AFC South: Bob Bratkowski

Back in August we considered the Jaguars’ philosophical commitment to isolation routes in the passing scheme.

Andy Benoit if the New York Times Fifth Down wrote back then:
The questionable talent at wide receiver could be extra debilitating given that (Mike) Mularkey’s scheme uses, almost exclusively, isolation routes. In other words, none of the receivers’ routes will combine to work off one another. Everything is separate and easy for defenses to identify. New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (who will actually be the one calling plays) had a similar type of passing game in Cincinnati. This rudimentary approach can work when you have high-powered receivers (Mularkey had Roddy White and Julio Jones in Atlanta; Bratkowski had Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens a few years ago in Cincy), but can be constricting when you don’t.

I thought maybe that would simplify things for Blaine Gabbert and rookie receiver Justin Blackmon.

But it clearly didn’t do much to boost what was a terribly anemic Jaguars’ offense until Sunday.

Monday, I found a very smart comment on this post about Mularkey deciding to go with Henne even if Gabbert was healthy.

Wrote Blackjacks1:
I think the Jags changed their offense in this last game. One of the link[s] you posted to a Jags preview early in the year talked about how Mularkey's offense used isolation routes exclusively. As you know isolation route are WR routes that do not work off of each other (ie. pick plays, moving the safety off his spot, etc). Isolation routes put more pressure on the WR to get open, because they don't get any help from the routes working together. I believe you made a comment about how that's not a good idea for this weak WR corp.

I've got great seats at the Jag home games. I can see the WR routes develop really well from my seat. And I'm telling you that the Jags were running isolation routes pretty exclusively in every home game this year. The WR were having all kinds of issues getting open and were getting no help from the offensive scheme.

But yesterday's game was different. The WR were definitely not running as many isolation routes. They were running pick plays. They were sending a man deep to clear up room for mid-range throws. And the WR (especially Blackmon) excelled in this gameplan because the pressure of getting open wasn't all on them. I also think this is why Houston's defense struggled to adapt. They hadn't seen any of this out of the Jags offense on film this year.

I took that to both Henne and Mularkey in conference calls just before lunch on Wednesday.

Mularkey said the offense is pretty much the same as it has been since his days running it in Pittsburgh, with some things from new assistants sprinkled in.

But Henne offered more, and enough to confirm that Blackjacks1 is a smart football observer.

“I think we’re definitely making combo reads with our receivers and a little bit more progression reading,” he said. “We’re just trying to find ways of how we can attack a defense and get our playmakers the ball. And whether that’s one-on-one matchups or combination routes, we’re going to try to add them all and see what they do best.”

Sunday, the Titans will be more prepared for some of the new stuff that may have been used for the first time in Houston. The Jaguars should continue to try stuff that extends beyond the core isolation routes philosophy.
I’m not in Jacksonville and was not a part of today’s media Q&A with coach Mike Mularkey.

Some of the primary reporters there -- Ryan O’Halloran, Gene Frenette and Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union, Mark Long of AP, John Oehser of the team’s web site -- all tweeted that Mularkey said Blaine Gabbert has made progress in the time the coach has been with the quarterback.

And Mularkey sees "a real serious attempt to grow at that position" by Gabbert.

That’s great.

But the NFL isn’t about players progressing as much as it is about the pace of players progressing, particularly if those players are quarterbacks, high drafts picks or centerpieces. Gabbert is, of course all three.

Last year Gabbert completed 50.8 percent of his passes, averaged 5.36 yards per attempt and threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 65.4 passer rating playing with poor protection and insufficient receiver play.

This year Gabbert’s completing 58.0 percent of his passes, averaging 5.93 yards per attempt and has thrown nine touchdowns and six interceptions with a 76.9 rating playing with poor protection and insufficient receiver play.

Statistically, there it is -- modest improvement to support what Mularkey is saying.

But the Jaguars need more. They need impact, and not in small increments.

It’s on Gabbert, first and foremost. It’s general manager Gene Smith, in part, for his failure to fix the protection and receiver issues. And it’s Mularkey and his staff, for their failure to prompt a bigger jump from the quarterback.

But it’s Gabbert first and foremost. A good quarterback makes players around him better. Who’s Gabbert made better?

People who still admit to being fans of this team had high hopes that Mularkey, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterback coach Greg Olson were going to add some rocket fuel to Gabbert, and accelerate his pace of progress.

Good rookies sometimes face a sophomore slump. Bad ones often have a Year 2 jump.

Gabbert was a bad rookie. I expected a second-year jump to average and said if he got there the Jaguars could contend for second place in the division. (Bad miss by me.) Mularkey’s talk of progress is not of a jump, but baby steps.

He did, at least offer, that on deep passes Gabbert needs to take more chances and “let it go.” The offense seems to be built, and stocked, in a way that makes him disinclined to do so.

My follow-up to Mularkey about progress would have been about how much. And if he could possibly judge it as enough.

Preview snippets from Scouts Inc.

October, 19, 2012
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Snippets from Scouts Inc.’s scouting reports on the games involving the AFC South this weekend.

