AFC South: Jason Spitz

Reading the coverage of the Jaguars ...

A doctor uninvolved in Blaine Gabbert’s case thinks the Jaguars’ timetable for his recovery from a thumb fracture is too ambitious, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: The countdown to him being ready to practice for the opener against Kansas City starting on Sept. 4 is on.

The Jaguars cut receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and offensive lineman Jason Spitz, says O’Halloran. They will count for $315,000 in dead money.

To which I say: It’s unfortunate Massaquoi didn’t pan out, but it means good things about Ace Sanders and Mike Brown.

Receiver Cecil Shorts and linebacker Russell Allen are ready to return from injuries, but Luke Joeckel is still troubled by a hip flexor, says Hays Carlyon on the Times-Union.

The Gabbert announcement ended the suspense and started the most important stretch of Gabbert’s career, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

Andre Branch’s ineffectiveness in the Jets game was glaring, says Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country.
If left tackle Eugene Monroe has a concussion and can’t play Friday night at New Orleans, it’s going to be awfully hard to afford Blaine Gabbert the brand of protection he needs to be measured.

We may get to see how much better the second-year QB is under pressure instead of how good he can be if the line is better at protecting him.

With starting left guard Will Rackley (ankle), backup guard Jason Spitz (foot) and backup center John Estes (knee) all out, the Jaguars have already shuffled right tackle Eben Britton to left guard, inserting Cameron Bradfield at right tackle.

Bradfield is listed on the team’s unofficial depth chart as the backup at left tackle too.

So if the Jaguars are without Monroe…

Mike Mularkey could move Britton back to right tackle, put Bradfield at left tackle and elevate Daniel Baldridge, rookie center Mike Brewster or rookie D.J. Hall to left guard.

Or the coach could leave Britton and left guard, put Bradfield at left tackle and play Guy Whimper at right tackle.

Whatever the construction, if the team is without Monroe, it’ll be missing two-fifth of its starting group and be without arguably four of its best seven linemen.

If the Saints second unit rushes well, that could mean a worse outlook for Chad Henne than it does for Gabbert.

New Orleans had just one sack against New England in Week 1 of the preseason, but had three in the Hall of Fame Game against Arizona.
One of my arguments against the Jaguars selection of punter Bryan Anger in the third round of the draft was that it was an area of the draft where the team could likely have upgraded its depth on the offensive line.

See the previous year, when the Jaguars found Will Rackley, the starting left guard when healthy, in the third round.

It has not taken long for the Jaguars depth on the line to come into play.

Rackley’s recovering quickly from a high ankle sprain, but is out at least another week.

Rackley’s backup, Jason Spitz, is now out for about six weeks with a foot injury.

Backup center John Estes (knee) is a having surgery, which means right guard Uche Nwaneri is the emergency third option at the spot.

The Jaguars moved right tackle Eben Britton to left guard and inserted Cameron Bradfield at right guard for their preseason opener, and that construct remains in place on the revised, unofficial depth chart released Monday in advance of preseason game No. 2 on Friday in New Orleans.

"That’s a difficult thing when you get (multiple injuries at) the same position," coach Mike Mularkey told Jaguars reporters. "We’ve got some guys that can move around though, and not totally put you in a bind. It’s not the same as having the guys.”

Drew Nowak played defensive tackle at Western Michigan and was on the team's first depth chart as a defensive tackle. He's now a backup guard.

"He played fifty plays the other night," Mularkey said Sunday. "He’s been a guard for five days. He wasn’t perfect. He had five mental errors. But you talk about a guy that has a chance to be a player. He’s smart, he’s tough, it’s just amazing what he did. There’s another one. And he can work at center.”

While Britton is versatile, the team is looking to play better on the line, and his return from a back injury that cost him most of last season was the most significant change. Now he’s not where they had planned for him to be.

The Giants might be the best defensive front the Jaguars see, but they got pushed backwards a lot.

