NFL Nation: Dave Caldwell

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Locking up defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks for the next four years was a good move by the Jaguars. It ensures they'll get the prime years of Marks' career, and at a reasonable price, too.

General manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley both referred to Marks as a foundation piece for what the Jaguars are building on defense. They've already landed a few in the secondary in cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien. Linebacker Paul Posluszny was already here. Now they've got an anchor on the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeSen'Derrick Marks
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsIn his first season in Jacksonville, Sen'Derrick Marks is having a career year.
But this never would have happened had Marks listened to critics instead of his gut. The critics said to stay away from Jacksonville but Marks said his instincts told him this would be the best place for him so he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with a $920,000 signing bonus last April.

"When I was telling people I was going down to take a visit to Jacksonville, everybody always said, ‘Why Jacksonville?'" Marks said. "As soon as I signed it was, ‘You went to the worst team in the league.' But I knew my gut feelings and I came down and I actually met with the coaching staff and saw how great a deal that was. Met with the guys that were going to be around me. Got into what the scheme was going to be and I understood exactly what my role was going to be in the defense.

"I knew I had a chance to come down here and perform well and I stood with [defensive line] coach [Todd] Wash and I went along and I went and did it."

Marks' production backed up his gut. He's the Jaguars' three-technique defensive tackle, which means he typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard. In the Jaguars' scheme, they want that position to provide some pass-rush pressure up the middle, too. It was a perfect fit.

Marks is finishing up a career year: four sacks, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. He had three sacks, eight passes defensed, three forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries in his first four seasons in the NFL with Tennessee.

"I think we had high expectations of what Sen'Derrick could bring to this organization and he exceeded those," Bradley said.

What Marks also exceeded was the normal amount of playing time for a defensive tackle. Marks played 83 percent of the Jaguars' defensive snaps, a number that's way too high and one that has to be pared down significantly if he is to be as effective as he was this season in 2014 and beyond.

Part of the reason for his high snap count was the fact that defensive tackle Roy Miller was dealing with a chronic and painful shoulder injury that limited his snaps. There wasn't exactly a lot of quality depth behind Marks or Miller, either.

Miller played well despite the injury and has undergone surgery on his shoulder, so he should be a much better complement next season. But the Jaguars still have work to do on the defensive line. Marks is a great start, but a foundation is useless if there's nothing for it to support.

"Obviously we're in this stage in building this team and [it's good] to get to a point where we can build around and help him out, too," Caldwell said. "There's some school of thought for us, too, that he probably played too many snaps this year and if we can get him some help next year he'd be that much more effective in pass-rush situations."

Marks is hoping other defensive linemen will listen to his gut instead of critics, too.

"Hopefully everybody can see that we are building something, and I saw that firsthand," he said. "All I can tell people if I was asked is we're building something great here and I think it was shown throughout the season. If you want to go the opposite way you can but all I can tell you is we're building something great."

Double Coverage: Bills at Jaguars

December, 13, 2013
Johnson/HenneUSA TODAY SportsStevie Johnson's Bills and Chad Henne's Jaguars are both 4-9, but the teams appear headed in opposite directions.
It has been a different second half for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills.

Both teams are 4-9 but they’re on opposite wavelengths. The Jaguars have won four of their past five games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2010. The Bills have lost four of their past five and are coming off an abysmal performance in Tampa Bay.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is talking about making sure his players treat prosperity the same way they treated the adversity they faced in the first half of the season. Bills coach Doug Marrone is talking about scaling back the offense to help rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.

The teams meet Sunday at EverBank Field. Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Manuel is pretty familiar to fans in Jacksonville from his time at Florida State. He has had an up-and-down season, but what have you seen from him that leads you to believe the Bills made the correct choice in deciding to build the franchise around him?

Rodak: I think the jury is still out on whether the Bills made the correct choice in Manuel. In Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers, Manuel posted a 3.8 QBR, which ranks 415 out of 426 single-game performances in the NFL this season. It's dangerous to give too much weight to what's most recent, but in this case, Sunday had to be alarming for the Bills. Manuel has the leadership and character traits that any NFL team wants in its quarterback, but his on-field performance has left a lot to be desired. These last three games will be critically important to determining which direction Manuel is heading.

The Jaguars have gone on a surprising run lately, winning four of their past five games. Have they been doing anything different than early in the season? Or are things just simply starting to come together for Gus Bradley and his players?

DiRocco: Schematically, no, other than just paring down the defensive game plan a bit and focusing more on the coverages and blitzes they do well. But three things stand out: better run defense, a better turnover ratio and better success in the red zone. In the first eight games -- all losses by double digits -- the Jaguars were allowing 161.8 yards per game rushing, were minus-7 in turnover ratio, and scored TDs on only 25 percent of red-zone possessions. The numbers in the past five games: 70.8 yards per game allowed, plus-5, and 66.7 percent. The offensive line has been much more consistent, quarterback Chad Henne is making few mistakes, and the defensive line has held up at the point of attack much better.