Titans at Bills

Film room nuggets: “Opposing tight ends have simply destroyed the Titans' pass defense Insider. Scott Chandler is (Ryan) Fitzpatrick's favorite weapon near the goal line, and Fitzpatrick should look Chandler's way particularly when he draws coverage from Michael Griffin, whose coverage has been suspect all year. ... The Titans are extremely young on defense. While they have some good players, they desperately need to acquire a difference-maker or two at really any level of the defense.” -- Matt Williamson

Browns at Colts

Indianapolis will want to crowd the box: “The Colts got seared for 252 rushing yards by the Jets in Week 6, 161 by Shonn Greene alone. The Browns rely heavily on the ground game, and after seeing the Jets run all over the Colts, we can be confident that Cleveland will feed the ball Insider to (Trent) Richardson on a consistent basis. Indianapolis defensive coordinator Greg Manusky loves a pressure defense and will probably push one of his safeties up into the box early and often as he tries to take away Richardson's running lanes.” -- Doug Kretz

Ravens at Texans

Film room nuggets: "Baltimore's (Torrey) Smith leads the league in yards per catch Insider with 18.8 yards per reception, and his burst and speed is deceptive to eat up a defender's cushion. ... Ed Reed is a crafty, 11-year veteran who often times baits quarterbacks. He has a gaudy 59 career interceptions and has returned seven of them for touchdowns. He will often appear to be out of position within a zone only to recover and make a big play.” -- Ken Moll

Jaguars at Raiders

Get the wide receivers involved:(Maurice) Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis have caught a total of 28 receptions on 34 passing attempts. The Jacksonville wide receivers, combined, have 42 receptions on 96 attempts. The Jaguars simply need more production from their wide receivers, because they can't live off of the underneath pass Insider to have any hope to loosen things up in the secondary. Look for offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski to dial up more downfield throws as he tries to attack a struggling Oakland secondary. -- Kretz

RTC: Texans enter new territory

September, 24, 2012
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

“Through the first 50 minutes, the Texans had dominated on both sides of the ball. They were playing smart and playing clean, save for the safety (Matt) Schaub suffered on Houston’s first play from scrimmage, and they were ramming their way downfield. Then Ben Tate lost a midfield fumble and all hell, (Peyton) Manning-style, broke loose.” Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle on the win that moved the Texans to 3-0.

Be pleased, but don’t take this win as any sort of grand statement, says Jerome Solomon.

On a fantastic day, Matt Schaub suffered a gashed ear, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

“To get where you want to go, sometimes you have to do things you’ve never done,” Andre Johnson said. Like beat Manning on the road for the first time. Like winning your first game at Denver. John McClain of the Chronicle on the game.

Peyton Manning has an ability to get his team back into games that seem out of reach, and he did it again Sunday against the Texans, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle. But the Texans held on.

The finish was too close, but it was still a good win, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

The Texans dominated and then held on for dear life, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

It was a game the Colts felt like they had to have won, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. Two big plays that accounted for 139 yards and two scores for the Jaguars took just 21 seconds.

Bob Kravitz of the Star calls it a devastating loss and runs down the reasons the Colts couldn’t pull it out against the Jaguars.

Adam Vinatieri’s late field goal was not enough for the Colts to pull it off, says Zak Keefer.

Sergio Brown was simply the last and most noticeable culprit as the Colts rode an emotional roller-coaster to a dismal finish, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Edgerrin James felt the love as he was inducted into the Colts' ring of honor at Lucas Oil Stadium, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Kravitz’ report card: Nothing better than a C.

Screw up enough in the NFL and you’ll lose, says Wilson.

Spelling it out simply: Andrew Luck was great but his team is bad, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“Instead of continuing their free-fall into the NFL sewer, the Jaguars showed they can rally, can create a turnover and can hit the home-run pass,” writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Not long after Shad Khan told Maurice Jones-Drew he should run and catch the train, the running back was driving it, says Vito Stellino of the T-U.

Everything broke just right on the Jaguars’ game winning play, says Gene Frenette of the T-U. “When a team is 80 yards from the end zone -- and needs a young, struggling quarterback to pull off something spectacular in the last 56 seconds to avoid an 0-3 start to the season -- nobody expects him to hit the jackpot in just 11 seconds.”

The game plan was no knock on Blaine Gabbert, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski told Stellino. “We played it a little conservative. It was nothing more than we wanted to make sure we didn’t get a turnover. We wanted to play good field position football.”

It was needed and it was validating, says John Oehser of the team’s website.

The miracle pass and the Colts’ miscues produced the win, says Dunlevy.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans survive arguably the craziest game ever played at LP Field, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “In a span of about 10 minutes on the game clock, the Titans thought they had won the game, thought they’d lost it, and then made the play to end it.”

“Was this the start of a real reclamation project, or just a momentary uptick in an otherwise unremarkable season?” asks David Climer of The Tennessean. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Darius Reynaud was the central figure in two monstrous special-teams plays for the Titans, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Jake Locker couldn’t have dreamed up anything crazier as a 5-year-old for his first NFL win as a starter, says Wyatt.

Wyatt’s report card includes three As.

Writes Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press: “One of the craziest, wildest, most poorly officiated Sunday afternoons in years, a game of huge plays, massive gains and spectacular accidents, came down, in the end, to a tiny fourth-and-1 in overtime that actually went backward -- and apparently wasn't supposed to take place at all.”

 

AFC South links: Injuries limit Jags' offense

September, 19, 2012
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Houston Texans

A preview of the Texans' upcoming matchup with the Broncos from the Denver Post.

The Texans look even more dangerous this season than they did last year, writes SI.com's Kerry J. Byrne, who provides stats showing just how dominant the Texans have been on defense.

The Texans, at No. 4, are the highest-rated AFC team in John McClain's NFL power rankings.

Indianapolis Colts

Where do the Colts fall in media rankings of NFL teams? The Indianapolis Star has compiled the info.

Andrew Luck was a "two-minute master" in the Colts' win over the Vikings, writes Bleacher Report's Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Injuries have tied offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's hands when it comes to creative use of formations, writes Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

As the Jaguars and Colts prepare to square off Sunday, O'Halloran provides some notes on both teams. Blaine Gabbert had an 82.3 rating in two games against the Colts last season.