Jacksonville’s line is a better run blocking group than it is in pass protection, and pass protection has got to be better for quarterback Blaine Gabbert to be better. Gabbert has to be better for the Jaguars to be better.

General manager Gene Smith believes in foundation building, and his early high picks were left tackle Eugene Monroe and Britton in 2009, and defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith in 2010.

He took Rackley in the third round last year, and Rackley quickly moved into the starting lineup.

But the Jaguars started out camp with Bradfield, Spitz, Estes, Daniel Baldridge and Guy Whimper as their primary backup linemen.

Spitz was originally a third-round pick in Green Bay in 2006, and Whimper originally a fourth-rounder by the Giants in 2006. The rest were undrafted.

Did Smith give the Jaguars enough depth and enough options to get better at protecting Gabbert if their first five aren’t all in place?

It’s an early second-guess, but it sure would have been nice if they’d found one more lineman to have in the mix back in the draft.
More Scouts Inc. lists are out, with rankings of running backs, fullbacks and offensive lines.

Here’s where the AFC South starters and players of note stand.

Running backs
2: Chris Johnson

4: Maurice Jones-Drew

6: Arian Foster

22: Joseph Addai

I think: Foster might be too low.



Fullbacks
7: Lawrence Vickers

8: Ahmard Hall

9: Greg Jones

I think: I might flip Jones and Vickers.



Tackles
14: Eric Winston

22: David Stewart

23: Michael Roos

28: Duane Brown

33: Eugene Monroe

49: Ryan Diem

52: Wade Smith (actually a guard)

68: Eben Britton

I think: I expressed myself on Roos yesterday. He's way to low.



Guards
22: Jake Scott

41: Jason Spitz

55: Eugene Amano (actually a center)

56: Leroy Harris

61: Mike Brisiel

62: Uche Nwaneri

70: Kyle DeVan

71: Mike Pollak

I think: It says a lot about the division's guards that Spitz is second among them.



Centers
7: Jeff Saturday

9: Chris Myers

24: Brad Meester

I think: Myers is underrated generally, and deserves this top 10 slot.
The Jaguars took a hit to their offensive line depth in Saturday night’s scrimmage, when Kevin Haslam suffered a knee injury that will take months to heal according to Jack Del Rio.

That means Haslam is expected to land on IR soon.

Here’s Vito Stellino’s report.

Haslam was listed as the backup right guard behind Uche Nwaneri on the just-released first version of the team’s unofficial depth chart. With Jason Spitz at left guard competing with rookie Will Rackley, the guy who doesn’t start will likely be the third guard now. Odds are Haslam was going to rate fourth with everyone healthy.

First look: Jaguars' depth chart

August, 7, 2011
8/07/11
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Initial depth charts are like all of them -- unofficial and not always accurate.

Still, they are teams putting players and slots on the record.

The Jaguars' release for their preseason debut is out, and a depth chart is a required part of it.

No major surprises, but here’s stuff of note:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars aren’t looking for parades or pinwheels as congratulations. But in the two years since Gene Smith took over as general manager, they’ve basically gutted the roster. And while setting about a major rebuilding project, they remained competitive with a 7-9 season and an 8-8 campaign.

After another draft and an active free-agency period, they now feel the rebuild is complete.

“There is an expectation level in this league to win, and I think having some horses makes us all smile in this building,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think we went out and acquired some guys for the second and third level of our defense where we talked about needing some help. ... It’s going to help us be a whole lot better.

“The pressure, the demands, that’s part of what we do, and I love that part of it. It becomes a little more enjoyable when you know you’re getting closer to being on equal footing."

Del Rio’s not buying that the Colts are slipping, and he’s not waiting for them to. The in-house expectation is that this team is capable of competing for the AFC South crown no matter what any other team in the division has going for it.

