NFL Nation: Andre Branch

Examining the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
General manager David Caldwell has said he likes to keep three quarterbacks, which means all three will have to be on the active roster, because Stanzi is ineligible for the practice squad. Stanzi should start the season as the No. 2 because he’s more ready to play than Bortles, but that will likely flip-flop at some point. Stephen Morris is a practice squad candidate.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

If the Jags elect to keep only four backs, Todman and Johnson likely would battle for the final spot. That is assuming Robinson continues to be very good in camp. He might end up getting more playing time than any of the other backs after Gerhart if he shows he can be a reliable pass-catcher. Johnson has to prove he can pass block and doesn’t have problems with ball security.

RECEVIERS (6)

The first four players should be locks, but it will be an interesting competition for the final two spots among Brown, Taylor, free-agent signee Tandon Doss, undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, and former practice-squad player Chad Bumphis. Doss missed most of the organized team activities and minicamp because of a calf injury, allowing Taylor, Bumphis and Hurns to get valuable reps. Doss was not a consistent receiver in his three seasons in Baltimore and has more value as a returner, but Sanders’ strength is as a punt returner and the Jags have other options at kickoff returner. I have Taylor narrowly beating out Hurns because of his experience, but I can easily see that being flipped if the Jags want to add more size. Hurns is 6-foot-3; Taylor is 6-0.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Jensen flashed during OTAs and gets the edge over three other players. He’s a big kid (6-6, 270) who is a raw version of Lewis, one of the league’s best blocking tight ends. Jensen will need a year or two to develop and likely will be used as an extra blocker more than a pass-catcher.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Some of the battles for starting jobs along the line are going to be intriguing during camp. Joeckel and Beadles are safe, but every other spot is up for grabs. Even Pasztor, who started 12 games last season, is uncertain because we don’t know how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up during camp. If it’s fine, then he will win the starting job at right tackle. McClendon and Linder are battling for the right guard spot, and Brewster is going to have to hold off Bowanko and two others to be the starter at center. Bradfield has value because he can play both tackle spots.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

This should be the biggest upgraded position on the roster thanks to the additions of Clemons, Bryant and Hood. Despite public perception, Alualu isn’t on the bubble for two reasons: He played solidly last season, and there really isn’t anyone else on the roster as talented as he is to back up Bryant. The Jags are excited about Smith, who could end up playing more than Davis as the No. 3 LEO (hybrid end/linebacker) by the time the season is over.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Either John Lotulelei or J.T. Thomas, two key special teams players last season, could stick if the Jaguars decide to keep an extra linebacker instead of five cornerbacks, or if Hayes’ surgically repaired knee doesn’t respond well. Reynolds did a solid job subbing for Watson (groin) during OTAs and minicamp at the new OTTO position (replaces strongside linebacker).

CORNERBACKS (5)

The Jags will have to decide whether to keep fourth-year player Mike Harris or Jeremy Harris, a seventh-round pick in 2013 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a back injury. The 6-2, 185-pound Jeremy Harris is a better fit for what coach Gus Bradley wants in his cornerbacks than the 5-10, 188-pound Mike Harris, who was a member of former GM Gene Smith’s final draft class. Blackmon has been working inside as well, which also makes Mike Harris expendable. Fourth-round draft pick Aaron Colvin will begin the season on the PUP list and doesn't count against the roster limit.

SAFETIES (4)
Chris Prosinski has seemingly been a bubble player since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, but there is too much competition for him to survive this time. Martin started 36 games for Carolina in his first five seasons, and that experience gives him the edge. Evans seems to be the name everyone mentions when talking about the first Caldwell draft pick to get cut, but though he might lose his starting job to Guy, he’s likely to stick around at least another year.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These guys should have little or no competition to make the roster.
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

 NFL Nation's Michael DiRocco examines the three biggest issues facing the Jacksonville Jaguars heading into training camp.

Offensive line: Only one of the five spots is settled heading into camp: Zane Beadles, whom the team signed in March, is the starting left guard. Almost every other spot is up for grabs. I use "almost" because Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, will start at left tackle, and the team drafted him to be the line's cornerstone. He spent the first four games last season at right tackle and played a quarter at left tackle before a season-ending injury. While the Jags believe he's going to be an elite player, he still has to prove it. Mike Brewster is the leader at center, but he has never snapped in his three-year career. Right guard will be a battle between Jacques McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder. Austin Pasztor started 12 games at right tackle last season but will be pushed by Cameron Bradfield, who started the final 11 games at left tackle after Joeckel's injury. Regardless of who wins the position battles, the line has to be better than it was last season. The Jaguars averaged a franchise-worst 78.8 yards per game rushing last season, and a big reason was the play of the interior of the offensive line.

