Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL draft has come (finally) and gone and now it’s time to take stock of how it affected the teams around the AFC South.
The division was clearly the worst in the NFL in 2013, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combining for just 13 victories. The Texans had the No. 1 overall pick and the Jaguars were two spots behind. That means those teams needed a lot of help.
The Texans nabbed perhaps the best pass-rusher of the past 15 years in Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt but didn’t address an obvious need at quarterback until the fourth round.
The Jaguars surprised everyone by taking quarterback Blake Bortles with their first pick, then adding a pair of receivers in the second round, including first-round talent Marqise Lee.
The Titans went substance over style with their draft but did nab one of the top three offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and may have found a replacement for Chris Johnson in Bishop Sankey.
The Colts had the fewest draft picks in the league (five) but didn’t address perhaps the team’s biggest need.
Division reporters Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Paul Kuharsky (Titans) and Mike Wells (Colts) help you figure out what it all means.
Have the Titans added enough to their hybrid 3-4 defense to make a leap?
Michael DiRocco: One of the key things about coordinator Ray Horton's defense is that it demands versatility, especially among the linebackers. They have to be able to play multiple spots, and that requires speed and athleticism. The addition of Wesley Woodyard from Denver certainly helps, because he can play inside and outside. Drafting Avery Williamson, however, doesn't seem to fit. He's an inside player who doesn't run well. I do like tackle DaQuan Jones, though. He can play multiple spots on the line. The one thing the defense is missing is a big-time pass-rusher and that's the key to making the defense work.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't know. The four primary outside linebackers can turn out to be a good group. I think Kamerion Wimbley will be a lot closer to the player the Titans paid big money to in 2012 now that he's back to the position in a favorable scheme. And Shaun Phillips was a smart signing considering production and price. The system is also a better fit for Akeem Ayers. I'm not as certain about Derrick Morgan, who's listed as a defensive end/linebacker but worked in position drills with the linebackers at the pre-draft voluntary minicamp. Ropati Pitoitua is much more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, and he's certain to play end in the three-man front. The Titans have a lot of candidates to play with him and opposite him, but none scream that they will consistently get into the backfield. Jurrell Casey was excellent last season with 10.5 sacks. I feel certain coordinator Ray Horton won't do anything to mess up the good thing the Titans have going with Casey. The pass rush will be better. But better enough? I would have liked to have seen a young edge guy added in the draft.
Mike Wells: It may eventually work in Tennessee, but don't be surprised if it takes a little time for the defensive players to adapt to the 3-4 defense. Ask Colts linebacker Robert Mathis if you need further proof. Mathis shifted from defensive end in the 4-3 defense to outside linebacker when coach Chuck Pagano brought his 3-4 defense to Indianapolis in 2012. Mathis went from 8.0 sacks in his first year under Pagano to 19.5 sacks last season. The Titans have some players who are familiar with the 3-4 scheme. Shaun Phillips (9.5 sacks in 2012 with San Diego), Wesley Woodyard and Kamerion Wimbley have all played in the 3-4 at some point in their careers. But will the rest of their defensive teammates pick it up right away? I'm not convinced it'll happen.
Will the Colts regret not trading up to grab a top safety to replace Antoine Bethea?
DiRocco: The Colts had only five picks, so that didn't give them a lot of ammunition to trade up. It would have been too costly to jump into the first round because it would have meant dealing future picks. The real problem is they failed to address the position in free agency, when there were several options available. That magnifies their failure to find a safety in the draft. Why is it a problem? Two reasons: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. To take the next step in the playoffs, the Colts are going to have to go through Denver and/or New England, which means dealing with Manning and Brady. The Pats pounded the Colts on the ground in a playoff victory last season, but the key to beating those teams is stopping the pass.
Kuharsky: There are going to be positions on virtually any team where the top guy on the depth chart doesn't look like a sure thing and the competition isn't topflight. The Colts believe Delano Howell can be an effective successor to Bethea and that they have sufficient guys to supplement him. Through an excellent career with the Colts, Bethea was a guy who consistently got to the right place at the right time and was a very sure tackler. It will be tough for Howell to match that. The bigger concern in my eyes is if LaRon Landry gets hurt and the Colts need another safety to step up. But given their lack of picks this year, trading up for a guy would have been awfully difficult and they certainly shouldn't dip into their 2015 picks.
