By: Eric Serna
Start counting down. This week is the week most football fans have been waiting for. The week the players report and start practicing for the real games. There are so many different questions for all 32 teams around the league. But for the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are many more questions to be answered. The main question on people’s mind: Is this a team that can surprise everyone out of the gate and make a push within the division, or will this team meet “expectations” as the Number 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft? Despite this team’s seemingly bright future, we are in the reality of now. A scary place to be if you’re a team coming of a 2-14 season with major changes being installed on both sides of the ball from your first year Head Coach and GM. But that is what this week is for, to see something……anything. With practices open to the public leading to the August 3rd scrimmage, we will be able to figure out some indication of where this team is heading. In the meantime, let’s go over some questions and predictions for this year’s training camp and the upcoming 2013 NFL season.
Offensive and Defensive
How is this team going to look under Gus Bradley? We already know this team has the energy from it’s Head Coach that was missing in the (rightly short-lived) Mike Murlarky era. But how are they going to respond come game-time when the big lights are on? Jedd Fisch on offense creates even more question marks. We already know this is going to be a fast and effective offense if run correctly. But do they have the quarterback on the roster to run it? And although it has been told through all major circles that Bradley will be installing his defensive scheme, he is not the defensive coordinator. Bob Babich is, and man has he flown under the radar. For someone who is entering his 30th year of coaching, I don’t think enough people have realized how important he will be this season. He will need to run a very complex defense. A defense that our own James Johnson has started to breakdown, for anyone who would like to see what we are talking about.
Tyson Alualu is going to be a BUST
I think this could be very possible. Alualu was drafted SO high in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft for a player who was a second round graded player on so many other draft boards. Despite barely being known coming out of college, I watched the city of Jacksonville embrace Alualu as a member of the Jaguars. But since then, lack of production and injuries have been a common theme in his career. Although he is now making the switch the defensive end, which I fully support, he is a guy who I believe will need to make an impact on the field immediately to be on this roster next season. He needs to earn the respect this city gave him when the 10th overall pick entered his rookie season in the league. Unfortunately I haven’t seen anything to this point to make me believe he can make an impact as a starting caliber player on this team, or any team for that matter. He should back up that point with an average showing in training camp.
Could Jeremy Mincey lose his roster spot on the final cuts?
This is a question James brought up to me. At first, I thought there was no way. But he explained his reasoning, and it made sense. This is an odd man out scenario on a defensive scheme that isn’t built for a guy like Mincey. One of the more overrated players on the roster in my personal opinion, he is active in the community and a fan favorite. In a way, he falls under the same love and affection category given to John Henderson, and more comparably as a football player, Paul Spicer. With that being said, and the fact you can never have too many defensive lineman, I do believe Mincey’s time is coming up soon, just not yet. On a team that will have a projected rotational player as the second highest paid defensive lineman on the roster, it also is not impossible to think he could miss making the roster completely this year.
Will Justin Blackmon be present and effective for training camp?
No wide receiver needs to be available for as many practices as possible like Justin Blackmon does. Already behind from being limited at mini-camp and now coming off groin surgery, Blackmon needs to get as many reps as possible. The reason is quite simple actually. This team cannot afford for Blackmon to get a later start then he as already set himself up for with his 4 game suspension. We need an improved and matured player coming to a team who will need his talent and play-making ability to win games. Cecil Shorts is the only proven player on the roster at receiver, but he is coming off a year after suffering two concussions. Blackmon MUST take advantage of every second he has. The Jaguars cannot afford to have another late season burst from easily one of it’s top weapons on offense. And worst of all, because of his actions and lack of real game time…..