Bolstered by four upgrades among the top 12 players on defense, Jacksonville is a team that should be much improved. The Jaguars won’t be a popular pick, but they could be a surprise, emergent team.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert and David Garrard
Phil Sears/US PresswireThe Jaguars say they will develop Blaine Gabbert (left) slowly and have David Garrard take the snaps as the team's starter.
1. Will there be a quarterback controversy? The team stands firmly with David Garrard and intends to bring first-round pick Blaine Gabbert along slowly. But Gabbert has looked great early, while Garrard tends to be inconsistent. There are bound to be times during the season when there is some pressure to make a change from inside team headquarters, not just from media and fans.

“If we ever get to the point where we think Blaine is better than Dave, that’s good for the Jaguars,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Because I think Dave is good enough to win with; I think we can win our division with Dave Garrard at quarterback. If Blaine is better than Dave, shoot, that’s good for us.”

Del Rio and Koetter could have a complicated job managing how and when to play Gabbert if they feel he’s forcing his way into the lineup.

“I’ve got a healthy appreciation for the desire out there to make it a story,” Del Rio said. “For us, we’re about maximizing our opportunities as a football team, playing the guys who give us the best chance to win games and working on the preparation. ...

“Through the course of competition and exposure and based on health, those factors kind of take care of themselves. I don’t think we have to get ahead of the story. I think we can just let it play out, and at least we are doing so from a position of strength. There is no reason to make it dysfunctional, make it unhealthy. What purpose does that serve? It’s not going to help us win more games.”

It sounds good, but it can get complicated. Garrard’s the guy right now, and the team and the quarterback need to do a better job of making sure he gets hit far less so he can make consistently good decisions with the ball.

Factor tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller and running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings into the mix with the receivers, and the Jaguars have sufficient weapons to complement a run-based offense. Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts could be a better three-pack of receivers than many people think.

2. How much better can the revamped defense be? If this defense doesn’t improve from 32nd against the pass, 28th overall and 27th in points allowed, Del Rio will lose his job.

The team shelled out $37 million guaranteed to three prime free agents: linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session and safety Dawan Landry. The Jags also added nickelback Drew Coleman.

That group, plus rookie defensive backs Chris Prosinski and Rod Issac, should vastly improve the defensive production and depth.

Smith wanted to build foundations early and spent his first two drafts working on the lines. Defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton should take up all kinds of blockers and create space for the two new linebackers and the underrated Daryl Smith to make a lot of impact plays.

“Jacksonville’s interior D-line really stood out,” Posluszny said about his research as a free agent. “They’ve got two studs in the middle that are very active, get to the ball a lot and certainly are going to take up a lot of blockers.”

Safety play last season was horrific, and Landry will be a significant upgrade even though he didn’t bring Ed Reed with him from Baltimore.

“I’m not looking for any grace period to assemble this defense,” Del Rio said. "Guys we’re assembling and counting on for the most part are veterans. ... We’re going to expect to play coming out of the gate as a winning football team, and defensively we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

3. Can they play well late in the season? December is a debacle for this team.

In the past three seasons in games played in December and beyond, the Jaguars are 4-11. They need to learn to finish games and seasons better. What can change it?

“I think in Week 13 or something, we had a better record than the Packers did last year,” Daryl Smith said. “They got hot, and who would have thought they would go on to win? That could be us. Why not? We have to try to stay off of that roller coaster, try to be consistent, just get better each week. Steady, steady, steady, then come late November or December, get hot.”

“I’ve been in the playoffs twice since I’ve been here and that’s been the formula. … We can’t feel like we arrived when we have a good game or played well and won a couple games.”