Kiko Alonso is one of the candidates for defensive rookie of the year and is second in the NFL in tackles. Obviously a second-round pick is expected to produce, but has the kind of impact he has made on the defense been a surprise?

Rodak: I think so. When I spoke to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last month about Alonso, he indicated that the Bills inserted him into the starting lineup in the spring, but it was a wait-and-see deal. If it didn’t work out, they were going to turn somewhere else, but Alonso has certainly fit well within this defense. He has drawn a lot of praise from coaches and veterans on this team for his work ethic and ability to pick up the scheme quickly. However, I do think that Alonso’s play has tailed off slightly over the past several weeks after he had a hot start this season. He had four interceptions, one sack, and one forced fumble in the first month of the season. Since then, he has had one sack, no interceptions and no forced fumbles. Is that overly concerning for the Bills, though? Most likely not. I think Alonso will be a fixture in this defense for the foreseeable future.

What’s the latest on Maurice Jones-Drew? I remember hearing some trade talk around him a few months ago, but once the deadline passed, he hasn’t been on the radar as much. Does he have a future in Jacksonville?

DiRocco: He does if he’s willing to be realistic about a contract. No team is going to pay big money for a 29-year-old running back that has battled injuries the past two seasons, which is what he’ll find out if he decides to test the free-agent market when his contract expires after this season. The Jaguars are interested in re-signing him and likely will offer him an incentive-filled two-year contract worth $6-10 million. Jones-Drew, who would like to finish his career in Jacksonville, is making $4.95 million this season so that would be a pay cut. If he’s OK with that, then I’d be surprised if he’s not around.

What do you think of the job Doug Marrone has done in his first season? And what do you think of his long-term future in Buffalo?

Rodak: I think it has been a trying season for Marrone. It's not that there were high hopes for the team in his first season -- nobody realistically expected them to make the playoffs -- but I don't think everything fell into place as well as he would have liked. His hire of Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator has generally paid off well, but ultimately what's going to define Marrone's tenure in Buffalo will be the quarterback position. Coaches don't often get more than one chance to get it right at quarterback, so if Manuel doesn't work out in Buffalo, it may not work out for Marrone, either. That's just today's NFL. It's a brutal league.

What about for the Jaguars? Their roster was about as bare bones as it gets this past offseason -- in much worse shape than the Bills' entering this season -- and they've managed to put on a nice little run here. What's the next step that general manager David Caldwell needs to take?

DiRocco: His No. 1 priority is to find a franchise quarterback. At the beginning of the season I would have told you the Jaguars would draft Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 1 overall selection, but since it now appears the Jaguars will be picking in the Nos. 5-7 range it seems unlikely Bridgewater will be around. Caldwell is going to have to figure out whether there’s somebody else he likes just as much or if he’s going to be willing to gamble that he can get a good QB a little later in the draft, whether it’s A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray or somebody else.

Tim Tebow to Jaguars logic is flawed

November, 18, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Tim Tebow-to-the Jaguars movement seemed to have slowed until golf pro Dewey Arnette revved it back up by purchasing an ad in the Florida Times-Union newspaper urging owner Shad Khan to sign the former University of Florida standout.

But the latest effort -- which comes on the heels of a plane carrying a banner urging the same thing flying around EverBank Field on Sunday -- isn't going to make a difference. General manager Dave Caldwell has made it abundantly clear that the team has no desire to sign Tebow.

That's not going to stop Tebow's fans from trying to get him to change his mind, but they're using flawed logic.

Their top argument is that signing Tebow would mean fans would fill EverBank Field. Maybe they would. The novelty of having the Jacksonville native and Heisman Trophy winner would surely cause a spike in attendance for one or two of the Jaguars' three remaining home games. But what about long term?

How many will show up for every home game? How many of them will buy season tickets, which are the lifeblood of a franchise? Some surely will, but what's the number? Ten thousand? Five thousand? Five hundred? There's no way to know for sure and a billboard or newspaper ad promising that the stadium will be filled is hardly a guarantee.

Besides, Tebow wouldn't be on the field anyway. He's not going to play quarterback, certainly not coming in with six weeks remaining in the season and having to learn a brand new offense. He wouldn't be the Jaguars' quarterback next season, either. Caldwell is drafting a quarterback in the first round in May -- and if he doesn't and instead opts for Jadeveon Clowney, he's taking a quarterback pretty soon after.

Which results in the second argument that Tebow's supporters use: He can switch positions and play fullback or tight end.