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt has five noteworthy numbers for the Titans heading into Week 3.

The Titans-Lions game is now officially a sellout, writes Wyatt.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was asked about the Titans during an interview with WXYT in Detroit. Stafford: “[The Titans] are a talented young team, they’re a talented young defense, they have some good players at the back end, a couple of guys that can rush the passer so we will have our work cut out for us. This is a team that is going back home and has the potential to really go off. They have skill position guys on offense that are among the best in the NFL at their position so we have our work cut out for us.”

Final Word: AFC South

September, 7, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Debuting as linebackers: Longtime Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis debut as outside linebackers in Chicago in new coach Chuck Pagano’s 3-4. In nickel situations they’ll probably look a lot like they always have. But on early downs they’ll be moving around and far less predictable than they’ve been in the past. They have the most favorable matchups of anyone on defense for the Colts in this game -- Bears tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi are unproven pieces of a line that needs to offer better protection for quarterback Jay Cutler. (Here is Kevin Seifert on the matchups.) Pagano is going to find ways to attack those guys. The Bears should counter by getting the Colts into nickel and looking to attack nickelback Justin King and strong safety Tom Zbikowski until they prove they can slow the pass.

[+] EnlargeDerek Newton
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonRight tackle Derek Newton is part of a revamped right side of Houston's offensive line.
New right side: The Texans spent the preseason sorting out the right side of the offensive line after guard Mike Brisiel left for Oakland as a free agent and Eric Winston was released in a cost-cutting move. Enter guard Antoine Caldwell and the surprise winner of the right tackle job, Derek Newton. Per ESPN Stats and Info, the Texans averaged 5.1 yards per rush to the right side last season -- the NFL’s sixth-best average to that area. Caldwell played 210 plays at right guard last season, and Newton logged 11 plays at right tackle.

Crafty vs. crafty: Titans nickel cornerback Alterraun Verner is looking forward to going against Wes Welker. There are some things in which Tom Brady and Welker are virtually unstoppable. But Verner has a knack for staying on top of short, underneath stuff out of the slot and is good at trusting the coverage help a defensive call will provide. He said that although Welker is typically cast as crafty, he’s crafty too. Verner said that after this matchup, everything else will seem easier. How he holds up against the league’s most productive inside receiver will be a big piece of the Titans' defensive story Sunday.

Revealing an offense: Mike Mularkey said early in training camp that the Jaguars' offense won’t just be what we saw him call with Atlanta as offensive coordinator. Rather, he and his staff -- with guys like coordinator Bob Bratkowski, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and running backs coach Sylvester Croom -- sat down and pieced together an offense that combines elements from all of their backgrounds. The first-team offense performed well in the preseason, so we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about its being vanilla. But I expect we’ll see some surprises on offense against the Vikings as we see what, exactly, Mularkey and his staff have constructed.

Questions to be answered: What’s the rotation at outside linebacker look like for Houston, and how much does first-rounder Whitney Mercilus get on the field to offer Connor Barwin a rest? ... Will receiver Austin Collie, not far removed from a concussion, play for the Colts? ... Does rookie linebacker Zach Brown get on the field for the Titans in packages with an emphasis on slowing the Patriots’ tight ends? ... With C.J. Mosley starting beside Tyson Alualu at defensive tackle for the Jaguars, how much will Terrance Knighton get on the field?

RTC: Getting to know Chuck Pagano

September, 7, 2012
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Reading the coverage …

Perhaps the best ESPN commercial ever. A must watch and must share.

Houston Texans

The guy coaching up rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a close friend of Gary Kubiak’s -- former Texans assistant Mike Sherman. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle looks at the friendship, which dates back to 1992.

How did we get to a place where everyone is questioning Andre Johnson, asks Jerome Solomon of the Chron. “Johnson, 31, might not be an NFL youngster, and he admits the championship 'window is not as big as it used to be,' but he is hardly on his last legs.”

Arian Foster and Brooks Reed ended practice early, says Dale Robertson of the Chron.

Key matchups for the Texans against the Dolphins, from Houston Diehards.

Indianapolis Colts

Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star profiles Chuck Pagano, who is “…an emotional guy with an indefatigable work ethic, a man who balances football with family while not losing sight of the importance to respect and connect with people,”

These Colts should remind us of the 1998 team with Peyton Manning as a rookie, says Bob Kravitz of the Star.

Guard Mike McGlynn adds some nastiness to the Colts’ offensive line, says Wilson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, who square off this weekend, struck up a friendship at the draft and get together to fish and golf, writes Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

The Jaguars need Andre Branch to be a difference-maker in the mold of Tony Brackens, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

“Often during staff meetings, [Bob] Bratkowski and the offensive staff would discuss ways to utilize (Maurice) Jones-Drew … once he showed up,” writes Ryan O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Bill Belichick’s plan will seek to make Jake Locker uncomfortable and confused, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. The Patriots coach is 4-2 against quarterbacks making their first start.

Tennessee center Fernando Velasco will be challenged by two big interior defenders in Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Defensive end Pannel Egboh almost gave up, but now he’ll play in his first NFL game, says Glennon.

How should New England attack Tennessee? Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report asks and answers.

How much respect will the Patriots show Jared Cook in the way they cover the tight end, asks David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.
Andy Benoit’s NFL previews at the Fifth Down Blog of the New York Times are thorough and compelling reads.

I think he underestimates the Jaguars, Rashad Jennings and their overall offensive talent and doesn’t have high enough expectations for them this season. You can read his whole look at the team here and judge for yourself.

But as is usual in Benoit’s work, he hits on one eye-opening element of the team he’s examining.