Wide receivers: The Jaguars know what they have in fourth-year player Cecil Shorts (123 career catches). They believe they know what they've got in second-year player Ace Sanders, provided he continues to develop following his 51-catch rookie season. But who are Nos. 3-6? It would seem second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson would naturally be the next two, but both missed most organized team activities and all of minicamp with injuries. They're supposed to be fully cleared for camp, but they missed valuable time working with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, a technician of the finer points of routes, footwork and hand position. Rookie receivers are a crap shoot in the NFL, and there's no guarantee if both are healthy that they'll be able to contribute as much as Sanders did. Kerry Taylor and Mike Brown combined to catch 54 passes last season. Taylor is a bit bigger (6-foot, 200 pounds) than Brown (5-10, 200 pounds), but both can play in the slot or outside. Taylor might have a slight advantage because he was healthy throughout the offseason, while Brown was one of seven receivers who missed significant time because of an injury. A group of undrafted players, led by former Miami standout Allen Hurns, also will compete for the final two spots on the roster. It's important that this group stays healthy, too, because the injuries really affected the offense during minicamp. It was hard for any of the quarterbacks to move the ball consistently.

Pass rush: The Jaguars have had one of the worst pass rushes over the past five season and finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2013 and 2012. Buffalo led the NFL with 57 sacks last season. The Jaguars have 51 in the past two seasons combined, including 20 in 2012. The team took steps to remedy that by signing defensive end Chris Clemons (58 career sacks) and linebacker Dekoda Watson, a young player whom the Jaguars plan on using in their new otto position and rushing the passer on third downs. However, he sat out OTAs and minicamp with a groin injury and former undrafted rookie LaRoy Reynolds got the reps there. Third-year defensive end Andre Branch came on late last season (five of his six sacks in the last seven games) and had a great offseason, and the coaching staff is counting on him rotating with Clemons. The Jaguars felt good enough about Branch and young players Ryan Davis and Gerald Rivers that they released Jason Babin (62.5 career sacks) on the last day of the minicamp. However, Davis and Rivers have played in a combined eight games and have a combined eight tackles and one sack, so that's making a leap of faith that they'll be able to produce in a reserve role.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jason Babin's release is a mild surprise only in that the 34-year-old defensive end didn’t even make it to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was going to be a bubble player after the addition of several pass-rushers via free agency and the draft.

Babin
That he was released Thursday morning is an indication the Jaguars are not only pleased with how veteran Chris Clemons, whom they signed as a free agent, has performed in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, they are excited about several other young pass-rushers.

Coach Gus Bradley has consistently praised third-year player Andre Branch, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2012, throughout OTAs. His burst off the ball and quickness around the edge is noticeable, and he has consistently been in the backfield during 11-on-11 drills. Though the players are only wearing helmets and prohibited from full contact, Branch appears to be ready to become the kind of consistent player he was during the second half of the 2013 season, when he recorded five of his six sacks in the final seven games.

"You see Andre Branch really focused and really capturing every opportunity," Bradley said.

Fifth-round pick Chris Smith doesn’t fit the Jaguars’ typical measurables for what they want in a LEO -- a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is rushing the passer -- but they liked what they saw from him during Senior Bowl week so they took a chance. The 6-foot-1, 266-pound Smith is a little shorter than ideal, but he has long arms and runs well.

"He had a couple good rushes [Wednesday] and I think he’s a guy that the more comfortable he gets and the more reps he gets we’ll see what he’s doing," Bradley said. "He’s got the traits we’re looking for. Now we just need to see it in training camp."

Second-year player Ryan Davis played in seven games last season and had one sack and made one huge play: an interception that sealed the Jaguars’ victory in Houston. He is another player who doesn’t have the typical LEO size (he’s 6-2, 260) but he’s an effort guy and the Jaguars are intrigued by his development.

Gerald Rivers is another second-year player that has worked at LEO. He has the prototypical LEO size (6-5, 258).