That makes it sound as if playing fullback and tight end is so easy anyone can do it. Learning to block blitzing linebackers and defensive ends, apparently, is pretty darn easy. A minicamp, a couple of practices, and a preseason game or two and Tebow would be able to play positions he's never played before as well as guys who have been doing it since high school.

Forget how illogical that sounds. It's also a slap in the face to fullbacks (however few there are remaining) and tight ends who have worked for years to reach the NFL.

It's easy to understand the Tebow fervor. The Jaguars are floundering, Blaine Gabbert obviously isn't the answer, and there isn't anyone on the roster who generates any excitement or national attention. Tebow would certainly generate national attention and his jersey would fly off the racks. But he wouldn't make an impact on the field.

The Jaguars need players who can make an impact. They add enough of those and there will be plenty of people in the seats.

Jaguars finally get to celebrate

November, 10, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The noise coming from the Jacksonville Jaguars' locker room was muffled by the concrete block walls, but not by much.

Those standing outside couldn’t make out what was being said, but every 10-15 seconds there were shouts and claps and whistles and stomps. And finally, after four or five rounds of cheers, there was one final, rousing roar.

That is what it sounds like after a victory in the NFL, and it’s a sound the Jaguars haven’t made in nearly a year.

"There was a lot of talking," cornerback Will Blackmon said after the Jaguars held on for a 29-27 victory against the host Tennessee Titans at LP Field. "It’s been silent the past eight weeks."

The last time the Jaguars (1-8) celebrated a victory was Nov. 25, 2012, when they beat the Titans 24-19 at EverBank Field. That was 350 days ago, and since then the Jaguars had lost 13 consecutive games, including the first eight this season by double digits.

They were soundly thumped by Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. In three games at EverBank Field they have scored a total of 11 points: three field goals and a safety.

So damn right they celebrated. They celebrated linebacker Paul Posluszny’s forced fumble and recovery on the game’s first offensive snap, which allowed the Jaguars to take a 7-0 lead – the first time they had held a lead since early in the second quarter of a Week 5 loss to St. Louis.

They celebrated rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz’s first career interception, which led to a field goal and a 13-0 second-quarter lead.

They celebrated Bernard Pollard’s roughing the passer penalty, which nullified a third-down incompletion and extended a drive that eventually ended with Jordan Todman’s 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

They celebrated the holding penalty in the end zone by Titans rookie guard Chance Warmack, which gave the Jaguars a safety and essentially provided the winning margin.

They celebrated Blackmon’s sack, strip and 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

And they celebrated Johnathan Cyprien’s recovery of an onside kick with 38 seconds remaining.

"Just a long time coming," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "Long overdue. It was good. Everybody was excited and happy."

And a little relieved, too.

Head coach Gus Bradley had been adamant about staying true to the plan he, the coaching staff, and general manager Dave Caldwell had implemented. Keep practicing the way we’ve been practicing, keep doing things the way we want you to, keep working hard. Trust that if you do all those things, the results will come.

Well, they didn’t. It hadn’t even been close, either, until a cool, cloudless Sunday in the Music City.

"To have the ability to stay the course, stay true to who we are and come out and execute the way we did is an awesome deal and an awesome feeling for our guys," Bradley said. "I just appreciate them staying tight with it and really holding true to it."

There was something else in the locker room as well: a bit of defiance. Guard Uche Nwaneri expressed it, but he surely isn’t the only one who felt that way. Through the first eight weeks, the players patiently answered question after question about the team’s poor play. They answered questions about whether they were expecting to be traded. They answered questions about whether there was any feeling that the players were beginning to tune out Bradley as the losses continued to pile up.

Of course, they also answered questions about 0-16.

They saw the stories and tweets about how pathetic they were, about how this was one of the worst teams in NFL history. They heard the jokes and the analysts’ remarks. Each one was an attack on their pride.

So when the clock finally hit zero on Sunday afternoon, Nwaneri was finally able to vent.

"Finally validating the work we’ve put in and getting this win today, it did feel like a breath of fresh air," Nwaneri said. "It was kind of like [giving the] middle finger to all the people who want talk about the Jaguars not winning the game or being the worst 0-8 team in history.

"It’s kind of, ‘Eat this.’ That’s kind of how it feels."

It feels, he said, pretty good. Winning always does.

Locker Room Buzz: Tennessee Titans

November, 10, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 29-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field:

Tick, tick: The extra time Mike Munchak took getting to his postgame interview didn’t give him time to come up with any answers, but it did buy some of his players time to make a getaway before another, bigger wave of tough questions arrived. Typically the locker room doors open as the coach heads into his news conference. Munchak took quite a bit longer than that after a loss he couldn’t explain. Kenny Britt, a receiver the Titans are going to need if Damian Williams misses time with a quad injury, was out of the locker room as quickly as anyone.