Del Rio says that with a more talented roster, he has to guide it to better work in the last quarter of the season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeAusten Lane
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireJacksonville could look to Austen Lane to help solidify their defensive line.
Beat writers and fans call Austen Lane “The Bringer of Pain.” It’s funny. But he looks like a guy who will make it hard for the team to look anywhere else for its second starting defensive end. He can be a ball of fury, and that will fit right in with the tone and tempo of the rest of the defensive front.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Right tackle Eben Britton came in with a reputation as a nasty player, and the team missed him last season when he was lost with a shoulder injury. I’ve picked him as a breakout-caliber guy this season. But word is he has not been great so far. Perhaps he’s still being cautious and easing his way back, but he needs to take things up a big notch soon.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Two years ago, people were writing off center Brad Meester. But defenses were taking advantage of weak guard play to get to him. He rebounded well last season and is a guy whom coaches love as a reliable offensive line leader.
  • Knighton’s weight always will be an issue. The defensive tackle is a great player and superlikable guy. The team cannot hold his fork for him. The more he can control it, the more impact and money he will make.
  • Prosinski could well be in the opening day lineup as the free safety. He worked with the first team early in camp and might be up to a pairing with Landry in the middle of the secondary. Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox need to play better at corner, but the Jaguars will improve from the safety upgrades and from the presence of veteran nickelback Drew Coleman.
  • Looking for an underdog to root for? How about undrafted free agent Marc Schiechl? He set a Football Championship Subdivision record for sacks at the Colorado School of Mines.
  • Scotty McGee isn’t working with defensive backs regularly anymore. Can he stick as strictly a punt-return specialist? He caught 185 punts on one day of camp. And the team should move away from using Thomas in the role, although McGee is hardly the only alternative.
  • I like Miller, and the team raves about his potential. But he’s been inconsistent early in camp with too many drops. He’s got great hands, so it seems to be a focus issue.
  • Larry Hart may be in the doghouse for coming back from the lockout overweight. At defensive end, he currently ranks behind Aaron Kampman, Lane, Jeremy Mincey and Aaron Morgan.
  • Fourth-round receiver Cecil Shorts was great in camp early, and I bet the undrafted crop of wideouts has at least one NFL-caliber guy. Keep your eyes on Armon Binns, Jamar Newsome and Dontrelle Inman.
  • Third-year receiver Jarett Dillard is running well after a couple of injuries cost him the bulk of his first two seasons.
  • Watch how much better punter Matt Turk gets now that he will be a beneficiary of the Jaguars’ topflight cover guys, Montell Owens and Kassim Osgood.
  • The Jaguars may be content to use Jones-Drew, coming off a knee operation, very minimally in camp and preseason games.
  • Veteran Jason Spitz has not been on the field yet, but I think the team would like for third-round pick Will Rackley to win the open left guard spot.

RTC: Ruud means end for Tulloch

July, 31, 2011
7/31/11
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans let Amobi Okoye and David Anderson go, says John McClain. Okoye landed in Chicago. Anderson was on his was to Denver.

Dan Orlovsky was set to sign with the Colts, says McClain.

It’s time for Wade Phillips to start cooking, says Alan Burge.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay says Peyton Manning’s new deal works for both sides, writes Mike Chappell.

If the Colts fail to win the Super Bowl now, it’s on Chris Polian, Jim Caldwell and the people putting the team together, says Bob Kravitz.

Competition, not money, drives Manning, says Pete Prisco.

Joseph Addai re-signed and Kelvin Hayden was cut, says Chappell. The Hayden move only saves the team about $1 million against the cap, so they must not think he’s deserving of the $6.105 million base salary due this season.

Jeff Saturday has leadership in his DNA, says Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tania Ganguli helps us get to know the six new Jaguars.

Dawan Landry and Daryl Smith played together at Georgia Tech, says Ganguli.

Jason Spitz had other options but chose to come home, says Vito Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

With Barrett Ruud on board, the Titans are moving on from Stephen Tulloch, say Jim Wyatt and John Glennon. I like the move and think Ruud brings the sort of veteran leadership the team’s been missing. Tulloch quickly landed in Detroit, per Sean Jensen and Adam Schefter.

Jake Locker was erratic early, but better later, says John Glennon.

Kenny Britt was talking football only, says Wyatt.

Britt also talked about his appearance on stage at a recent Britney Spears concert, says David Climer.

Coaches and players are all living the hotel life for camp, says Wyatt.

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