In this case, it’s context for why the system can be part of the problems with the receivers, which now include Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson.
The questionable talent at wide receiver could be extra debilitating given that (Mike) Mularkey’s scheme uses, almost exclusively, isolation routes. In other words, none of the receivers’ routes will combine to work off one another. Everything is separate and easy for defenses to identify. New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (who will actually be the one calling plays) had a similar type of passing game in Cincinnati. This rudimentary approach can work when you have high-powered receivers (Mularkey had Roddy White and Julio Jones in Atlanta; Bratkowski had Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens a few years ago in Cincy), but can be constricting when you don’t.

Mularkey’s system makes great use of tight ends, which can at least alleviate the pressure on Jacksonville’s wideouts.

While isolation routes may call for more talent at receiver, it also seems like they would simplify things for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Anything that makes things easier for a guy the team is trying to make the central figure for the offense is OK with me, as long as it’s not so simplified as to qualify as dumbed down.
Mike Mularkey has the Jaguars' first-teamers lined up for 17-20 plays against the New York Giants Friday night at EverBank Field.

“Maybe more with the O-line to get Chad [Henne] a chance to work with the O-line,"" the coach told Jacksonville media.

As for the overall approach, Mularkey’s selling the same vibe most coaches shoot for -- he wants to win any game he’s part of, even if it’s meaningless.

But what gets done en route to attempting to win is more important.

“It is a practice game,” he said. “We’re practicing a lot of the situations like we do on the practice field. Now, it’s just in front of hopefully a full crowd in a stadium. It is practice. You are going to learn from it. You’re going to evaluate from it. Hopefully you’re going to get better because of it.

“What I’d like to see is us play really good, disciplined football. I would like us not to make a lot of mistakes that we’re in charge of so that we can get a fair evaluation. Let’s have a competitive game. Let’s get our guys out there playing fast and confident. We’re not going to ask them to do a lot of exotic things. We’re going to let them play and let’s just see where we are not only as players but as a team. As an offensive, defensive, special teams when this is over with so we can address what needs to get better or what’s good and keep doing it.”

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was recently critical of the standing of the team's passing offense.

But Mularkey said he's got high hopes for protection, route running, Blaine Gabbert and the passing game.

Then Mularkey was asked, "Will it look a little better than it has in practice?" -- a question that seemed to turn him a little defensive:

“I don’t know," Mularkey said. "I’ve watched the tape so maybe it’s what you see in practice. I’m not sure what your perception is, but when you’ve watched the tape and you have a chance to study it like we do it’s not as bad as you think it is.”

Mularkey added that first-rounder Justin Blackmon will dress but probably not play.
Reading the coverage ...

Check out camp pictures on Instagram by following pkuharsky. It's a smartphone or iPad app, so I can't link to it. But it looks like you can see them online minus my witty captions here. (This even spills back to last year.)

Houston Texans

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph is coaching Kareem Jackson on the side, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans are easing Andre Johnson back into work after a groin strain, says McClain.

How many different Texans are capable of notching at least seven sacks? McClain considers.

Tania Ganguli, who’s covered the Jaguars the past two seasons, starts covering the Texans for the Chronicle today. She explains her intentions here.

Indianapolis Colts

Defensively, the buzz word is attack. Defensive lineman Cory Redding talked 3-4 hybrid with Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star and local media.

Redding explains how the Colts' defense is like pudding, via Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians thought the defense won the day on Monday, says Philip B. Wilson of the Star.

Andrew Luck has sought advice from Jerraud Powers after the corner has picked him off, writes Wilson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars gave in a lot to get Justin Blackmon signed, says Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

Fred Taylor is spending some time with the Jaguars and trying to figure out what he wants to do next, says Vito Stellino of the T-U.

The Jaguars' offensive inconsistencies start up front, says Frenette.

Inside Day 9 of Jaguars camp with John Oehser of the team’s website.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski on the Jaguars' receivers: "They have to pick up their games. We’re dropping way too many balls, we’re out of position on too many routes on this point in time, and that makes it difficult.” From Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.

Hear some of Bratkowski’s talk with the media, via Jessica Blaylock.

Tennessee Titans

A scrimmage with the Falcons in Dalton, Ga., did little to help the Titans differentiate Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan found receivers and a rhythm against the Titans' defense, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Glennon liked the pass rush, particularly from second-team rookie tackle Mike Martin.

As expected, the Titans didn’t get any immediate news from the NFL after Kenny Britt met with commissioner Roger Goodell about discipline, says Wyatt.

The Titans' offense saw a familiar face across the line of scrimmage in Falcons safety Chris Hope, says Wyatt.

Considering the centers with Andrew Strickert of Total Titans.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you care to think the Jaguars are a mess and going to be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, they’re fine with that.

As they worked through the early days of Mike Mularkey’s first training camp, they repeated the new coach’s mantras (like, “we just want to get a little bit better every day”), fell in line with his policies (like potential $10,000 fines for answering media inquiries about injuries) and gave team-first answers to questions about the absence of their two biggest names -- Maurice Jones-Drew (holding out for a new contract) and Justin Blackmon (unable to strike a rookie deal).

Sure, they don’t have much choice but to buy in, but there is an undertone that suggests they have a secret to spring on the league in a couple of weeks.

Every team at this stage of camp thinks it can be good. In Jacksonville, a significant improvement from 5-11 is certainly possible, no matter what the popular storylines are. Honest.

Theirs is a defense loaded with quality, front-line talent. Beyond middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, most of it remains largely unknown. But if you don’t know linebacker Daryl Smith or cornerback Derek Cox or defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, that’s not the Jaguars' concern.

