AFC South: Jeremy Cain
The Titans tight end said he was embarrassed after the Jaguars won 29-27 in Nashville on Nov. 10 to pick up their first victory. Since then, the Jaguars are 3-2 with victories over Houston (twice) and Cleveland. The Titans are 1-4 with a victory over Oakland.
There seems to be much more stability in Jacksonville, too, because of the uncertain status surrounding Tennessee coach Mike Munchak.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky break down Sunday’s matchup at EverBank Field.
DiRocco: Some Titans players were pretty vocal about being embarrassed due to becoming the first team to lose to the Jaguars. Is that something that still stings, and how have they rebounded from that loss?
Kuharsky: It definitely left a mark. They are only 1-4 since then. It kind of set a bar for how bad they can be and re-established their propensity to lose to teams that are really struggling. The Jaguars are on an upswing since that game, and the Titans are on a downward spiral. If Tennessee losses to the Jaguars again, the Titans will be in line to finish in third place in an awful division, which is well short of their goals and expectations. The Titans are a better team than they were last year. But losing closer isn’t a really big difference in the really big picture.
Let’s turn that around. How has life changed for the Jaguars since that Nov. 10 breakthrough?
DiRocco: I could go into a lot of stats that show how much better the Jaguars are playing, but that's not what's really important. The past six games have been more about the validation of the process, establishing the foundation of the franchise's rebuild, and confidence in the new regime. Coach Gus Bradley never wavered from the plan that he and general manager David Caldwell established. His message stayed the same throughout the eight-game losing streak to start the season: trust in the process, work hard, and focus on improving and not victories, and the victories will eventually come. Because that has happened, the players appear to have completely bought into what Bradley and Caldwell want to do, and there's a confidence in the locker room that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
We talked about Jake Locker the last time these teams met, but that was before he suffered a season-ending injury to his foot. How does that change the Titans' outlook on him and are they in the market for a quarterback in the offseason, too?
Kuharsky: Locker is certain to be on the 2014 Titans. His fourth year isn’t that costly and it’s guaranteed. But they can’t execute a spring option for his fifth year that would line him up for over $13 million. A lot of his fate depends on whether Munchak is back as the head coach. It’s possible they go forward with Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and just-signed Tyler Wilson as their quarterbacks. It’s also possible they’d draft a new guy, and depending on how high of a pick he could land in competition to start. I think it’s less likely they chase a free agent like Jay Cutler if he comes free, but they have to assess all the possibilities. How can they completely commit to Locker based on his injury history?
One side effect of the Jaguars' surge is they aren’t going to be in position to draft the first quarterback taken. What’s your sense of what Bradley and Caldwell want in a quarterback and do you expect one to arrive in the first round?
DiRocco: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said something interesting last week. He said he wants his QB to scramble around, take off running to get yards and take some chances throwing the football. To me, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of Johnny Manziel. I'm not sure how that reconciles with the ideas of his bosses. Bradley comes from Seattle, which has the mobile Russell Wilson. Caldwell comes from Atlanta, which has the considerably less mobile Matt Ryan. My sense is that Bradley and Caldwell probably lean more toward the Wilson end of the spectrum. People think that eliminates Teddy Bridgewater, but that's not the case. He's not a runner but he can run if needed. If he's around, I'd expect them to take him. If not, then I would still expect them to go quarterback. It's their most glaring need.
You mentioned Munchak's job status. What's your take on whether he will be back next season -- and should he be?
Kuharsky: He’s shepherded improvement, but his team lacks an ability to finish. He’s 0-4 in the worst division in football, 1-9 in the past two years. His teams have lost to the previously winless Jags in 2013 and the previously winless Colts in 2011. He’s 4-18 against teams with winning records when the Titans played them and 2-19 against teams that finished the season with a winning record. To me, three years is a sufficient sample size to know what you’ve got and those numbers are the most telling thing on his resume. Keep him and they deal with all the limitations connected to a lame duck coach. I don’t know what Tommy Smith, the head of the new ownership, will do. But the fan base overwhelmingly wants change, if that’s worth anything. People still pay for tickets because they’ve got investments in personal seat licenses they do not want to throw away. But a lot of people are staying home on Sundays now.
Cecil Shorts is done and Maurice Jones-Drew is uncertain. How can the Jaguars threaten on offense without their two best weapons?