Wells: It was going to be tough for the Colts to trade into the first round because they only had five picks total in this year's draft and very little interest in giving up a first-round pick in next year's draft. They are steadfast in saying running back Trent Richardson is their first-round pick. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward was the best cover safety in this year's draft. He was the 30th overall pick by San Francisco. I didn't think not addressing safety would be an issue at first with Mathis leading the way on what should be an improved front seven. There wouldn't have been as much pressure on the Colts' secondary. But as everybody knows, Mathis has been suspended for the first four games next season, leaving the Colts without the 2013 league leader in sacks. I think the Colts may regret not trading into the first during Mathis' suspension, but they'll be fine with Delano Howell, the likely starter, when it's all said and done.
@MikeWellsNFL Lots of S were drafted early, so that leads me to think lots of good veteran S will be waived. No regrets, claim 1 on waivers.- Ben Meyer (@TheBigBenDiesel) May 15, 2014
Were the Texans right to wait until the fourth round to draft a quarterback?
DiRocco: Nope. They blew it, especially when they could have made a move back into the last part of the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater -- which is what Minnesota did. The Texans also could have taken Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo but instead went with a guard at the top of the second round. Coach Bill O'Brien did turn Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg into very good Big Ten QBs, and I'd rather have either of those guys than Tom Savage, who somehow became the hottest QB prospect in the weeks before the draft. The Texans are still talented enough to be a playoff team with the right quarterback in place. O'Brien apparently believes he can find one among Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Andre Johnson clearly doesn't agree.
Kuharsky: The Texans have a major question mark at the most important position on the team. But it's not like they could have waved a magic wand to get a guy, or that one of the more highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft would have been a sure thing. I imagine they would have opened the second round with Teddy Bridgewater if Minnesota hadn't traded into the last pick of the first round to take him. After that, it's wise the Texans didn't force a pick. But Tom Savage hasn't played a great deal of football in the past few years and I think a lot of people won't be surprised if the Titans do better with sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger than the Texans do with fourth-rounder Savage -- not that the odds of a pick in either range panning out into a reliable long-term starter are any good.
Wells: Yes. No Andrew Luck and no Robert Griffin III in this year's draft. There was no need for the Texans to use the No. 1 pick on a player they hoped could be as good as Luck one day. Teaming Jadeveon Clowney opposite J.J. Watt on what is already a solid defense gives the Texans better hope than with one of the quarterbacks selected in the first round. Give the Texans a serviceable quarterback with that defense and who knows what can happen. The highlight of taking Johnny Manziel -- in the first year at least -- would have made the Texans a national draw. But in the end, all that counts is wins and losses. Clowney will help the Texans win more games next season than what Manziel or any other quarterback taken prior to the fourth round would have.
@taniaganguli I would say yes. It's obvious Bortles could've been taken but we filled more needs by waiting. Still got our 'Prototypical' QB- Ryan Brackenridge (@GHS_Forever) May 16, 2014
Will Blake Bortles be the Jaguars' starting quarterback at any point this season?
DiRocco: I say yes, but I'm not as sure about when. This may sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on how he progresses. If he picks up the offense, fixes the lower-body issues that are preventing him from throwing the ball as hard and accurately as he can, and makes the transition from the spread offense, then he'll get on the field. I can see that happening by December, and if that's the case, then he'll get a start or two. At the very worst, he'll get a drive or a quarter within some games to get his feet wet.
Kuharsky: I really believe general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley will look back on what the previous regime did at quarterback and be super cautious. The Jaguars had no intention of starting Blaine Gabbert as a rookie. Then they cut David Garrard just before the season, watched Luke McCown struggle and had no choice. I don't know how much better Gabbert would have been if he was eased into NFL life, but it certainly would have been better for him. If Bortles needs time, they will resist temptation to start him even if Chad Henne struggles. In a way, this is an offensive line question, because if Henne gets hurt, they may not have a choice. They'll have three new starters in the interior to go with a healthy Luke Joeckel at left tackle. That group should fare better and increase the chances Henne is good to go for the whole season.
Wells: He has to be. It likely won't be in Week 1, but I expect it to happen at some point because the Jaguars aren't going to win the AFC South with Luck at quarterback for the Colts. More than 2,000 fans did not show up at the Jaguars' minicamp to watch cornerback Aaron Colvin. That was all about Bortles. The Jaguars need something to bring the fans out. The only highlight of the area is the nearby Atlantic Ocean. No offense to Chad Henne, but Bortles gives the Jaguars the best opportunity to bring some kind of excitement to the city. Look at it this way: He can't do any worse than Blaine Gabbert.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL’s owners, coaches and general managers gathered in Orlando this week for the owners meetings.