Denard “Shoelace” Robinson will be OVERUSED
Aside from what I think is going a little overboard giving Robinson an entirely new position, I think he will make a significant impact on this team. But with the uncertain roles and talent on the roster added onto Justin Blackmon missing the first 4 games of the season, I think that time period will be crucial. It is where I believe the Jaguars will overuse Robinson. I don’t expect to see the Tebow/Wildcat mystery the Jets pulled last year. I think the Jaguars will show a hand full of tricks of what will end up being at least a taste of 5-7 plays from Robinson in training camp. For the preseason, they will show just about the same. But I think without Blackmon on the roster opening day, they will need end up using him out of his package at least 15 times a game, which will really put Robinson at risk. I know he is not an injury-prone player, but he has had tendencies to get banged up at some points in his college career. This is a bigger, badder NFL then what he was used to: These hits will be harder. I know having one carry puts him at risk, so you can’t be scared and worry too much about that when you try to utilize his skill set. But I do believe at least in his rookie year, he needs to be eased in. With the need to find ways to win without one of your top wide receivers though, I do not see them taking the extremely cautious route.
Ace Sanders will make the Pro Bowl this year…..
On special teams. And there isn’t a doubt in my mind if the Jaguars use him correctly. Did you know that in 18 years of the Jaguars existence, there have only been four punt returns in franchise history? And only one punt return in the last 10 years? Ace Sanders had three punt returns in his 3 year career at South Carolina. That tells you a lot about the Jaguars special teams over the years. A lot of people have Sanders filled in the slot position. I think he should be mainly used as a 3rd/4th option on certain plays on offense, and mainly focus on returns this year. This is essentially Devin Hester 2.0, and if used properly, he will have a much more consistent impact on the game. He may develop into a good full-time slot option. But for now, the most value he brings is on special teams. Unlike Hester, he will never be one of the top two receivers on this team. I mean, look at this guy in open space! He is going to ignite so much energy and game changing moments on special teams. And that will work out much better in the long term (just ask Devin Hester).
Who is Josh Evans?
For an overall strong draft class, a lot of people forget about Josh Evans. Coming out of high school playing on offense and defense, with credits for track and field, Evans played as a safety for the Florida Gators for 4 years. After showing flashes in the prior season, Evans took off in 2012 with 83 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Many were surprised at how far down he fell in the 2013 NFL Draft. But the Jaguars lucked out and picked a player who has the ability to play either safety position, like Johnathan Cyprien as well. Unlike Cyprien, Evans is not penciled in as a starter. So who exactly is Josh Evans? This is my player to watch this training camp going into the preseason. I hope when all is said and done he will be starting, moving Dwight Lowery to play both corner and safety when needed. With the tape I’ve seen on him, it can very well happen.
Other notable mentions:
Paul Posluszny needs to thrive at linebacker in this scheme. He needs to stop being such a liability in coverage, while still being as effective as he already is against the run. Mercedes Lewis will not be on this team at age 30 next year unless he proves he can be a good tight end. Watch out for Ryan Otten to seriously have a chance to grab some playing time early on from Lewis. All eyes will be on Luke Joeckel and the offensive line to see if the Jaguars made the right choice with their pick in last April’s Draft. Linebacker and running back are two positions that could use more bodies on the field, but with so little to choose from in free agents, is it even worth picking anyone up? Maybe so, but I wouldn’t put my money on it. Who will win the QB job? All the practices will lead up to what I will be waiting to see, and that is the scrimmage game. Only then will true colors come out, and we can get a glimpse of who has a slight edge in the race for Week 1.
AND OF COURSE……MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE PODCAST!!
If you did not know, the Inside Edge Sports crew will be live on our podcast with the lovely Jessica Blaylock from 1010xl. She has graciously given us some of her time, and this is a big opportunity for you guys to listen in live and call in to the podcast! It is at 1:00pm ET today, and of course if you miss it, it will be in the archives! Remember to check us out on Facebook, click the like button for our page on the side of the site, follow me on Twitter @EricAlmighty1 and of course, comment down below on what YOU think the biggest questions going into Jags camp are! As always, we appreciate the support and love, and I hope you enjoy the site!