DiRocco: They were able to put up 20 points and post their second-highest yardage total of the season, including a season-high 159 rushing, in last Sunday's loss to Buffalo. Running back Jordan Todman stepped up big time and ran for 109 yards (Jones-Drew cracked 100 only once in the first 13 games) and tight end Marcedes Lewis was more involved in the passing game than in previous weeks (four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown). But I'm not sure that is sustainable. Teams will certainly concentrate on stopping Lewis and make quarterback Chad Henne move the ball with three receivers who have a combined 75 career catches. Todman doesn't scare anyone, either. The Jaguars will have to be creative on offense (they've run gadget plays the past three weeks) and capitalize on every opportunity they get.
Seventh-year long snapper Jeremy Cain was the lone veteran released. One of the team’s two seventh-round cornerbacks, Jeremy Harris, was placed on injured reserve with a back injury.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After a news-filled week with change, the Jaguars took the field for "Monday Night Football" and promptly proved talent trumps everything.
Depleted at cornerback and ineffective rushing quarterback Philip Rivers, Jacksonville allowed the Chargers' quarterback to find big plays all night. He missed on only 6 of 28 passes and threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-14 win that ended San Diego's six-game losing streak and snapped the Jaguars’ hopes that a new coach could quickly change their course.
All the promise the Jaguars brought into the first game under interim coach Mel Tucker with a national audience watching flamed out Monday night at EverBank Field.
Tucker preached to his team that just because it didn’t see immediate results didn’t mean the changes they’d adopted weren’t the right ones, and asked them to rededicate and recommit.
With four games left, they may have the right roster character to do so, but the improvements and dividends are likely to be small.
“We did improve as a football team this week in a lot of areas,” Tucker promised. “Those are some things that didn’t show up for the entire game, but they will give us a chance to win and sustain winning in the future.”
Tucker’s in a tough spot, trying to sell hope and change with only so much he can do and no influx of talent walking into team headquarters.
I want to believe his belief, but at the same time it’s hard to buy into a predictable offense that lacks anything dynamic beyond Maurice Jones-Drew, and into a defense that’s too injured to cover against quality receivers being targeted by an accurate quarterback.
Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the offense pieced together a nice second quarter, when they turned a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead. It was his first game with two touchdown passes, but an interception resulting from a miscommunication with receiver Mike Thomas late in the second quarter positioned San Diego to retake the lead before intermission.
And a team that hasn’t scored 21 points in a game all season never threatened to do so from that point forward.
“We executed well in the second quarter, but the biggest thing we’ve got to take out of this game is that we’ve got to execute like that the whole game,” Gabbert said. “We’ve got to play four quarters of football. We can’t just have one great quarter.”
I’d rather not carve up Tucker’s postgame comments, but how they squared with the game that came before them was somewhat striking to me.
He said playing from behind, the team remained confident in its game plan. “I didn’t see confusion, I saw an element of sharpness and crispness, I saw a confidence as guys broke the huddle,” he said.
I saw two Keystone Cops moment, with Gabbert simply dropping the football on a scramble before batting it out of bounds to earn a penalty, and with long snapper Jeremy Cain sending holder Nick Harris in wild pursuit of a well-wide snap on what was to have been a long field goal attempt.
Tucker said he did see a sense of urgency, but the Jaguars never really stepped up their tempo. Had they, things might have gotten worse, not better. But as with many things at this stage of a bad season, you have to ask: Why not try?
Tucker said “we did what we could,” and that I believe.
This is a limited team that needs a new coaching staff and its young quarterback to spend an offseason together, re-crafting an offense to be less predictable and feature more explosive pass catchers -- like San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson, who scored a 35-yard touchdown and is heading for unrestricted free agency.
Jacksonville doesn’t get to shop for such players yet, it’s got to make do with the ones it has.
Like undrafted rookie corner Kevin Rutland, who had good position against Vincent Brown in the end zone on a 22-yard touchdown reception, but failed to turn his head to locate the ball and make a play on it.
Rutland’s been with the Jaguars since the start of camp, he’s gotten sufficient work as an understudy and he should have been ready, he said.
“There should have been no slack,” he said. “I imagined my first start going a lot different. This is step one and I can grow from here."
He and a lot of people.
Chris Myers talked with Texans TV.
Mike Chappell looks at the Colts’ needs at offensive tackle.
