemson. If his ability to stop the run translates from practice, it’s likely he’ll be starting the regular season opposite of Mincey.