“If anyone feels we are not in a proper place or we have problems, that’s OK,” Posluszny said. “We feel like inside these walls we’re doing everything that we can to be a very successful team.

“Mularkey’s done a great job for us. He’s a former player who’s been through it. To me, that all means a ton, because he knows exactly what we are going through and what it takes to be successful.”

While the offense is being revamped, and Mularkey and his assistants are trying to reformat quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a horrific rookie season, the defensive system and bulk of the staff have been in place for a while now.

Gabbert has nice moments, but his overall inconsistency at practice halts any proclamations that he made a significant offseason jump.

No matter how much players and coaches talk about his gains in leadership, no matter how much faith the organization has in him, no matter how patient they are, it comes down to making throws under pressure.

The early snapshot says the defense can be really good, but that a limited offense could be the obstacle to the surprise the Jaguars would so like to produce. There is a lot of time to work on what’s been installed, to find what works and to run it better than it’s been run so far.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/US PresswireBlaine Gabbert finished his first season with 12 TD passes, 11 interceptions and a 50.8 completion percentage.
1. Is Gabbert good enough? He folded under pressure too often last season, but the rush wasn’t all he was facing. The team drafted him 10th overall intending for him to sit and learn for a season, but that plan didn’t pan out and Gabbert was hurried into the starting role for 14 games during which he had poor pass protection and very limited receivers.

There were big distractions off the field, too: Jack Del Rio got fired and the team was sold.

Mularkey was hired in large part because he’s developed quarterbacks, and he, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson have to get steadier play from Gabbert and get his arrow pointing up. His good moments look very nice, but there are still too many bad ones that leave you shaking your head. A kneel-down would seem less disheartening in many of those instances.

It’s a slow process, installing a new offense and rebuilding a quarterback’s confidence. Exactly how slow is the question we need answered.

Mentions of mechanical or technical adjustments by his coaches have been well-received, and he acts on them quickly. That’s great, but when the rush turns live and the pocket starts collapsing, will he have open people he can stand in and find? We simply can’t know yet.

2. The missing pieces. Jones-Drew is demanding a new contract. The Jaguars have said they won’t give him one with two years left on the old one. Boom -- a stalemate. I can’t see the team altering its stance unless he holds out into the season and it struggles horribly without him. He’s got an ego that will make it hard for him to return without any contract alteration, so this could drag on.

Blackmon is a rangy target who can go get the ball, and missing early camp is helping no one. He got a DUI after being drafted fifth overall, and the team wants insurance against any further troubles. Blackmon's unwilling to give the Jaguars what they are looking for, though.

So we’re seeing second-year man Cecil Shorts work in the Z spot where Blackmon will eventually be, with veteran addition Laurent Robinson at the X. Rashad Jennings is the lead back without Jones-Drew in camp, and is a bigger guy who also ranks as a power runner. I liked what I saw and heard from him.

3. Will there be enough of a pass rush? The Jaguars had 31 sacks last season, and to reach their potential on defense they need more in 2012. More consistent pressure and more sacks will come with improved coordination from the defensive linemen.

Their line coach, Joe Cullen, said they just missed on a bunch of chances last season, and another season together and the work they are doing now will result in better communication. The Jags face Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton in addition to two games against Matt Schaub and two against hotshot rookie Andrew Luck this season, and they won't win many of those without consistent pressure.

The relentless Jeremy Mincey promises the production will increase. Andre Branch was drafted in the second round to help, and looks like a quality player. Depth off the edge remains a concern. Austen Lane suffered yet another injury while I watched practices, during which John Chick walked the width of a practice field dragging heavy weight as he rehabilitated his knee.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeMike Mularkey
AP Photo/John RaouxNew head coach Mike Mularkey and his staff have made a positive impression on the players.
Mularkey and his staff. There is planning and logic to everything going on here, and the new staff has genuine concern for players on and off the field. Players are being told what the plan is and the right way to execute it. They felt that was lacking with the previous regime, and welcome it.

Position coaches like Olson, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and one of the key holdovers, linebackers coach Mark Duffner, are true teachers, and they have guys under them who want to learn. That leadership and teaching faltered in many areas at the end of Del Rio’s tenure. It’s present in full force now. If guys follow and doing so produces results, it’ll snowball.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

A lot more is in place for Gabbert, and everyone has a stake in his performance: the GM who traded up to draft him needs him to succeed; the new coach who was hired to polish him needs him to succeed; the high-priced free-agent receiver and first-round draft pick receiver need him to succeed; the talented defense needs him to succeed.

Gabbert’s saying the right things and working hard, and you can see improvement on some drop backs. But there are still enough dud plays sprinkled into practices to make you wonder if he can succeed. The team wants him to avoid turning the ball over -- staying away from the worst-case scenarios -- and it's a smart goal, but will it make Gabbert too cautious?

Can you ask him to be careful and function as a game-manager type when the best attribute he has is a big arm that can get the ball into tight windows? It might turn out to be complicated.