The key traits Branch, Smith, Davis and Rivers all share are youth and potential. At 34, Babin wasn’t going to get any better. It’s likely, even with reduced snaps because of the addition of the 32-year-old Clemons (58 career sacks), that he was going to be less effective. But there is room for improvement for the four younger (and cheaper) players, and that is better for the health of the roster beyond the 2014 season.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There they sat on a shelf in Denard Robinson's locker, an inch or so from the edge, quite visible to anyone walking by.

Two collectible figures of Robinson in Michigan home and road uniforms in action poses. He’s throwing the football, of course, since he was a quarterback for the Wolverines.

That sounds neat to someone like you and me, especially since they don’t make sports writer action figures, but it apparently violated one of those unwritten locker room codes and Robinson’s teammates good-naturedly jumped all over him once they were alerted to the figures’ presence.

Denard Robinson
Michael DiRocco/ESPN.comDenard Robinson's teammates poked fun at the action figures he has in his locker.
"Pretty conceited," said receiver Cecil Shorts, whose locker is about 20 steps away. "If that’s what he wants to portray himself as, feel free."

Said defensive end Andre Branch: "That’s a bit much."

Running back Jordan Todman smiled when he saw the action figures and immediately deemed them a fineable offense.

"It’s called reminiscing," Todman said as he called Toby Gerhart over to Robinson’s locker to see them. "We can’t talk about what we did in the past. We’ve got to move forward."

If there was going to be one person in the locker room who had Robinson’s back it would have to be quarterback Chad Henne, the only other Michigan alum on the roster. Not so much.

"He’s big time now," Henne said.

The Wolverine camaraderie apparently has a limit.

"Take it out of the locker room, at least," Henne said. "I mean, c’mon."

Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, whose locker is on the row that backs up to the row that includes Robinson’s locker, said he and the rest of the defensive linemen had no idea about the action figures. Those skill guys live in a different world, he said.

"I don’t go over to that side [of the locker room]. I stay in the hood," he said. "We don’t go over there to Hollywood."

But does he have a problem with Robinson having action figures of himself in his locker?

"We haven’t been on the cover of a game," said Marks, referencing Robinson’s appearance on the cover of EA Sports’ "NCAA Football 14" video game. "When you’ve been on the cover you can do that."

All of these comments were compiled while Robinson was lifting and not at his locker so he was unaware that he was going to have to explain himself when he did return.

"One of the fans [at the Jaguars’ open OTA last Thursday] gave it to me out there when I was coming in," Robinson said. "He gave me another one before. Actually he gave me a Jacksonville one last year."

Okay, but you left them on a shelf in your locker? You had to know that was not going to end well.

"Actually, I was trying to take them home but I didn’t want to take them upstairs [where the players eat lunch]," he said. "I’m trying to be low key.

"I should have hid them, right?"

Uh, yeah.

Then Robinson found out about his impending fine.

"Man, that’s messed up," he said.

Robinson did finally defend himself, and he does make a good point.

"I mean, not a lot of people get a chance to have one of these so I’m glad I could collect that and have fun with that," he said.

Not nearly as much fun as his teammates are having.
Got questions about the Jaguars? I'll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.
 

Recapping Day 3 of free agency

March, 14, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Day 3 of free agency was busier than the first, with the Jacksonville Jaguars adding defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, and re-signing outside linebacker Jason Babin. Clemons and Hood received four-year deals, and Babin signed a three-year deal.

Here are some initial thoughts from Day 3:

Hood
Hood
It will be interesting to see what kind of production the Jaguars get from Hood, who really wasn't much of a factor as a defensive end in Pittsburgh. The Jaguars are going to use him as a three-technique defensive tackle, which is where he played at Missouri and recorded 14.5 sacks in four seasons. The Jaguars want him to help provide interior pass rush, which is something they got from Sen'Derrick Marks last season. It wouldn't be surprising to see him, Dekoda Watson, Clemons and Babin on the field on some third downs.

Clemons gives the Jaguars something they haven't had in a while: a speed rusher. Though he turns 33 in October, Clemons still appears to be playing at a high level. His 4.5 sacks last were a significant drop-off from the 11.5 he had in 2012, but he was returning from a torn ACL suffered in the 2012 playoffs. He said Thursday that it wasn't until the playoff game against New Orleans this past season that he finally felt he was back to the player he was in 2012. He, Babin and Andre Branch should split reps.