Bad sign: Jake Locker is awaiting further tests, but his right foot injury had him on crutches in the second half and after the game. He said he was praying it’s not a season-ending injury, which means there is potential it might be. I’m often uncomfortable with the injury-prone label. But Munchak said he can’t imagine Locker’s ready to play in four days, which will mean in two seasons the quarterback has suffered three injuries that will have cost him at least a start. It’s hard for a young team structured to grow around a quarterback to do so when he’s in and out.

Truly miserable: A lot of the team was out of the room when tight end Delanie Walker was still in a towel sitting in front of his locker. How long guys lament a terrible day in the locker room isn’t the surest sign of how much they care. But it’s hard to make a case that he’s not near the top of the list in terms of how upset he was over a result that dropped his team to below .500 again. Stay tuned for some of what he said.

Old friends: Former Colts GM Bill Polian, now of ESPN, and Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell chatted at halftime in the Titans' press box. Caldwell came up as part of Polian’s Indianapolis staff. Check out my Instagram for a picture.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Just when the Jaguars offense had started to get on a roll, it’s dealt another setback.

The indefinite suspension of receiver Justin Blackmon takes away the offense’s best weapon, which means quarterback Chad Henne and the passing game are going to have to rely on a group of young, inexperienced receivers to fill the void for the rest of the season.

It also means Cecil Shorts, who leads the Jaguars with 46 catches for 565 yards and one touchdown, will have to shoulder the load as the team’s No. 1 receiver and deal with the resulting attention from opposing defenses.

"Justin’s a very good football player," general manager Dave Caldwell said. "So when you lose a player of his magnitude somebody else is going to have to step up. This is a great opportunity for some of our guys to step up and fill that void.

"We’re just going to have to find a way to get on track here. It’s only a distraction if we allow it to be and Coach [Gus] Bradley is not going to allow it be a distraction."

Shorts was the Jaguars’ top target in the first four games while Blackmon was serving his first suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, catching 26 passes for 337 yards. He was pretty much a one-man show because the other receivers were rookie Ace Sanders, first-year players Mike Brown (a converted quarterback) and Jeremy Ebert, waiver-wire claim Stephen Burton and undrafted rookie free agent Tobais Palmer (who has since been cut).

Blackmon’s return had an immediate impact on the offense. In the first four games of the season the Jaguars averaged 224 yards of total offense and 7.8 points. In the first two games with Blackmon in the lineup the Jaguars averaged 362.5 yards of total offense and 19.5 points. He caught 29 passes for 415 yards and one touchdown in the four games in which he played after catching 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2012.

Now the Jaguars will have to find a way to replace that production. Shorts has proven to be a solid receiver, catching 103 passes for 1,574 yards and nine touchdowns in 32 career games with the Jaguars. The rest of the receivers -- Brown, Sanders, Burton, Ebert (who’s on the practice squad), rookie Denard Robinson and waiver-wire claim Stephen Williams -- have combined for 54 receptions and two touchdowns in their careers.

That’s not exactly proven help.

There is some growing confidence in Brown, who spent most of last season on the practice squad as he made the transition from college quarterback. He made his first career catch in the 2013 season opener against Kansas City before injuring his back and sitting out the next four weeks. Since his return he has caught 12 passes for 212 yards (17.7 yards per catch) and one touchdown.

Sanders has at least played a significant number of snaps (304) and has 16 catches for 182 yards this season. The only other receivers who have caught passes this season are Ebert (two for 10 yards) and Burton (one for 7).

"We look at it as a great opportunity to overcome a situation that's been presented to us," Caldwell said. "And when we look back on situations like this in the future, we're going to remember how tough it was and how rewarding it's going to be when we get to where we want to be."

Q&A: Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell

October, 23, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some leftover soundbites from a recent conversation with Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell on his team-building philosophy:

How would you describe what you are trying to build in Jacksonville with the Jaguars?

Dave Caldwell:
Shad Khan is very passionate about this team and this city. When I interviewed here, he gave me the opportunity to interview other places before he offered me the job. His thought was "I want you to want to be here, and I want you to be part of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the community here. I think if you go explore other opportunities, you’re going to realize that." He was right. My heart was here. Same with Coach [Gus} Bradley. He had the opportunity to stay in Seattle. There were a couple other jobs he could have gone for, or waited another year, but he wanted to be a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He wanted to be here with Shad, [president] Mark Lamping, myself, and the team we have here. We want people who want to be here. That’s our mindset. I think we’re slowly getting it to a point where people are going to want to come here. With our head coach and our coaching staff, I’d be hard-pressed to find a better situation. Conversely, when people leave here, we want it to be a difficult decision for them, kind of like it was for me when I left Atlanta. That was difficult, but it was difficult for the right reasons. Same thing, I want to treat our guys like Thomas [Dimitroff] treated me and if it’s a great opportunity, let’s get you that job. Let’s get coordinators head-coaching jobs, but let’s make it difficult because this is a great spot.

