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Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Jaguars chat wrap: Is Gabbert right guy?

By Michael DiRocco

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The two-hour Jaguars chat to kick off the launch of NFL Nation was a success.

There was a constant flow of questions -- and only a handful of weird comments -- that kept me busy for the entire time. You can read the entire transcript here if you’d like.

Below are five questions I pulled from the chat. Because of the format, it’s better to give shorter answers but I felt like these questions deserved to be answered more fully. Plus, they were, in my opinion, among the most interesting.

Here they are, with an extended response:

Is Blaine Gabbert is the right quarterback for this team?

This was by far the most-asked question, which is understandable because Gabbert has struggled in his first two seasons, and finding out if he can be a franchise quarterback is the No. 1 question the team faces in 2013.

There are plenty who have already formed an opinion about Gabbert, but coming in as someone who hasn’t seen him play as much I’m going to reserve judgment for now. I’ll concede that he hasn’t shown anything in his two seasons (53.8 percent completions, 21 TDs, 17 INTs, 70.2 passer rating) and he hasn’t been impressive at all during training camp, but there is a mitigating factor. He has had three different head coaches and three different offensive coordinators in his career.

That’s bound to mess with a quarterback’s head. Learn a system, get a new coach. Again. And Again. And as a rookie, stay away from the facility until camp starts because of a player lockout. Add in the fact that Gabbert was only 20 years old as a rookie, and it’s understandable why he has struggled.

That being said, he’s got to prove himself this season or the Jaguars will look for a quarterback early in the 2014 draft. In fact, there might not be another quarterback in the NFL under more pressure than Gabbert this season. He will not get another chance.

More sacks this year: J.J. Watt or the entire Jags team?

While it seems funny on the surface, that’s actually a legitimate question, because Watt edged the Jaguars by half of a sack last season. He led the NFL with 20.5. The Jaguars, as a team, had 20.

The next closest team was Oakland (25). Defensive end Tyson Alualu led the Jaguars with 3.5 sacks. Seven players had that many or more in a game last season.

The pass rush will again be an issue in 2013. Seven players who had sacks for the Jaguars last season return, including ends Jeremy Mincey, who had 3.0 sacks last season after leading the team with 8.0 the year before, and Jason Babin, who joined the team late last season and had 1.5 sacks in five games. Babin did have 5.5 sacks in 11 games with the Eagles before being waived. Those two are the most likely to provide the most pressure from the edge.

To answer the question: I took the Jaguars. Figured it can’t be worse than last season, and having back-to-back 20-sack seasons is not easy to do.

Jaguars rookie with the biggest impact in 2013?

It’s tempting to say offensive weapon Denard Robinson, receiver Ace Sanders, or cornerback Dwayne Gratz because they play glamour positions. But the right choice is offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

He has been limited lately by a hip flexor injury, but he has had a solid camp and preseason. The 6-foot-6, 306-pounder says he’s still adjusting to the speed of the game, but he has progressed as expected. He’ll get some more snaps against Atlanta in the preseason finale on Thursday, and should be ready for the season opener against Kansas City on Sept. 8

The Jaguars have little depth on the offensive line, but Joeckel and left tackle Eugene Monroe are clearly the team’s two best linemen. Joeckel is an immediate upgrade from Guy Whimper, and the pass protection on the edge should be significantly better.

What do you feel MJD will do this year?

Maurice Jones-Drew hasn’t played much in the preseason because the team is being cautious in his return from a left foot injury, but he recently pronounced himself ready for the season opener.

That’s good news for the Jaguars, who desperately need him on the field and healthy to take the pressure off Gabbert. If he remains healthy, a good target number for Jones-Drew would be around 1,300 yards and 8-10 touchdowns rushing.

I think Jones-Drew’s workload will be a little less than it was two years ago when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards. The Jaguars have better options in the backfield to take some of the load off Jones-Drew’s 28-year-old legs. Justin Forsett (1,661 yards rushing in six seasons) was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and the team drafted Robinson in the fifth round and has used him in the backfield.

Do you think Justin Blackmon will perform to his top-five draft pick potential?

It really depends more on his head than his hands.

The 6-1, 210-pound Blackmon has the physical tools to become one of the league’s top receivers. He can run, and he’s got great hands and fantastic body control. Rookie receivers have traditionally struggled in the NFL, but Blackmon led the team with 64 catches for 865 yards last season.

But he’s had three substance-related instances in less than three years, and he will miss the first four games of the season because he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the second time in less than year. He is meeting regularly with coach Gus Bradley and says he has a support system in place to help him avoid further trouble, but there’s a feeling of doubt around the team that Blackmon has truly cleaned up his act.

If he’s able to avoid more off-field issues -- and plenty of players have rebounded from some early trouble in their careers -- then Blackmon could become one of the league’s best young receivers in short time.