Now that the Jaguars have re-worked their defensive front and added pass-rushers in Clemons and Watson, does their plan for the draft change? If GM David Caldwell was thinking of taking Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, does he now consider Sammy Watkins, one of the quarterbacks, or even one of the offensive tackles? I don't think so -- at this point, anyway. There are still pro days and workouts ahead -- Teddy Bridgewater throws Monday -- and the Jaguars will continue to evaluate players until they come up with their final draft rankings. One thing to consider, though: The draft isn't deep in pass-rushers, but it is on the offensive side, especially at receiver.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars’ already-struggling pass rush took another hit Monday when leo Jason Babin, the team’s sack leader in 2013, voided the final two years of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent.

Babin
That leaves the Jaguars with just two leos on the roster: third-year player Andre Branch and Gerald Rivers, an undrafted rookie the team claimed in December. Red Bryant, whom the team signed on Saturday, plays on the opposite side and that end’s primary responsibility is stopping the run.

The Jaguars were already expected to be active in free agency in trying to find another pass rusher but Babin’s decision adds a little more urgency. The team may address the area in the draft -- with Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack in the first round, for example -- but it still would be beneficial to have a veteran presence at that spot the locker room.

There’s a solid chance Babin, who turns 34 in May, will re-sign with the Jaguars, albeit at a much more reasonable salary than the $6 million he was scheduled to make in each of the next two seasons. He’s not a double-digit sack guy any longer, but he did lead the team with 7.5 sacks last season and coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich both said he has played better than his stats indicate.

Right now the Jaguars’ best pass rusher is Branch, the team’s under-achieving second-round draft pick in 2012. Gus Bradley, defensive line coach Todd Wash and Babich got Branch to be more consistent last season and he ended up finishing second with six sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Rivers played in two games with St. Louis before being cut and did not appear in a game for the Jaguars.

The market for pass rushers wasn’t that deep anyway and most of the remaining available players that fit as a leo -- a hybrid end/linebacker whose main responsibility is rushing the passer -- in the Jaguars’ scheme are second- and third-tier free agents.

Babin was able to void his contract because of a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows a vested veteran claimed after the trading deadline -- which the Jaguars did in 2012 -- to declare themselves a free agent after the season following the season in which he was claimed.
With the NFL combine starting Wednesday, here's a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars' positions of need on defense and which prospects the team might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance. We looked at the offense on Monday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch, and interview prospects at the NFL combine.

Here’s a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on defense and some potential targets:

Babin
Leo: Call this need No. 1A, just barely behind quarterback. The Jaguars have finished last in the NFL in sacks in each of the last two seasons and desperately need someone that can affect the quarterback on a consistent basis. Jason Babin and Andre Branch manned this spot in 2013 but Babin is scheduled to make $6.175 million in 2014. The 33-year-old Babin led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks in 2013 but he’s making elite defensive end money and he’s not an elite defensive end. He has said he'd be willing to re-negotiate his contract because he likes it in Jacksonville, but he also can declare himself a free agent because of a clause in the new CBA. It'd be a surprise if Babin is on the roster in 2014 under his current contract. Branch really improved in 2013 because defensive coordinator Bob Babich and defensive line coach Todd Wash got him to become more consistent with his effort. He’s a long way from being a 15-sack player, though, and that’s what the Jaguars need.

Potential targets: Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack.

Outside linebacker: Geno Hayes turned in a solid year in 2013 (78 tackles, two interceptions, three pass break-ups) despite playing through a nagging knee injury that eventually forced him to miss the last two games. But the Jaguars still need to upgrade both outside spots. It was partly due to his knee injury, but Hayes didn’t make very many impact plays and Russell Allen, the starter on the other side, made none. The leo spot is a hybrid end/outside linebacker that specializes in rushing the passer, so the outside linebackers don’t need to be elite pass rushers. They need to be athletic enough to play in coverage and have the ability to blitz if needed.

Potential targets: Ryan Shazier, Telvin Smith, Lamin Barrow.

Defensive end: This is the spot opposite the leo in the Jaguars’ defense and it doesn’t call for an elite pass-rusher. The Jaguars want a big, physical end who can anchor the line of the scrimmage in the run game. Tyson Alualu held the job last season and was solid (44 tackles, eight QB pressures, three tackles for loss), but the Jaguars need more production there. The only other player at that spot is Ryan Davis, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. They’re also hoping for a little more pass rush production than what Alualu had, but it’s not the primary responsibility.