Some of the topics discussed were potential changes to the kicking game, Colts owner Jim Irsay's DUI arrest, expanded playoffs and racist/discriminatory/profane language. The league tabled any action on adjusting or eliminating PATs. No playoff teams were added. But the owners did discuss sensitivity and sportsmanship issues.
As for the Irsay situation, commissioner Roger Goodell said he'll wait for the legal process to play out before deciding what kind of punishment Irsay will face.
But don't worry, four of ESPN's NFL Nation reporters -- Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Jeff Legwold (Broncos) and Mike Wells (Colts) -- were at the meetings and took a run at those issues.
What should the owners do to fix the kicking game?
Michael DiRocco: I'm in favor of the decision to extend the goalposts several feet to eliminate some of the ambiguity of whether some field goal attempts are successful. Kickoff returns are among the most exciting plays in football, but they are also among the most dangerous. I don't see a realistic way to make them any safer without eliminating them completely. As for PATs, I'd be in favor of moving them back to a 40- or 45-yard attempt. That increases the difficulty. But how about adding a radical change as well by giving teams the option of a 3-point PAT by attempting a kick of 55 yards? It certainly would make game strategy more interesting.
Tania Ganguli: The league tabled the discussion about moving the extra point back to the 25-yard line and will experiment by moving it to the 20 during some preseason games. I'll be interested to see the result of the trial period. I don't have a problem with the fact that extra points are so often effective. There is still strategy in deciding whether to kick it or go for two. It doesn't always play into game strategy, but it can, and that means it isn't a meaningless play. My bigger concern would be safety issues that come with kickoffs.
Jeff Legwold: Not sure I understand the rationale of removing something from the game because the players have become too proficient at it. Sure, 1,267 extra points were attempted in the 2013 season and all but five were made. Four of the extra-point attempts were blocked and only one was missed (Minnesota's Blair Walsh), but it seems misplaced to remove it simply because kickers, snappers and the rest of those lined up have become mind-numbingly good at it. That's a bad precedent. In 1970 there were no quarterbacks who threw for even 3,000 yards. In 1980, only two quarterbacks crossed the 4,000-yard barrier. In 2013 there were nine quarterback who threw for at least 4,000 yards and two -- Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- topped 5,000 yards. So, if the league's passers get much better, they'll have to ditch the forward pass.
Mike Wells: The NFL can do away with extra points because they're pointless. There were only five unsuccessful PATs last season. Does anybody even watch teams kick extra points? That's usually the time to get an early jump to the bathroom so that you're back in time for the kickoff. Moving the PAT back to the 25-yard line doesn't provide any more excitement. Automatically give teams seven points for scoring a touchdown with an option to get another point by going for a conversion. About the only bad thing with eliminating PATs is that Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee may get upset that he can't punt, kick off, kick field goals and kick PATs, something he wants to accomplish at some point in his career. But something tells me he'd get over PATs being eliminated from the game.
How should the commissioner handle a misbehaving owner?
DiRocco: Owners should be held to at least the same standard as players when it comes to off-field behavior, but I'd argue that they should be held to an even higher standard because of their status -- especially when it comes to something that endangers the public, such as driving under the influence. The first thing the league must do is ensure that Jim Irsay gets the help he needs with his problem. Suspending an owner wouldn't make any impact on the field and taking away a draft pick would be too harsh. A significant fine ($500,000?) that would be donated to one of the league's various charities or a substance-abuse awareness or treatment program is the best course of action.
Ganguli: The commissioner could do nothing and get away with it. After all, he technically works for the owners. But maintaining credibility is important. Irsay's situation should be handled with a proportionate response to how a player's situation would be handled. It can't be the same just by virtue of the differences of their jobs. At the same time, it's important in dealing with such a situation -- with executives or players -- that the league is sensitive to what it means to have an addiction and what it takes to move past it.