Anthony Gonzalez believes the Colts will be ready to play whatever the circumstances, says Philip B. Wilson.
Colts coaches won’t be hit in the wallet like many of their colleagues during a lockout, Chappell says.
Gene Smith sat down with Tania Ganguli for this Q&A.
The Jags re-signed long snapper Jeremy Cain.
Mike Munchak met the national media for the first time as head coach, says Jim Wyatt.
The Titans locked up punter Brett Kern, says Wyatt.
David Garrard played the part of the sheriff who just couldn’t catch up.
“I was like, ‘Scobee, you are making me look so bad right now,’” Garrard said. “I could not catch him. I would change my angle and he would outrun it. I was like, ‘This dude is not that fast.’”
Said Scobee: “I think I blacked out for about 10 seconds. It was incredible.
It was the seventh game-winning field goal of Scobee’s seven-season career. It was six yards longer than his previous career best, which he’s set three times. It was the longest field goal he’s ever made at any level, he said.
It was also his third game-winner against the Colts -- he hit a 53-yarder to beat Indianapolis at the RCA Dome and in 2008 he did it again there from 51 yards.
Following Garrard at the table for his post-game press session, Scobee joked it was 30 more reporters than he usually spoke to. He’d told Garrard to just get it inside the 40 to give him a chance in regulation, and Garrard’s final completion to Tiquan Underwood landed them at the 41 before an incompletion.
“I was told it cleared by 3 yards,” he said. “But I don’t care. If it was one inch, I’m happy with it.”
Scobee’s best attribute is his big leg, but in 2009 he said he pressed too often and said he wasn’t happy with any of his extra-long attempts. He missed from 63, 52, 55, 58, 53, and 57 last year.
“This one I just told myself, ‘Stay calm, make a good clean strike and the ball should go through,’” he said.
He got a perfect snap from Jeremy Cain, a perfect hold from Adam Podlesh and sustained blocks from everyone in front of them.
“I don’t want to have a lot of tries like that, like at the end of the half we had four last year,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We don’t want to put him in those situations early in ball games but we know he has the leg at the end to give us the opportunity, and he nailed it.”
Dunta Robinson had a lot of nice things to say about Houston in an e-mail to John McClain.
Mario Williams will participate in a USO tour.
Owen Daniels skipping training camp would accomplish little, says Alan Burge.
What the Texans are scouting at the combine, from McClain.
A thank you note to Robinson from Lance Zierlein.
Robinson’s not worth the money, says Stephanie Stradley.
Gary Brackett won’t be getting a franchise tag, according to the AP.
Phillip B. Wilson looks at a revision of the 2009 draft.
John Oehser on the combine and Darren Sproles.
Oehser’s position-by-position review gets to centers.
Why do people dismiss Joseph Addai? Deshawn Zombie examines the question.
A petition pushing the Jaguars to draft Tim Tebow. I don’t believe it’s going to happen, and my question for everyone who says it will solve their ticket sale issues is this: How long do those people buy tickets if he’s not good? (Thanks to Stampede Blue for the link.)
At the combine, the Jaguars' top interest will be the top pass-rushers, says Michael C. Wright.
Recent thoughts from Jack Del Rio on David Garrard, in case you missed this Wednesday evening.
Drew Rosenhaus is mum about his Titans free-agents to be, says Terry McCormick.
Joe Biddle contemplates the Titans in free agency.
Jeremy Cain and the Titans settled a compensation claim, says McCormick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Familiar names that were part of the UFL draft: Zach Piller, Bo Schobel, Rien Long, Larry Tripplett, Seth Wand. I'm sure I've missed some that have connections to the AFC South.
- Gary Kubiak heads out of minicamp with his best team yet, writes John McClain.
- Breaking down the quarterbacks heading toward training camp, from John Oehser.
- Jim Sorgi has bulked up, says Oehser.
- Larry Hawley talked with Marlin Jackson about life lessons at camp.
- The Jaguars don't want a repeat of the Derrick Harvey negotiations with Eugene Monroe, says Vito Stellino.
- Cutting Cleo Lemon was another example of the Jaguars' new belief in addition by subtraction, says Gene Frenette.
- A progress report on tight end Zach Miller from Vic Ketchman at jaguars.com.
- Jacksonville was awarded long-snapper Jeremy Cain on waivers, according to the team Web site.