Potential targets: Brent Urban, Jackson Jeffcoat, Scott Crichton.

Defensive tackle: The Jaguars’ two starters are set with Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, but the Jaguars need to add some quality depth here. Marks is coming off a career year and was awarded a four-year extension. Miller battled a shoulder problem all season but underwent surgery after the season concluded and should be fine by the time OTAs begin in April.

Potential targets: Will Sutton, Caraun Reid, Deandre Coleman.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 29
Preseason Power Ranking: 29

Biggest surprise: When the Jaguars signed defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last April, they thought he’d be a good fit in coach Gus Bradley’s system. Turns out he was a perfect fit. Marks plays the three-technique, which means he lines up on the guard’s outside shoulder, and that position is supposed to provide interior pass rush. Marks finished with four sacks, nine quarterback pressures and eight pass breakups -- all numbers that equaled or surpassed the totals from his first four seasons. He seemed to make at least one impactful play every game and he accounted for two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. His play earned him a four-year contract extension as one of the building blocks of the defense.

Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars’ inability to consistently run the ball, especially early in the season, was vexing. The Jaguars switched from a predominantly man-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, and the offensive line had trouble with the transition. Four of the five starters at the beginning of the season also started in 2011, when Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing. The Jaguars mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed and things got better, but the problem wasn’t “fixed.” In addition, Jones-Drew clearly was not the same player he was two years ago. He missed all but six games last season with a Lisfranc injury and also battled ankle, knee and hamstring issues this season.

Biggest need: The Jaguars have a pretty long list of needs, but two stand out above all others: quarterback and pass-rusher. Quarterback is the top need because former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer and neither is Chad Henne, who will be a free agent but wants to return to Jacksonville in 2014. The Jaguars haven’t had a bona fide threat at quarterback since coach Jack Del Rio put Mark Brunell on the bench for Byron Leftwich in 2003. New general manager David Caldwell and Bradley need a player around which to build the franchise, and the Jaguars will have the opportunity to possibly find one when they pick third overall in May’s draft.

Team MVP: The first impulse is to go with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose 161 tackles ranked second in the NFL. He was clearly the team’s best defensive player and arguably the best overall player. However, what Henne did to stabilize the offense earns him MVP honors. Gabbert had played terribly in the first part of the season (seven INTs, one TD) and Henne stepped in and played the most consistent football of his career. He didn’t always light it up and he made some poor decisions and mistakes, but he kept the Jaguars in games in the second half of the season and made enough plays to go 4-4 after the bye. He threw nine touchdown passes -- including the game winner against Cleveland with 40 seconds to play -- and five interceptions over the final five games.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 12

November, 25, 2013
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HOUSTON -- A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 13-6 victory over the Houston Texans:

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJacksonville brought constant pressure against Case Keenum on Sunday.
Shorts involved: Jaguars coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said they were going to get receiver Cecil Shorts more involved in the offense this week after Shorts complained about getting only two catches in a loss to Arizona. They were true to their word. Shorts was targeted a team-high 11 times and caught a team-high eight passes for 71 yards. The Jaguars got him involved early, too, targeting him four times on their first three possessions.

Good gambles: Bradley's new buzz word is "bold," and he's coaching that way. He went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the game's opening possession and also called a Wildcat formation pass by Denard Robinson, a play that would have worked for a big gain had Shorts not dropped the pass. Bradley also told Fisch to stay with the offense and not just call running plays when the Jaguars got the ball back with 4:24 to play and clinging to a seven-point lead. "We preach to our players that we're going to be bold when opportunities present themselves," Bradley said.

Front plays well: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is usually the one who bats down passes at the line of scrimmage, but the Jaguars did a better job of that on Sunday. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks deflected two and defensive end Andre Branch deflected one. The front seven pressured quarterback Case Keenum all day, sacking him twice and hitting him five other times. The Jaguars generally don't blitz a lot, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich called several middle blitzes to try to get players in Keenum's face. Keenum said he never felt comfortable and could never get in a rhythm.