Also, there is not great roster depth. I have particular concerns about the offensive line, defensive end and safety if someone goes down.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The team appears to be high on undrafted rookie linebacker Julian Stanford out of Wagner. With Clint Session’s future in doubt because of post-concussion issues, Russell Allen is likely to start opposite Daryl Smith outside. Stanford could make the team as a special-teamer who can provide depth. Brandon Marshall, a fifth-round pick, also has what looks to be an NFL-ready linebacker frame.
  • Mike Thomas needs Blackmon signed, in camp and taking the bulk of the snaps at one of the two outside receiver spots. I’m convinced that to get his head right, Thomas needs to be given the slot role and allowed to focus on it exclusively. His snaps were cut down during my visit, with Shorts working at the front of the line in Blackmon’s Z spot. The slot is what Thomas is best suited for, and his performance has slipped when he’s been expected to do more. He had a lot of drops early in camp, and Mularkey agrees with the potential for less to be more with Thomas.
  • Josh Scobee has the leg to get a lot of touchbacks and Bryan Anger has the leg to force a lot of fair catches. The Jaguars obviously still have to work on covering kicks and punts, but how often will they actually be covering kicks and punts? If the offense can produce some first downs, we should see more scoring, and more scoring will mean more kickoffs from Scobee and less work for Anger.
  • The depth at tight end is interesting after No. 1 Marcedes Lewis. Colin Cloherty got a lot of work as the No. 2 early on, and Zach Miller is another move guy who’s very intriguing, though Miller is rarely healthy. Zach Potter is giant, but hasn’t earned a lot of time, and undrafted rookie Matt Veldman is also extra large.
  • Posluszny is the centerpiece of this defense. He covers a ton of ground and makes big hits. He’s a model for doing things the right way, which is a major point of emphasis for Mularkey and his staff. Posluszny was a solid signing last season, and continues to deliver just what the team hoped for. That helps offset the fact Session, who also came to Jacksonville for a big contract in 2011, might not be on the field any time soon, or ever again.
  • The cornerbacks look good. Cox is really solid, and Aaron Ross and Rashean Mathis will be effective as the Nos. 2 and 3. The depth grew with last season's injury onslaught, and William Middleton and Kevin Rutland can play, too.
  • Branch, the rookie pass-rusher, came into the league facing questions from many teams about his ability to stand up against the run. The Jaguars have no such concern at this point. He’s got to be an effective part of a four-man group at end with Mincey, Lane and Chick. Branch certainly looks the part, but so did former Jaguars bust Derrick Harvey, so we can’t put much on the early eyeball test.
  • Along with Stanford, running back Jalen Parmele caught my eye. He’s spent time with Miami and Baltimore.

Jaguars Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:30
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Mike Mularkey and his staff will provide more consistent leadership than Jack Del Rio and his staff did -- especially at the end. Del Rio liked to ride waves, but Mularkey will be level and measured in a way that lines up with general manager Gene Smith better. Del Rio had people everyone regarded as his guys -- in the locker room and even in the staff.

Mularkey is far more likely to not play favorites, to reward production and to privately reprimand guys who might not be doing things the way he wants them done. I think players will be more likely to rally around this coach as they see him avoiding the types of things that were sometimes interpreted as JDR throwing people under the bus.

One thing that might happen: Maurice Jones-Drew could be ready for a prolonged holdout. That’s what his old backfield mate, Fred Taylor, has predicted. Mularkey said this week that he doesn’t know whether the Jaguars’ star player and the NFL’s leading rusher from 2011 will show up for camp.

Although Jones-Drew has two years left on his current deal, he feels his production last season warrants more. I can understand his position because, when he finishes this contract, the team will be much more wary of his age and wear and tear. However, the team is not unreasonable to steer clear of setting such a precedent and running backs aren’t so valuable these days. Jacksonville was 5-11 with him, and I’d expect it could do the same without him. Hopefully, things will be resolved quickly. In the meantime, we’ll get a better sense of backup Rashad Jennings, who missed last year because of injuries. I think he can run effectively.

One thing we won't see: Chad Henne in line to start at quarterback. Maybe they'll end up there at some point, but the Jaguars are taking the long view with Blaine Gabbert, and one season in which the team was sold, the coach was fired, the receivers were terrible and the protection was sometimes shaky was hardly enough to make a judgment on the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft.

The Jaguars feel Henne gives them a better backup situation. But they don’t head into camp with a sense that Henne will wind up running the huddle. It’s Gabbert’s job. Mularkey, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson were hired to effectively build Gabbert into the quarterback the team envisioned when it drafted him. Their offense and teaching methods will be geared at maximizing his chances at success.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Wade Phillips wants to be more than Bum’s son, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. “Now four years older than his dad was when he quit, Phillips is preparing for another football season with the same enthusiasm — and tunnel vision — he had before his first.”

Pete Prisco at CBSSports.com only sees a 9-7 season for the Texans. Here’s the site's preview of the team with input from multiple people.

Lance Zierlein starts ranking the top 40 Texans as football players in the Chronicle blog.

Here’s how training camp works from a media standpoint, from Stephanie Stradley of the Chronicle blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Here’s CBSSports.com’s preview file of the Colts, with input from several different writers and a 1-15 prediction from Prisco.

The Colts have long been predictable formation-wise. That’s changing in a giant ways, says Doug Farrar of Shutdown Corner. Another of his five big points: Andrew Luck is more athletic than many people think, and he's going to need to be in his rookie season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Cornerback Aaron Ross has always missed his wife’s biggest track meets because of football. But he’ll be at the Olympics to watch what could be Sanya Richards-Ross’ biggest moment, writes Tanie Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.

Change is in the air as the start of Jaguars’ training camp looms, says Vito Stellino.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski makes Clark Judge’s list of coaches in unenviable positions.

CBSSports.com’s preview of the Jaguars’ season, with input from multiple writers and a season prediction of 4-12 from Prisco.

Tennessee Titans

An assessment of the Titans at safety, from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. The best info here is sort of hidden: click the “more” button on the left side below the picture of Robert Johnson.

The Titans and Akeem Ayers want more in his second season, says Wyatt. Same deal with the “more” button and linebackers info.

Prisco sees 7-9 for the Titans. Here’s the CBSSports.com's season preview of the Titans.
Justin Blackmon and Laurent RobinsonGetty Images/AP PhotoJustin Blackmon, left, and Laurent Robinson will learn from one of the most experienced receiver coaches in the game.
Jerry Sullivan spent the position period of the Jaguars’ offseason practices running slow-motion routes. Put your foot in the ground, like this. Drop your hips, like this. Don’t round the corner, like this.