Legwold: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made personal conduct by everyone employed by the NFL or one of its franchises a hallmark of his tenure. He has consistently said the higher the authority of the person involved, the higher the standard. By that standard he has no choice but to punish Irsay. In 2010 he fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him for 30 days after Lewand's guilty plea for driving while impaired. A franchise owner is even higher on the corporate flow chart than a team president, so Irsay's punishment should fit that if Goodell sticks to the framework he's put in place. One thing is certain: A large group of players who haven't always been supportive of Goodell's discipline standards for them is watching closely.
Wells: Late Tennessee owner Bud Adams was fined $250,000 for giving some fans the bird in 2009. Not that money is a major issue to Irsay, but Goodell should fine him at least $1 million and suspend him for at least eight regular-season games. The latter part will really hit home to Irsay because he loves the game so much. He has a serious problem and Goodell needs to send a serious message to him and the rest of the NFL that breaking policies or the law will not be taken lightly. The rest of the league, especially the players, will be paying close attention to see what actions Goodell takes. A minor slap on the wrist will not sit well with the players, especially because the rules are made for the players and front-office officials.
@MikeWellsNFL $500,000 fine and half season suspension. No contact, similar 2 Sean Peyton suspension.- Bob Borden (@Rmb7884) March 25, 2014
Should the league add playoff teams?
DiRocco: Sure, and let's give every team that didn't make the playoffs a trophy at the end of the season for trying really, really hard as well. Twelve of the league's 32 teams -- roughly 38 percent -- already make the playoffs, and that's enough. The argument that good teams sometimes miss out because they play in a tough division doesn't make sense to me. The Arizona Cardinals were playing pretty well at the end of the 2013 season but didn't qualify. Too bad. They should have played better in September and October. Making the postseason is a reward for the teams that have played the best throughout the season. It should be hard.
Ganguli: The more teams with something at stake late in the season, the better. But you don't want to dilute the accomplishment of making it to the playoffs. Further, the margin for error is so small in the playoffs, the chances for upsets in the early rounds are high. I'd hate to see football's regular season diluted that much. Two more teams might be fine, but any more than that and then you get to the point where half the teams make it. The playoffs are, and should be, a reward for all the work that came in the months prior.
Legwold: This looks suspiciously like a trade-off. Goodell dislikes the look of preseason football and has floated the idea of an 18-game regular-season schedule for some time. But there has been little support for the idea of an 18-game schedule among the players. So, in terms of television revenue, which would have increased with an 18-game regular season, the next best thing is two more teams in the playoff field. The format would award just one team in each conference a first-round bye. But it's unnecessary and waters down the postseason field enough that 43.8 percent of the league's teams would make the playoffs.
Wells: Leave it alone. That's the easiest way to put it. Expanding the playoffs sets the stage for possibly having teams with a losing record making the postseason. It was embarrassing when the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2010. You'll have some teams with strong records -- New England (11-5) in 2008 and Arizona (10-6) last season -- miss the playoffs, but that doesn't happen as often as we would see teams with a losing record make it if the format were to change. Every game is important with the current playoff format; there's very little wiggle room for mistakes. Only one team in each conference would get a bye in the first weekend of the expanded playoffs compared to two in the current format. That's not being rewarded.
How should the league deal with racist, discriminatory and profane language on the field?
DiRocco: For better or worse, profanity has been, and always will be, a part of football. Trying to police that would put an additional burden on the shoulders of an already overloaded group of officials. Racist or discriminatory comments, however, are more serious. Those should not be tolerated. However, most of the Jaguars players I spoke with about this topic last season said they rarely encounter that on the field. But again, how do you enforce that? Is saying the N-word worse than using a gay slur? If one black player calls another the N-word, is that less serious than if a white player does it? Bottom line: Let the players police these themselves during the game. If an official hears something from the sideline or players are screaming at each other after a play has ended, then a fine is warranted.
Ganguli: The competition committee made it clear Wednesday that this would be a major focus for 2014. It wants professional athletes to set a better example for younger athletes. I wouldn't necessarily include racist, discriminatory and profane language all in one category. The nature of profanity in the English language, and what exactly is considered profanity, changes constantly. Whose standard are you using? Racism and other forms of discriminatory language should be regulated with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. This isn't about regulating thoughts. It's about making it absolutely clear that the NFL does not tolerate expressions of hate.