Henne hangs in: Quarterback Chad Henne took a pounding against the Texans, especially early, but hung in there and had one of his better games despite not throwing a touchdown pass. Henne was sacked four times, including three in the first half, and hit 13 other times. Watt sacked him once and hit him five more times and linebacker Whitney Mercilus sacked him once and hit him four times. Despite the battering, Henne completed 23 of 32 passes for 239 yards. He did not throw an interception. "You just have to sit in there and sometimes you're going to get hit and sometimes you're not, but overall the offensive line did a good job," Henne said. "For the most part we got the ball out on time and really fought through and did really well."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It has been an ugly first half of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

They’ve lost every game by double digits -- the average margin is 22 points -- and are riding a 13-game losing streak that dates back to a Nov. 25, 2012, when they beat Tennessee. They rank last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense, 31st in rush offense, and 27th in total defense.

They haven’t scored a touchdown at EverBank Field since the first quarter of the 2012 regular-season home finale.

Ugly, indeed.

There have been slivers of good work in parts of the team in the first eight games, but the overall body of work deserves an F.

In breaking that grade down, it's clear this midseason report card isn’t going to be pretty. In fact, it’s the kind of report card that gets you grounded for weeks:

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ task in 2013 is simple: Get better.

That’s a realistic expectation when you blow up a roster to begin rebuilding a franchise that won just seven games the previous two seasons. Wins and losses don’t matter as much as making strides, improving incrementally and being a better team at the end of the season.

The Jaguars have met that goal on offense. Things aren’t perfect -- the Jaguars continue to bumble around in the red zone -- but the running game has gotten better, the pass protection has improved significantly and Chad Henne isn’t throwing multiple pick-sixes like the man he replaced.

[+] EnlargeVernon Davis and Josh Evans
AP Photo/Matt DunhamVernon Davis and the 49ers were the latest foes to waltz over Josh Evans and the Jaguars.
Defensively, though, the Jaguars have regressed. After an impressive performance in Denver, in which the Jaguars limited the Broncos and Peyton Manning to season lows in total yards and passing yards, the defense has been woeful in losses to San Diego and San Francisco, the latter on Sunday in London by a score of 42-10.

In the last two games, the defense has allowed 66 points, 832 total yards and 379 rushing yards, while forcing only one turnover and recording just one sack. The Chargers and 49ers went a combined 13 for 21 on third downs (62 percent) and punted just four times. San Diego had five drives of 79 yards or more, leading to 24 points. San Francisco had four drives of 63 yards or more -- all of which resulted in touchdowns.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley helped build Seattle’s defense into one of the NFL’s best, so watching his unit slop around the field the last two weeks is undoubtedly unsettling. It illustrates just how devoid of playmakers this unit is.

Linebacker Paul Posluszny is a tackling machine, and he delivered the defense’s biggest play of the season when he returned a Manning interception 59 yards for a touchdown, but that’s it. He’s the only player who has shown any kind of ability to make big plays.

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding rookie safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans, but neither has an interception and both looked lost against the 49ers. They spent a considerable amount of time whiffing on tackles, too. They may develop into playmakers, but right now they’re just trying to absorb as much as they can and survive their first NFL season.

Tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has been the team’s best defensive lineman, but he’s not exactly Vince Wilfork or Nick Fairley. Plus, he had a costly penalty against San Diego because he shoved a lineman in the head after a play because he was frustrated at being held.

The player the Jaguars drafted in 2012 to develop into a pass-rusher, defensive end Andre Branch, has one sack this season -- which he got by touching St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford after Bradford tripped over the feet of one of his offensive linemen.

"This league is about playmakers," Posluszny said. "You have to have a guy or a group of guys that are able to make a big play when you need it the most. We are struggling with that right now."

Bradley told Fox’s Jennifer Hale at halftime that if things didn’t improve there would be personnel changes. But who? Options are limited because the Jaguars don’t have quality depth anywhere on the defensive roster.

The only way for the defense to get better is to find playmakers -- and that won’t happen until the draft in May.
DENVER -- Linebacker Paul Posluszny spent a lot of time after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 35-19 loss to the Denver Broncos playing good cop-bad cop.

He lauded the defense for forcing three turnovers (including his interception return for a touchdown) and holding the Broncos to season lows in total yards (407) and points.

But he also was critical of several costly defensive mistakes that ruined the Jaguars' chances of winning, mainly stupid penalties and failing to get off the field on third down.