Although free-agent addition Laurent Robinson and No. 5 overall draft pick Justin Blackmon are the most visible guys the Jaguars brought in to fix some serious problems at wide receiver, the guy who is coaching them in a show-don’t-tell style may prove just as significant.

Mike Mularkey had Sullivan atop his wish list for the job, but didn’t even call him. Sullivan, who will turn 68 on July 14, was retired.

“I didn’t reach out to him, he actually reached out to me,” Mularkey said. “I thought he was retired. Gene Smith and I discussed him initially and I said, ‘I think he’s out of the loop.’ Just by chance I was driving home one of those first weekends after I was hired here and there’s a text: 'Hey Mike, I’d like a chance to work with you and Brat [offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski] -- Jerry S.'

“So I called Gene and said, ‘I don’t know if this is the Jerry S. you and I talked about, but I am going to call and find out.' And it was. He had a couple other options, too, and I am glad he chose this one.”

A year earlier, when Mularkey interviewed in Tennessee but lost out to Mike Munchak, Mularkey had texted Sullivan about wanting him if he got the Titans' job. The link was set.

This time, Sullivan was in Atlanta training Brian Quick for the scouting combine. Sullivan sent that text, got invited to interview and after about three hours said it was easy for him to sign up to be part of Mularkey’s staff despite an opportunity in Arizona, where he could have worked with another receiver he’s close with from work during the lockout, Larry Fitzgerald.

The year before, with little job security as he formulated his final staff, Jack Del Rio wound up with an under-qualified receivers coach in 2011.

Things were such a struggle for Johnny Cox that when Del Rio was fired and Mel Tucker took over as interim coach, he fired Cox and shifted quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard to receivers.

During the lockout, Robinson worked with Sullivan in Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeJerry Sullivan
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJerry Sullivan is looking forward to the challenge of developing Jacksonville's receiving corps.
“He kind of helped me get over the hump and get into my breakout year [in Dallas],” Robinson said. “Having the opportunity to learn from him every day is going to be huge for me and the other wide receivers. He’s a great coach, probably the best receiver coach in the NFL. He felt like he could contribute and help turn this thing around.”

Sullivan may be approaching 70, but he carries the energy of a far younger man onto the practice field, where he’s exacting. As he instructs his guys, he leaves little to the imagination, banging home points he’s clearly hit in the meeting room and addressed on the field before.

In May, not having spent long with his new charges, he already seemed to have a feel for who needed pushing and who needed stroking, offering different things to different players.

He’ll be expected to squeeze production out of Robinson and Blackmon. He will also try to rebuild Mike Thomas, who ranked too high a year ago but can be a good third guy. He will attempt to help promising second-year man Cecil Shorts get over what appears to be game-day stage fright. He will aim to develop a gem or two -- perhaps undrafted rookie Mike Brown from Liberty.

“I like the challenge that belies me, I’ll put it that way,” Sullivan said. “I look forward to it. We’ve got a lot of young guys who’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m excited about their attitude and we’ve just got to put one foot in front of the other going up the mountain. Some days you slide a step. Some days you gain two steps. ...

“It’ll be a well-rounded group if everybody gets to where they need to be. We’ve got a ways to go. That’s a common phrase around the league, I know. Nobody wants to put themselves out there. My whole thing is the group needs to improve to be NFL caliber to win games.”

His biggest message in the offseason may have been this: When you run routes against NFL cornerbacks, you’re in control or they are.

“You’re either hearing elevator music, or you’re hearing Guns & Roses,” Sullivan said. “If you’re hearing Guns & Roses, you’re probably not going to be successful. You want to be nice and smooth and calm and in control of how you do it.”

In helping the Jaguars' receivers, Sullivan will be helping quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and that’s the biggest job for everyone connected to this offense.

“They can be more confident in that he knows what they are going to do and how they are going to do it,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s huge. I think he’s a young kid that’s got a nice arm. He’s obviously been maligned, unfairly I think. If we do our job and play at a good NFL level, we’ll help him be better and we’ll help the team be better.

Said Gabbert of Sullivan: “His knowledge of the game is going to help not only the wide receivers, but the quarterbacks, the offense and the entire team.”

Thomas got a lot of attention early in the offseason when he said Sullivan was super-regimented and the group probably needed that.

The new assistant certainly endorsed the signing of Robinson and the drafting of Blackmon.

If they are good, we could be back here saying he’s as important of a new position coach who has landed in the division.

“Jerry’s been everything I thought he’d be with these guys: very detailed, very demanding,” Mularkey said. “Plus, being a former coordinator, I always like to have those kind of guys in the room.

“His drive is still there. There is no way he could sit at home in the living room.”
Blaine GabbertZuma Press/Icon SMIBlaine Gabbert is pleased with his progress as he works to put an ugly rookie season behind him.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- I came to the Jaguars' headquarters at EverBank Field in search of specifics.

Blaine Gabbert’s terrible rookie year was well-documented. But his new coaches believe he still can become a quality NFL quarterback.

What have they seen that fuels their confidence in him? And can we expect to see improvement in summer camp and fall games?

We’ve heard from coach Mike Mularkey about how he respected the way Gabbert dealt with all the negativity connected to his completion percentage of just over 50.0, the 40 sacks he absorbed, the 12 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, his 14 fumbles (five of them lost) and 65.4 passer rating.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski offered some analysis of what needed fixing in this “Evening with the Coaches” talk early in the offseason.