Why is Gus Bradley the right coach to lead the Jaguars, and for you as a co-builder of this franchise?

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Dave Caldwell
AP Photo/John Raoux"We've made the commitment to build [the Jaguars] through the draft. Thats part of the reason I took this job," GM Dave Caldwell said.
DC: The biggest thing is that he cares. Not just about being successful, but he cares about his people, he cares about his assistant coaches, he cares about his players. Not just from a professional standpoint, but from a personal standpoint. He is extremely genuine. When he speaks to you, or he speaks to a player, he’s not concerned about anything else going around. He’s not looking for his next conversation. He makes you feel like you’re the most important person at that time. I think that’s very important, when he’s talking to players, or coaches, whoever that might be, he has their full attention and they have his full attention. You saw that really quickly in the interview -- he is as genuine of a person as I’ve been around. He’s highly passionate. Highly competitive. He was willing to take a chance. When I said we’re going to build this through the draft, and play young guys early on, he was all for it. Throughout the interview process, our philosophies just aligned very quickly. Same with Shad. When Shad interviewed me, it was about continuous improvement. I said "that’s what I’m looking for." When I interviewed Gus, it was about getting better. Shad’s belief, all the way through, was about continuous improvement. The three of us were on the same page with that. That’s how we felt we needed to get better. That process was really good. I think it’s worked out well.

What have you focused on when it comes to hiring people around Gus and in scouting?

DC: I am a first-time general manager and Gus a first-time head coach, so there was a thought of "let’s use this as an opportunity to give other people their first opportunity." Marcus Pollard was a guy who we said, "let’s give him an opportunity" knowing he was going to have to grow into his role and become an expert in that role. A lot of our coaches -- Jedd Fisch, first-time offensive coordinator, Mike Mallory, first-time special-teams coordinator. [Assistant special-teams coach] Matt Smiley, we brought from college. [Quality control coach] Tony Sorrentino, we brought from college. We have a lot of youth. We have a lot of energy. Coach Bradley wanted great teachers, passion, and guys who were excited about being here. That was the biggest thing for us. That’s kind of what we did throughout the entire organization. Kyle O’Brien, college director. I felt like that if I was given my first opportunity, I could pay it back to people where it was important for them. That’s kind of how we approached this from a building and culture standpoint, and it’s been good. I love coming in here on daily basis with the camaraderie we have here.

How would you describe your approach of building the roster?

DC: We’ve made the commitment to build this through the draft. That’s part of the reason I took this job. Everybody says "I want to build through the draft, I want to build through the draft" but only a select number of them actually commit to it. I firmly believe in doing it. I know we’re going to go through some adversity doing that, but in the long-term, you’ll see success through it. Obviously, we have to pick the right players. I feel like that’s the way to do it, and I felt like this was a market we could do that. The owner is committed to doing it. The head coach is committed to doing it. That’s what we’re going to do. I’m not very patient, so sometimes I tell Shad and Gus, "remind me how we’re going to do this." We’re convicted in our beliefs in doing it. I think it can work here. One thing about Jacksonville, they’re passionate. The perception that maybe the nation has is not accurate, these fans are passionate. They love their Jaguars. It’s a very similar feel to growing up in Buffalo. That city loves their football team. They live and die with them. I feel very similar to the fans here, and the passion that the fans here have.
Justin Blackmon and Knowshon MorenoUSA TODAY SportsJustin Blackmon and the 0-5 Jaguars face Knowshon Moreno and the 5-0 Broncos.
Already, it has been the subject of the biggest point spread in decades as well as an exchange of tweets from each team's official Twitter handle that included a "stay classy Denver" missive from the Jaguars. But the league's highest-scoring team and the league's lowest-scoring team will meet Sunday when the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars get together at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The Broncos are 5-0 and the Jaguars come in at 0-5 in Gus Bradley's first season as head coach. Jaguars team reporter Michael DiRocco and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down this week's game.

Legwold: Michael, it's been a tough go thus far in the first season of the new regime. How have Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell handled it all? And have they grown weary of people saying they should sign Tim Tebow?

DiRocco: Bradley has been amazingly positive with the media and with the players. It's probably the best approach to take because he's got a young team and everyone knew this was going to be a rough season, anyway. It's the only way to keep the players committed to the plan he and Caldwell have in place to turn the franchise around. If he were to all of a sudden go negative, he'd risk losing the team. That doesn't mean he is not acknowledging problems and poor play, but he is trying to be upbeat in doing so. Caldwell has not been as visible, but when he spoke last week, he talked about remaining committed to the long-term rebuilding plan and not trying to find a quick fix. As for the Tebow question, it's a dead issue among Bradley and Caldwell. They're not going to sign him and they're able to ignore the Tebow fervor, which has died down a bit over the past two weeks.