While there were a lot of positives, the mistakes bother him more because they helped keep the Jaguars winless.

"We've got to take a really hard look at the type of mistakes we made," Posluszny said. "Early in the game we had them third-and-forever and they hit a checkdown, kind of a running back screen to get a first down. We're off the field on third down and all of a sudden we get a penalty.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Paul Posluszny
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsPaul Posluszny had seven tackles and also returned an interception 59 yards for a TD against Denver, but admitted the defense made too many mistakes.
"This is Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. You can't do things like that and expect to be successful."

There aren't moral victories in football, but what the Jaguars did defensively against the NFL's top team should qualify. The Broncos hadn't scored fewer than 37 points and had scored 52 and 51 points the past two weeks. But in the first half, the Jaguars held them to 14 points and 165 yards and frustrated Peyton Manning.

They forced two turnovers as well. Posluszny had the biggest play, picking off a Manning pass intended for Wes Welker and returning it 59 yards for a touchdown that cut the Broncos' lead to 14-12 with 36 seconds remaining.

"They ran a simple play-action and I had a guy running up the seam," Posluszny said. "I was able to read the quarterback's eyes, make a break on it, and get my hands on the ball.

"I just wanted to catch the ball and secure it first and then it opened up. Andre Branch makes a great block, make a cut off that, and we get to go. So that was great for us."

Posluszny described the play without a smile, strange because it was his first career touchdown. But he was so bothered by the mistakes the Jaguars made on what seemed to be every Broncos scoring drive that he couldn't enjoy it.

Manning converted a third-and-20 with a dump-down pass that running Knowshon Moreno took 28 yards to the Jaguars' 9-yard line. Moreno simply turned around and went straight up the middle of the field and got a couple blocks from receivers before cornerback Will Blackmon was able to drag him down. Two plays later they led 7-0.

The Jaguars stopped the Broncos on their next possession when Moreno caught a pass and gained just 4 yards on third-and-14. But Branch was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

The Broncos scored five plays later for a 14-0 lead.

The Jaguars held the Broncos scoreless on their next four possessions, ending one by recovering a Manning fumble and another with Posluszny's interception.

There were more mistakes in the third quarter. Safety Josh Evans was penalized for pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct and safety Johnathan Cyprien was penalized for pass interference in the end zone -- all on Denver's first drive.

In Posluszny's mind, all those things ruined the things the defense did well, and coach Gus Bradley agrees.

"We celebrate the victories within the game," he said. "We celebrate the good things that took place. We're going to celebrate that we got a pick-six because we talk about that. Get the ball and score. That defines you as a defense. That's a good thing. We'll celebrate that. But the overall, the outcome that we're looking for, it's not where we want to be."

Observations and thoughts out of the Jaguars’ 31-24 Week 3 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night:
  • The Justin Blackmon-Cecil Shorts receiving duo produced five catches for 70 yards playing with their backup quarterback, Chad Henne. The two looked smooth and efficient, though each had a play that rated as a drop.
  • Jacksonville’s blockers gave up seven sacks, four of them coming against Henne. That’s simply too much pressure and it’s creates too much risk of injury back there while Blaine Gabbert is already out with a thumb injury.
  • I liked the one-play, 63-yard touchdown drive after an interception. That sudden change in possession was thanks to rookie corner Dwayne Gratz’s pick -- followed by sudden change on the scoreboard thanks to running back Jordan Todman’s cut back touchdown run. But the Jaguars had just one first-half drive with more than one first down -- the opening 12-play touchdown drive.
  • Has Todman dented Justin Forsett’s status or security? Forsett injured a toe early in camp and hasn’t been seen in game action. Todman has done some good work and had an eight carry, 105-yard game with the 63-yard TD. Denard Robinson averaged 4.7 yards a carry on seven runs.
  • The Jaguars were 45 percent on third- and fourth-down conversions while holding Philly to 36 percent.
  • Linebacker Paul Posluszny and rookie strong safety Jonathan Cyprien both bit on bad play-action fake where it was not at all believable that Michael Vick was handing off to LeSean McCoy. But the early movement of Poz and Cyprien helped create the play and the space where Vick found Riley Cooper for a 9-yard scoring catch.
  • Chip Kelly’s offense seeks to maximize plays run. But they ran 70 in this game to the Jaguars’ 73. One big difference, however, was average gain per pass play, where the Eagles posted a 7.8 to the Jaguars 3.7.
  • Philadelphia gained 189 yards on kick and punt returns, meaning the Eagles had an average drive start of their own 38-yard line, 14 yards better than Jacksonville’s average start.
  • Tight end Allen Reisner made a nice 8-yard touchdown catch and his game play certainly indicates he’s going to make this team as a tight end behind Marcedes Lewis.
  • We had an Andre Branch sighting. The defensive end knifed inside and snuck by guard Evan Mathis who was preoccupied on combo block on the outside. Center Jason Kelce passed off defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, but it was too late for Kelce not to whiff on Branch storming up the middle.