Legwold: As those on the league's competition committee pointed out last week, the rule to enforce a ban on the N-word or other discriminatory language is already on the books. And officials will be told before the season to throw the flags if they hear those words used during games. The decision has been made and officials will be "empowered" to throw the flags, as St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, a co-chairman of the league's competition committee, has said. It has caused some to wonder why the league hasn't been nearly as aggressive with "Redskins," but it's clear the league's decision-makers want to address the N-word and other slurs based on sexual orientation and have put it in the hands of the officials to do it.
Wells: Let me get this out of the way: There's no place in the game for racist, discriminatory and profane language. But at the same time, officials already have a difficult enough time throwing flags. How many times have you watched a replay and noticed they made the wrong call or missed a call? And now you expect them to be watching the play while also listening for bad language during the game? That's asking them to do too much. Can you imagine the players informing the officials that an opposing player used inappropriate language?
Even with a ton of cap space, Jacksonville will not find their franchise quarterback in free agency. However, they could find quality pass-rushers, and overall the Jaguars should be buyers in free agency, so their roster will should be noticeably improved from where it stands today.
Still, this will be a team that has plenty of draft needs. It would be a total shock if the Jaguars did not select one of the top three quarterback prospects or Clowney with this selection. Think Gus Bradley could properly use Clowney? Wow.
Whom does McShay have the Jaguars drafting at No. 3? Let's take a look :
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a 17-point underdog to San Francisco on Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium. It’s not the first time they’ve been heavy underdogs this season. They were 20-point underdogs to Seattle and 28-point underdogs to Denver.
Although they did cover the spread against the Broncos, they still lost the game by double digits. In fact, they’ve lost eight consecutive games by double digits dating to last season. If they repeat that Sunday against the 49ers, they will move to within two games of the NFL record for longest losing streak by double digits since the 1970 merger.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Houston Oilers lost 11 consecutive games by double digits in a span that covered the 1983 and 1984 seasons. The 1981 Baltimore Colts lost 10 games in a row by double digits.
The Seattle Seahawks lost eight games in a row by double digits over the 1976 and 1977 seasons. The Seahawks were an expansion franchise in 1976.
In terms of the margin of the losses, the Jaguars hold the No. 2 spot in the rankings of those four teams. The Colts lost the 10 games by an average margin of 21.8 points. The Jaguars have lost their last eight by an average of 20.5 points, followed by the Seahawks (19.9) and the Oilers (17.1).
The team came out flat and coach Gus Bradley said he saw a lack of effort for the first time this season. The Jaguars regressed and ruined the progress they had made against St. Louis and Denver.
It also made it tough to come up with the weekly list of the top 10 playmakers. Not many to pick from on defense after the Chargers rolled up 434 yards. Philip Rivers completed 22 of 26 passes and Ryan Mathews rushed for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Remember, this isn’t a list of MVP candidates, but a compilation of the players who are making the biggest difference each week.
Here we go, with last week’s rankings in parenthesis:
1. WR Mike Brown (5): Brown put up the first 100-yard game of his career (five catches for 120 yards), thanks mainly to a 43-yard catch and run. He was targeted eight times against the Chargers, which shows how far along he is in his conversion from college quarterback. He has been a pleasant surprise this season and has 10 catches for 183 yards.
2. WR Justin Blackmon (1): He didn’t have the kind of spectacular numbers he had the past two weeks, but he still caught six passes for 58 yards. He also inadvertently provided a highlight that’s gone viral when he accidentally walloped a security guard who had his back to the field.
3. WR Cecil Shorts (NR): Shorts was targeted a team-high 13 times and caught eight passes for 80 yards. He played through a painful injury to the SC joint near his right shoulder, too. He would be higher on the list had he not dropped two potential touchdown passes.
4. QB Chad Henne (2): He threw for 318 yards and completed 23 of 36 passes and minimized mistakes. By the time he threw his only interception later in the fourth quarter the Jaguars were already down 24-6.
5. TE Marcedes Lewis (NR): He had only one catch but it was a big one: a 31-yarder in which he broke a tackle in the middle of the field. Lewis showed no sign of the calf injury that essentially kept him out for eight weeks. He helped the running game average a season-best 4.6 yards per carry.
6. RB Maurice Jones-Drew (4): He averaged a season-high 4.1 yards per carry, gaining 37 yards on nine carries. He also caught two passes for 19 yards. He wasn’t used much but he was effective when he did touch the ball.
7. LB Paul Posluszny (3): He led the Jaguars with 14 tackles (13 solo).
8. K Josh Scobee (8): He kicked field goals of 30 and 23 yards to extend his streak of consecutive field goals made in the month of October to 31.