I wanted to pick up on that.

Enduring early lumps is part of the deal for virtually every quarterback early in his career. Now, with a new start, tell me about what he’s doing better, I asked.

The initial request was a long shot, but I was still disappointed that Gabbert and his coaches were unwilling to show me one play on film -- comparing and contrasting what Gabbert did with it in last year’s training camp or during last season, and what he’s doing now. No, they don’t need to go into that sort of detail or offer that level of information. But what would it have hurt?

Short of that, Bratkowski offered the most detail in discussing Gabbert’s improvements so far, circling back to what he touched on in that chalk talk.

[+] EnlargeBob Bratkowski
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliCoordinator Bob Bratkowski believes better footwork is crucial for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
“Fundamentally, there were some times last year in his drops when he was getting a little bit long with his footwork and getting a little too fast,” Bratkowski said. “So what we’ve tried to do is get him to slow his feet down just a little bit, take shorter steps and stand taller in the pocket.

“Those are some things we identified when we first looked at him, and he’s improving on those things out there right now. You can see him carrying it into the actual plays we’re running in team situations.”

After a fast drop that took him too deep, he typically wound up shuffling forward as soon as he completed his drop, and his busy feet hurt his ability to make sound throws.

Gabbert said forming the new habit isn’t hard.

“The biggest thing all the quarterbacks are working on is just calming our feet down, staying in the pocket, not getting too long, not taking too long of a drop,” Gabbert said. “Because at some point in time, the angles get off with our offensive tackles when they’re trying to block a rush end …

“A lot of the footwork is dictated on the route concepts, the type of offense you run, the style of offense you run. And we have a different offense. We have different plays, and the drops go with those types of plays.”

Mularkey said the Jaguars' offense is about half installed at this point. Reporters are dismissed from OTA sessions once the team reaches the installation phase.

So, despite the reportorial desire to be shown, not told, those of us trying to track the team are left to rely more on conversations than observations regarding Gabbert and everything else.

In the handful of team plays I saw, one horrific pass stood out: a short throw over the middle that bounced well behind the intended receiver. At another point, as the quarterbacks threw to a couple of stationary receivers while running through some red zone possibilities, they were aiming for a target at the front left corner of the end zone.

The situation required a high, firm pass. After Gabbert’s first try wasn’t loopy enough, quarterbacks coach Greg Olson assumed the position of a cornerback the pass needed to get over. He stood with his back to the throw, an arm extended. But as he anticipated the ball’s arrival, he jokingly pulled his hands back to cover his head.

“Can I trust you?” he joked as he turned back to Gabbert, whose second attempt at the pass had cleared Olson and landed where it needed to, proving him trustworthy.

It was rhetorically symbolic, I thought.

"It really is about that to me, at any position with any position coach -- there's got to be a trust factor," Olson said. "He's got to feel that everything I tell him is meant to get him better. Three months into the relationship, I think we are developing that trust factor. If there is no trust there, you have no chance to grow."

Gabbert's teammates have big expectations for a big bounce-back after a rookie season that included the team's being sold and former coach Jack Del Rio getting fired during a 5-11 season.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a situation where a quarterback gets thrown into a starting role that early with the deficiencies in personnel that we had at that time, with a lot of things stacked against him,” said guard Uche Nwaneri.

“I think people kind of teed off on him. There were some things that he did that weren’t particularly the best, but, you know, he was a rookie. There were so many things happening that affect the quarterback as the result of protection, route running, guys getting open.”

Look, it’s somehow fashionable to say that the bad things Gabbert put on display last year serve as indisputable evidence he can’t be a successful NFL quarterback. I understand his footwork isn’t the only thing that gets sped up -- our assessments come faster than ever.

But judging a quarterback on 15 games and 13 starts with a bad team is simply too hasty.

Gabbert is not going to be Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman. But those guys were awful as rookies, too. Manning threw 28 interceptions, and his Colts were 3-13. Aikman threw 18 interceptions and didn’t win a game for the Cowboys.

Two things struck me as I spoke with Gabbert that I think are significant for right now.

Several times he talked about how’s he’s having fun, how football is fun, how the new offense is fun.

And he still looks and sounds the part -- he’s got confidence as he talks, and in the way he carries himself. He doesn’t look like a broken guy. He looks like a kid ready to go give it another try.

The biggest issue is dealing with the rush. Olson said the team is trading some seven-on-seven passing situations (where there are no linemen) for team periods where Gabbert has to feel pressure and sort it out. In drills without defenders, a coach or an equipment guy typically charges at him with flailing arms.

"For a guy coming out of a system in college where he wasn't only in the shotgun, but they had him lined up 7 yards deep, it was new to him last season," Olson said. "We're just hoping he'll be more comfortable with that environment, coming out from underneath center, taking a drop with an oncoming rush. That's all you can hope for right now, is the comfort level gets much greater. And it's been good."

Not having OTAs and minicamps didn’t hurt Cam Newton when it came to posting big rookie numbers for the Panthers, and it didn’t stop Andy Dalton from leading the Bengals to the playoffs.

Gabbert didn’t get off to the same kind of start, and maybe he’ll never earn his way into a conversation about the top quarterbacks of the 2011 draft class.

He’s getting that OTA time now. There is time to build slowly. It’s a different deal.

I wondered if Gabbert was appreciating the pace now, or finding himself anxious to get to the Jaguars' Sept. 9 opener in Minnesota, so he could do something to start to erase the dud of a first season.

“Everybody’s eager,” he said. “When you have a season where things don’t go the way you want them to, you’re always eager to get back out there. But it’s a process.”

The important people are willing to give him the time to go through it. The rest of us will just have to wait.

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