The Jacksonville Jaguars stuck with Blaine Gabbert as their starter at quarterback in preseason game No. 2.

Part of why, it now appears, is because they were ready to put him in a no-huddle offense, force the pace against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium and see if the offense couldn’t work more effectively with an appearance by running back Maurice Jones-Drew and a contribution from receiver Justin Blackmon.

Gabbert was excellent, with 13 completions in 16 attempts for 165 yards, a touchdown to tight end Allen Reisner and a 130.5 passer rating. He threw on the move, he threw in the face of pressure when he had to, he threw to people who made plays for him. He carried himself confidently, rarely huddling, and running plays that seemed to offer him quick and simple decisions.

Chad Henne took over with 5:34 on the clock in the second quarter. On his final play, Gabbert banged his thumb on defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. He was shaking his hand as he headed for the sideline, and according to tweets from several who covered the game in person, coach Gus Bradley said X-rays of the quarterback’s right thumb were negative. It’s a sprain and he’ll be evaluated further on Sunday.

It was 10-10 when he left the game, and with him at quarterback the Jags converted five of seven third downs.

Against a better opponent who is not surprised by the hurry-up and who will have game-planned more for Gabbert, can he do similar things? We’ll have to wait for the answer to that. We don’t want to give too much weight to less than a half of a preseason game. But still, there is a lot more reason to think it could be a yes than there was before this game.

A few other thoughts on Jets 37, Jaguars 13:
  • The Jags failed to convert the final three third downs they faced in the first half, when Henne had replaced Gabbert. But the first two were runs, they went for it on the fourth down that followed and they converted both.
  • In 16 minutes of play, the Jaguars had eight penalties for 63 yards. While the hurry-up caught the Jets off guard, it may have also thrown the Jaguars off a bit in this department. The pace of the Jacksonville offense didn’t have a bearing on consecutive neutral-zone infractions against defensive linemen Jason Babin and Sen’Derrick Marks. The Jaguars finished with 12 penalties for 100 yards.
  • Blackmon was very good, with four catches on five targets for 46 yards. He ran well with the ball in his hands on a couple of quick receiver screens. They are going to miss him during his four-game suspension to start the season. But once he and Cecil Shorts (who didn’t play) are on the field together, they should be a formidable duo. Mix in rookie Ace Sanders who flashed some in this game and there is plenty of reason for encouragement. Sanders caught Gabbert’s first pass, a 35-yarder down the middle.
  • Timing wasn’t great for rookie safety John Cyprien, who just started practicing on Monday after an offseason hamstring injury. He fell down on the Jets first touchdown, a 23-yard pass from Mark Sanchez to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But even if Cyprien has stayed on his feet, he would have gotten beat on the play.
  • Jones-Drew got three carries for 9 yards and took a little pass 20 yards. The Jags got him out quickly after his first game action since Oct. 21, 2012. Jordan Todman had some quality carries as the next in line – at least one was undone by a penalty and rookie Denard Robinson showed off his speed before he was slowed in the second half. Neither had a good stat line in the end.
  • The Jets got effective work out of Bilal Powell when the running back fielded direct snaps. He took one 37 yards as offensive lineman Willie Colon swallowed up Marks to create a big hole. Powell finished with 68 yards on seven carries.
  • Sanchez and Matt Simms were each sacked once. Jeremy Mincey had the first, sticking with it on a deep drop for Sanchez and ultimately pushing back fullback Tommy Bohanon. Mincey has bulked up so he can play some tackle, and he should beat a fullback. Also of note on the D-line: Continued silence and invisibility from end Andre Branch. His stat line included just one tackle, on special teams.

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