9. RB/KR Jordan Todman (NR): Todman had a solid day returning kickoffs, averaging 31.0 yards on two returns. He is the Jaguars’ leading kick returner (29.8 average).
10. LB J.T. Thomas (NR): Even though he didn’t have any stats on Sunday, he’s still the only other Jaguars players besides Scobee to score any points at EverBank Field this season. He blocked a punt that bounced out of the back of the end zone for a safety in Week 1.
More Mojo: Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said he wants to get Maurice Jones-Drew more than the 17 carries he had against St. Louis last week. That’s a solid plan, but the Jaguars are going to have to do a better job early in the game of getting the running game going. The Jaguars ran for 49 of their season-high 96 yards in the fourth quarter. They were able to do that because it was a seven-point game. If they’re able to have success on the ground early, they can get Jones-Drew more work and shorten the game.
Henne time: As I wrote in the Stat of the Week post on Thursday, having Chad Henne at quarterback is actually good news for receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Henne joined the Jaguars in 2012 he has done a much better job than Blaine Gabbert of getting the ball to Shorts and Blackmon. Henne has thrown nearly twice as many touchdown passes to Blackmon and Shorts as Gabbert (nine to five) and less than half the interceptions (four to nine).
Moreno problems: Everyone talks about Manning and his trio of receivers, but running back Knowshon Moreno has quietly had a solid season. He is third in the AFC in rushing (331 yards) and his success makes Manning’s play-action fakes even more effective. The Jaguars gave up 143 yards rushing to the Rams last week and are last in the NFL in rush defense (160.6 yards per game).
Ace in the hole: Ace Sanders did what he was drafted to do last week: He returned a punt for a touchdown. It was called back because of a questionable illegal block penalty but Sanders flashed the speed and elusiveness that make him a good returner. A couple big returns could provide a spark for the offense, and if he can take one back for a touchdown he’d be the first Jaguars player to do so since Mike Thomas against Indianapolis on Dec. 19, 2010.
Submit your thoughts and questions about what you would do at 1:30 p.m. ET in the chat below, or by using the hashtag #PullPeyton.
Related: Jeff Legwold says regardless of what his coaches or fans think, Manning never wants to leave a game. And Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Info makes the case the Broncos should bench their star QB and alleviate any risk the pillar of their postseason hopes sustains a completely unnecessary injury.
Oakland showed a flash of life in a 21-17 loss at Indianapolis last week and Jacksonville struggled mightily in a 28-2 home loss to Kansas City. Many see the Raiders and Jaguars as the two most downtrodden teams in the NFL, but somebody has to win, right? It’s not like they can play to a scoreless tie, unless … in any event, these two hook up Sunday in Oakland.
Paul Gutierrez: So, the Jaguars are the 32nd-ranked team in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings, and the Raiders are 31st. Not exactly a clash of the titans, but there were several silver (and black?) linings in Oakland’s 21-17 loss in Indianapolis last week. Primarily, the play of newly anointed starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor. To a man, the Raiders said there is no such thing as a moral victory. Yet there was a feeling of promise in the Raiders’ postgame locker room not felt in a while. What was the feeling like in the Jags’ locker room after they not only lost their starting quarterback, but lost the game to Kansas City in such dispiriting fashion, and does it already feel like another long season is in store in Jacksonville?
Michael DiRocco: Disappointment, but not just at losing. The offense played poorly in all phases, which was somewhat surprising because it had shown signs during the preseason of being competent. Most troubling was the play of the offensive line, especially the interior, where center Brad Meester and guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley really struggled. Six sacks and not crossing midfield until the fourth quarter was embarrassing. But the Jaguars were missing starting receiver Justin Blackmon (suspension) and starting tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), so that mitigates things somewhat. While the team believes it can certainly play significantly better than that, the veterans are realistic and understand that this is one of the youngest teams in the NFL and the new regime has begun a rebuild that will take three years. You've got to feel for Matt Flynn. Goes to Seattle and gets beat out by Russell Wilson. Then ends up in Oakland and gets beat out by Pryor, who played well in the season opener. He made a lot of plays with his feet but certainly has a way to go as a passer. Is he the long-term answer for the Raiders at quarterback or will we see Flynn at some point this season?
