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Thursday, September 1, 2011
Jaguars consensus pick: Third

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Five of us asked to pick the AFC South have the Jaguars finishing third.

While defensive additions should make them better, I think they’ll have a quarterback issue hanging over their head for much of the season and it will slow them down. If you listen to the podcast with the preview file, you’ll hear me waffle on the Jaguars and Titans and third and fourth place.

Here’s my intelligence report on Jacksonville. You can find it along with the predictions, a draft element from Mel Kiper and a look inside the number from Stats & Information here.

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Jaguars:

1. Quarterback debate: While David Garrard is in line to start the season, it's almost inevitable that he will be pushed by first-round pick Blaine Gabbert. Consistency has been Garrard's big issue. When he hits a dip, a team that thinks it's good enough to challenge for a playoff spot will likely be tempted to turn to Gabbert, presuming the rookie backup is practicing well. I think it's going to hang over the team's head in an uncomfortable way. No matter how well Jack Del Rio manages it, it's just a complicated deal that can weigh on a franchise.

2. Defense has upgraded: Five of the team's top 12 defenders are free-agent additions -- linebacker Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry, end Matt Roth and nickelback Drew Coleman. That is a lot of change, and it's all for the better. How quickly does this become a cohesive unit? We don't know. But I buy Del Rio's confidence that the defense will be much improved over the one that ranked 28th overall in 2010. The question is whether the additions did enough to address the pass defense. Landry is a good player, but how well can he cover? The pass rush has to be better to help the secondary and ease the strain on corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox.

3. Jones-Drew still the centerpiece: The Jaguars were super careful with Maurice Jones-Drew, holding him out of the first three preseason games and severely limiting his preseason practice as he came back from serious knee surgery. I'm not among those expecting him to drop off or become fragile. He'll remain the centerpiece of the offense no matter who's under center. But it's fair to expect that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will get some touches for Rashad Jennings and even Deji Karim as he looks to ensure MJD will have a chance to finish the season strong.

4. Coaches on tenuous ground: Del Rio has two years remaining. Wayne Weaver initially declared it a playoffs-or-pink slip season, then backed off and said he just needs to see forward progress. Del Rio's staff is all working on one-year contracts. It's not a good situation in terms of stability. If the team plays well in the first half of the season, Del Rio will make a huge push for extensions for his guys. Without them, his security won't be so important if there is a mass exodus of assistants after the season ends. Stay tuned.

5. Questionable weaponry and protection: Sure, Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis are great threats in the passing game. But the quarterback needs production out of the wide receivers. Mike Thomas is a good player, but are Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts sufficient to round out the group that Garrard or Gabbert will be targeting? The team has a lot of faith in Hill and Shorts, but they are hardly proven commodities. And the offensive line needs to be a strength, not an issue, for a team that's been rebuilt by GM Gene Smith with a focus on the foundation.