In terms of the Broncos, they are averaging 46 points a game and just scored 51 in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. They look unstoppable. But what, in your opinion, is their Achilles' heel on offense, and is there a defense out there that can exploit that?

Legwold: They lost All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady earlier this season, and his replacement, Chris Clark, had never started a game at left tackle in his career. Center Manny Ramirez never started an NFL game at the position until the regular-season opener after the Broncos moved him in as the starter in offseason workouts. Overall, the offensive line has played well so far -- Manning's been sacked just five times -- and there might be no player more adept at reading a defense's intentions in the rush and getting rid of the ball accordingly before trouble arrives than Manning. The trouble has come in the run game. The Broncos have had 53 carries this season for 2 or fewer yards because they haven't consistently won the line of scrimmage, even in mop-up situations late in games. So, for all the Broncos have done on offense this season -- and it has been remarkable -- it's still an unanswered question if they could win a slug-it-out affair on a bad-weather day or if Manning was just having a bad outing. But the other question is whether or not anybody could even get them into one of those games.

In terms of quarterback, what do you think the Jaguars' long-term plans are at the position, and if they get a top-three pick in next May's draft, would they pick one?

DiRocco: This season's top priority was finding out if Blaine Gabbert could be the player around which Caldwell and Bradley build the franchise. Instead of relying on preconceived notions, they gave him a clean slate when they arrived. So far, though, Gabbert has missed two games with a hand injury and isn't likely to play Sunday because of a hamstring strain. He hasn't been very good when he has been on the field, either: 44.8 percent completion rate, seven interceptions (three returned for TDs). By the end of the season, management will likely come to the conclusion that Gabbert isn't the answer and they'll have to draft a quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater seems to be the best quarterback available, but a lot can change between now and May. He'd be whom I would take, and the Jaguars might very well agree, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Jaguars traded down to get more picks because this team needs so much help elsewhere.

Speaking of long-term quarterback plans, what are the Broncos thinking there? Manning is approaching 40 and has the neck issue, so he's got only one or two more good seasons in him, right?

Legwold: When he signed with the Broncos in March of 2012, Manning wanted to construct a deal the Broncos could feel good about in terms of their ability to evaluate his physical status after his first season in Denver. At the time, Manning said he didn't want his deal to prevent the team from doing other things if it didn't work out. So, the two sides had it written into his contract that Manning would take a physical exam following his first season in Denver and if his surgically-repaired neck was cleared, it would then engage the next two years of the contract -- 2013 and 2014. Both of those seasons are now guaranteed, so those three years have always been the window people have operated in when discussing his time with the Broncos. However, that was before his assault on the record book this season. He looks stronger than ever. Manning does have two additional years on the deal -- 2015 and 2016 -- but those years are not guaranteed. Manning has always said he won't be a "hang-around" guy, and when he feels he can't compete at the level he wants to -- or no longer wants to go through the arduous preparation at the pace he currently keeps -- that would influence him as well. But on the field, many in the league are saying he's playing better than ever, and he says he still enjoys the day-to-day work it takes to reach that level.

Overall this season, can you tell folks about one or two Jaguars who offer some glimmers of hope for the future and who are performing well amid the team's struggles?

DiRocco: Offensively, it's receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Blackmon has played only one game (he was suspended for the first four), but his impact on the offense was immediate -- three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter against the St. Louis Rams. He's the team's best playmaker and had a fantastic rookie season in 2012 (64 catches, 865 yards, 5 TDs). Shorts (31 catches for 411 yards this season) is in his third season and is on pace for 100 catches. There are two rookies in the secondary who will be the backbone of the defense: safeties Josh Evans (sixth round) and Johnathan Cyprien (second). Cyprien has the size/toughness/coverage mix that's needed in the defensive scheme that Bradley brought over from Seattle. Evans was forced into the starting lineup by an injury to Dwight Lowery in the third game and hasn't missed a snap since. Both are learning on the go, but it's easy to see they're talented.

Jack Del Rio is facing his former team this week. Do you sense that this game means a lot to him because of the way his tenure ended, or is this just another game for him?