Gutierrez: Yeah, the humanistic side has to feel for Flynn’s predicament. Then the snarky side comes out and thinks he and his millions -- remember, he signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract extension with $6.5 million guaranteed after the Raiders traded for him this spring -- will be just fine, thank you very much. But your point is taken. Especially since Flynn was second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie’s handpicked choice to be this rebuilding franchise’s, ahem, franchise quarterback. And really, the case can be made that Flynn is a better prototypical NFL quarterback than Pryor. But that’s with a solid offensive line and a strong running game and trusted receivers. The Raiders, really, are still looking for those things. So until that trifecta comes in for Oakland, the playmaking Pryor is the Raiders’ best hope for winning games. Even if he was not the new regime’s choice and it inherited Al Davis’ last draft pick. At this point, it seems Flynn is destined to be a career backup, albeit a well-compensated backup. And speaking of clipboard holders, what’s taking the Jags so long to ink Jacksonville’s favorite son, Tim Tebow (you knew there’d be a Tebow question somewhere, right?), especially with ticket sales needed and Chad Henne being no Blaine Gabbert, and vice-versa? Or is it too soon?
DiRocco: The Tebow ship has sailed for the Jaguars. General manager Dave Caldwell said earlier this year that the Jaguars were not going to sign Tebow -- who at the time was still under contract with the New York Jets -- "even if he's released." He's sticking to that. As for the ticket sales argument, there's no way to quantify whether sales would increase and by how much if he was signed. Plus, the Jags are actually doing pretty well in the ticket department. The team hasn't had a blackout since 2009 and averaged at least 62,331 fans at every home game over the past three seasons. The No. 1 task for the new regime is to find out whether Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which to build the team over the next decade. The only way to determine that is for him to play the entire season. Barring a rash of injuries to free-agent quarterbacks, I just don't see a scenario in which Tebow returns to his hometown. Sebastian Janikowski, who went to nearby Florida State, is one of the more colorful players in the NFL. There are a lot of colorful stories floating around about him both in the locker room and off the field. What's your favorite -- at least among the verified ones you can tell?
Gutierrez: Wow, you caught me off guard. This is, after all, a family website, no? I kid. Kinda. But yeah, the evolution of the wild child formerly known as Jano (he hates that name, by the way) has been a unique experience. He is now a doting father to twin girls. No word, though, on how strong their kicking legs are yet. Off the field, he’s become a proficient golfer. When he arrived in Oakland as a first-round draft pick way back in 2000, he had never touched a club before in his life. Then Shane Lechler, his long-time running, er, kicking mate, introduced him to the links. Now? He’s a regular in the Lake Tahoe Pro-Am. Then there was the time he had to punt for an injured Lechler against Kansas City in the rain. It was as ugly a punt as it was effective -- the Chiefs player fumbled the ball away and the Raiders recovered. It went down in Oakland and the crowd loved it. Speaking of guys known by one name or simple initials, how much does MJD have left in the tank for the Jags? Can a return “home” this weekend rejuvenate him?
DiRocco: That is a good question, because there is some uncertainty regarding whether MJD can again reach the level at which he played in 2011, when he led the NFL in rushing. He did miss 10 games last season with a foot injury. Nobody expects him to rush for 1,600 yards but he does need to be a 1,000-yard rusher for this offense to be effective and help take a load off Gabbert/Henne. Another thing to consider is that Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract. He'll need prove that at 28 he's still one of the league's better backs in order to have a chance to sign the kind of deal he wants -- whether it's in Jacksonville or elsewhere. Speaking of running backs coming off an injury, hasn't that been the biggest knock on Darren McFadden? What kind of odds would you give on him playing all 16 games?
Gutierrez: Ouch. The biggest knock on Run DMC has been his inability to stay healthy throughout his career. He has never played in more than 13 games in any of his first five seasons and he has missed 23 games in his career. He insists he’s not injury-prone, though, and that each injury is a freak occurrence. Maybe, but based on his track record, it’s not a question of if McFadden gets hurt but when, and how the Raiders are equipped to deal with his absence. Harsh? Maybe, but also true. And based on that history, odds are low that he'll play all 16 games this season. Then again, he is in a contract year. And after being neutralized last week by the Colts to the tune of 48 yards on 17 carries, what better time for him to get going than against the Jags? In two career games against Jacksonville, McFadden has carried the ball 35 times for 176 yards.
He's on the other side of the parking lot.
Scobee is spending time kicking on the infield dirt at the Baseball Grounds, the stadium which houses the Jacksonville Suns, the Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. He's doing that because there's a good chance he'll have to do that at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders share the stadium with the Oakland Athletics and the infield won't be sodded until baseball season ends.
Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union reports that Scobee's biggest concern is that his plant foot might slide on the dirt. Scobee said he's only kicked on dirt twice in his career, both times when the Jaguars played in Miami.
Here are some other pieces of content from around the web in the Jaguars' version of Reading the Coverage:
One of the benefits of ESPN's NFL Nation is being able to quickly reach out to all 32 teams for reaction on an issue or news. We're debuting a new feature, called NFL Nation Says, and the first one takes on whether Chip Kelly's offensive pace is sustainable for an entire season. Maurice Jones-Drew weighs in with his thoughts.
The T-U's Ryan O'Halloran gives three things to know about Sunday's matchup in his weekly Three And Out series.
Hays Carlyon of the T-U writes that quarterback Chad Henne wants to show coach Gus Bradley that he deserves to be the starter by playing well against the Raiders.
Here's my story on Henne, as well as some other pieces of content from this blog: Jones-Drew has not exactly been his best when he plays out West and a weekly recap of the Jaguars' quarterback play.
Roger Weeder of First Coast News writes that city officials must determine how the city will pay for its share of the improvements to EverBank Field.
Here's a roundup of what you can find on ESPN's Oakland Raiders blog: Paul Gutierrez asks how quarterback Terrelle Pryor can build on his showing from last week; the Raiders' offensive line is a pleasant surprise.
He’s just not sure if coach Gus Bradley is thinking the same way.
"My job is play as well as I can and hopefully just keep the job," Henne said Wednesday. "That’s how I’m going to play it, and I’m going to prepare as the starter and play my best and show the coaches that I can get the job done."
Henne is starting against the Raiders because Blaine Gabbert suffered a cut on the top of his right hand during the Jaguars’ season opener. He needed 15 stitches to close the wound, and the medical staff was worried about the risk of re-injury and infection. Gabbert had beaten out Henne for the starting job midway through the preseason.
Gabbert struggled in the Jaguars’ 28-2 loss to Kansas City, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. The offensive line gave up six sacks; Gabbert was playing for the first time in three weeks because of a fractured right thumb; and he was without two of his top three pass catchers because of suspension (receiver Justin Blackmon) and injury (tight end Marcedes Lewis). The main task this season for Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell is to find out whether Gabbert can be the player around which the team is built.
So it would be a surprise if Gabbert didn’t reclaim his starting job whenever he is medically cleared, whether that’s next week, ahead of the Jaguars’ game at Seattle, or the following week, for their game at home against Indianapolis.
Bradley hasn’t said that Henne would remain the starter if he plays well against the Raiders -- and he’s had several chances to do so.
He did say, however, that he has no problem if that’s the way Henne is thinking.
"That’s good. I would hope he would say that," Bradley said. "He’s a competitor and that’s why we’ve got confidence in him playing. I really wanted him to go out there and capture this and be at his best. That was our conversation today. I said don’t wait until Sunday to compete. That’s too late."
Henne, in his sixth NFL season, has started 37 games in his career with Miami and Jacksonville. After Gabbert suffered a forearm injury in the 10th game of the 2012 season, Henne relieved him and played the rest of the season, throwing for 1,869 yards and 10 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
Fast-forward: Gabbert suffered a cut on the top of his right hand late in the game that required 15 stitches to close and he will not play in Sunday’s game at Oakland. Chad Henne will get the start, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. In the first nine games of the 2012 season, the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game and 14.1 points per game under Gabbert before he went on IR with a forearm injury. The team averaged 326.3 yards per game, 233.3 passing yards per game and 15.3 points per game in the final six games in which Henne started.
Job safety: The Jaguars’ top priority this season was finding out if Gabbert can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which to build the team under new GM Dave Caldwell and new coach Gus Bradley. One game certainly isn’t enough to make that determination, so Gabbert will return as the starter even if Henne plays well against the Raiders.
Prediction: Top receiver Justin Blackmon is suspended so No. 2 receiver Cecil Shorts (60 career catches) becomes the main target. The rest of the receivers -- Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Stephen Burton -- have a combined 11 career catches. Could be another rough day.