Legwold: Del Rio will deflect, and has previously, most any discussion about how his time with the Jaguars ended. So, people shouldn't expect too many public fireworks from him in that regard, but, privately, I'm sure he'd like to see the Broncos dominate. His players like him and they respect him, so they will also want to give him a quality effort in this one. Especially since they just surrendered 506 passing yards and five touchdowns to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo this past Sunday. They've got an awful lot to deal with, so I'm not sure Del Rio will publicly stroll down memory lane too much, but he's in a good spot with the Broncos as far as working day to day for a playoff contender. As far as being a head coach again, he's already been linked to the USC job -- he's publicly said "there's nothing to talk about there" -- and should the Broncos finish strong and play with a little more defensive edge when both Von Miller and Champ Bailey return, he could find himself in the NFL mix as well.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In a week when arguably the NFL's best team faces the league's worst, a gap that has made the Denver Broncos a record-tying 28-point favorite over the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's a reminder of the major rebuilding task that Dave Caldwell has signed on to oversee.

It's daunting, but the Jaguars' passionate, grounded general manager hardly looks harried as he arrives in his office on a recent Friday morning, a large Dunkin' Donuts coffee clutched in his right hand. Maybe that's because he's been part of something like this before.

Caldwell was hired as Jaguars general manager in January after spending the previous five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, the first four as director of college scouting, the final year as director of player personnel.

When he first arrived in Atlanta, the Falcons were looking up at the rest of the NFL, the 32nd team in ESPN's Power Rankings and in need of an organizational overhaul after coach Bobby Petrino quit on the team the year before, Hall of Famer Bill Parcells spurned their advances to clean up the mess and franchise quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for dogfighting activities.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Dave Caldwell
AP Photo/John Raoux"When I came on an interview here, one of the things I noticed was that this building was made for dysfunction," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said.
So the 39-year-old Caldwell, who is the NFL's second-youngest GM, knows what it's like to be looking up at the rest of the NFL. He also experienced firsthand what goes into rising from that lowly standing, and much of what he's brought to Jacksonville is rooted from that experience.

It starts with addressing the culture in the building, which he learned from one of his mentors, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

"I came the day after the draft and I remember arriving in Atlanta with a negative perception and how it was such a mess, from everything you read," Caldwell recalled. "But then I get into the building and there was a completely different vibe with everyone there, from the secretaries to the head coach. You could just sense that right away. Thomas is a friend, but it wasn't just about him at that point, it was everybody in the building. You could sense that right away and it just felt right."

Caldwell is determined to create a similar environment in Jacksonville, and while the wins have yet to come on the field -- which is ultimately what will determine if his tenure is a success -- a closer look inside the walls of the team's facility at EverBank Field reveals how parts of Caldwell's vision are already taking shape.

Concrete walls have been demolished. Metal doors which created a dungeon-like feel are now glass and more welcoming. The draft room has been opened up, and offices -- including his own -- have been moved.

"When I came on an interview here, one of the things I noticed was that this building was made for dysfunction. I called it the 'great divide.' You have a hallway that separated the coaching staff with the rest of the building and personnel. It didn't feel like an organization because you had to cross that rubber hallway to get to the coaches, you had metal doors, and everything was so closed in," he said. "Just from a symbolic basis, I felt like it was two sides."

It isn't that way anymore. The improvements aimed at more openness and transparency are still ongoing as part of what Caldwell calls a significant financial commitment from owner Shad Khan, which has included an upgraded training room, dining area for players and the team locker room.

Perhaps the most symbolic change is that Caldwell's office is now next to the upbeat head coach he hired, Gus Bradley. Caldwell said that was Khan's idea, with the hope of promoting better communication between two of the most important people in the organization, and Caldwell was immediately on board because it reflected his own beliefs.

"I learned this from Thomas: The relationship between head coach and general manager is paramount. You have to be on the same page and be co-builders regardless of who has what title," he said, adding that the Jaguars employed the same consultant in their head-coaching search as the Falcons did in 2008.

From his view in Atlanta, Dimitroff sees the obvious parallels between the 2008 Falcons and 2013 Jaguars.

"It was imperative that he and the head coach that he decided on bringing in, along with the owner, that they were very communicative, that they were along the same wavelength and congruent with their team-building philosophies," he said. "And that they had an owner who was very generous and willing to work with them and have the patience to sort of build the team the way they want to build the team.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley and Dave Caldwell
Phil Sears/USA TODAY Sports Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, left, and GM Dave Caldwell, right, now have offices next to each other. "The relationship between head coach and general manager is paramount," Caldwell said.
"Back in 2008, we were coming off a tumultuous season where the entire building -- not only football operations but also the business side -- needed a revamp in many different ways. There needed to be this injection of positivity, trust, passion, levity and direction."

Embarking on their journey together as first-time GM and first-time head coach, Caldwell and Bradley have surrounded themselves with several other first-timers, part of creating a young, vibrant culture. In terms of personnel, Caldwell used the words "athleticism, speed and aggression" when describing the types of players the Jaguars are targeting.

"I want a fast, aggressive football team. Also, a team that is highly, highly competitive, day in and day out, where guys are coming to work knowing that every single day matters, to have that roster where the 53rd guy has as much of a chance of starting as the No. 1 guy on the roster," he said.

As early-season results have shown, there have been some expected growing pains, which have sparked some media-driven talk about a possible winless season. Caldwell, who admittedly isn't the most patient type, isn't wavering on his belief that the best approach is to build the Jaguars through the draft.

That helps explain why he traded left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this month for fourth- and fifth-round draft choices. Monroe was entering the final year of his contract. The Jaguars drafted left-tackle-of-the-future Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall this year, and Caldwell -- who spent 10 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts as a scout before his five years in Atlanta -- is thinking big picture. He now has 10 picks in the 2014 draft.

"Everybody says ‘I want to build through the draft, I want to build through the draft,' but only a select number of teams actually commit to it. I firmly believe in doing it. I know we're going to go through some adversity doing that, but in the long-term, you'll see success through it," Caldwell said.

"Obviously, we have to pick the right players, but I felt like this was a market we could do that. The owner is committed to doing it. The head coach is committed to doing it. That's what we're going to do and we're convicted in our beliefs in doing it. I think it can work here."

It mostly worked for the Falcons from their low point in 2008, although there is one major difference between the ‘08 Falcons and 2013 Jaguars. The Falcons drafted their franchise quarterback that first year in selecting Matt Ryan No. 3 overall.

Caldwell didn't draft a quarterback this year, but the 2014 draft is expected to be deep at the position. That's obviously the key piece. And whatever he decides at quarterback, it will almost certainly be the most important decision of his tenure. On Thursday night, Caldwell attended the Louisville-Rutgers game, as Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation's top quarterback prospects.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Caldwell will be in Denver, where his Jaguars are the biggest underdogs the NFL has seen in decades.

He's been down this road before, living it with the 2008 Falcons, which only makes him more steadfast in his belief that better days are ahead.

Monroe trade may be just first move

October, 1, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' trade of offensive tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens for multiple draft picks, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is likely to be the first of numerous moves involving some of the team’s high-profile players in the next several months.

The 2013 season was going to be a wash anyway, but now that it appears the Jaguars are headed for what could be a historically bad season, general manager Dave Caldwell is turning his attention toward the 2014 season and beyond.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Dave Caldwell
AP Photo/John RaouxJaguars general manager Dave Caldwell is getting a jump on 2014 by trading Eugene Monroe.
In trading Monroe, who is in the final year of his contract, the Jaguars at least get something for a player they apparently had no desire to re-sign. Draft picks, even late-round ones, are valuable commodities for a team that needs a near complete roster overhaul before it can even be competitive. Whether the team uses those picks for bottom-of-the-roster players or packages them to move up or down, Caldwell is giving himself some flexibility in next May’s draft.

And he’s likely not finished. The Jaguars haven’t played well and weren’t likely to win more than a couple of games, so why not essentially blow the team up now and get a head start on 2014 and 2015? There are several other veteran players who could be traded: guard Uche Nwaneri and running back Maurice Jones-Drew, for example.

Nwaneri signed a five-year extension reportedly worth $24 million in 2010. He, along with center Brad Meester and guard Will Rackley, has struggled this season, although Nwaneri and Rackley are dealing with knee injuries. Jones-Drew is in the final year of his contract and is unlikely to be re-signed.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has played only two snaps this season because of a calf injury, also could be a target. Lewis signed a five-year contract worth $35 million ($17 million guaranteed) in 2011.

Not one of those players, all of whom are 28 or older, is in the team’s long-term plans. If Caldwell can get anything substantive for them, it’s almost a no-brainer. It’s not going to be easy to watch the product on the field, but everything now is about 2014 and 2015.

As for what the Monroe trade means on the field right now, it’s time to welcome first-round pick Luke Joeckel to left tackle. That’s where he played at Texas A&M, but he was moved to right tackle once he arrived in Jacksonville.

Cameron Bradfield, a third-year player the team signed as an undrafted rookie in 2011, likely moves into the starting spot at right tackle. He started 12 games there last season.

Double Coverage: Colts at Jaguars

September, 26, 2013
Maurice Jones-Drew and Trent RichardsonUSA TODAY SportsMaurice Jones-Drew and Trent Richardson will square off Sunday in Jacksonville.
The winless Jacksonville Jaguars return to EverBank Field after spending more than a week on the West Coast -- they played at Oakland on Sept. 15 and remained in California to prepare for this past Sunday's game at Seattle -- for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a much better trip out West than the Jaguars. They routed host San Francisco 27-7 on Sunday by shutting down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Jaguars, meanwhile, fell to 0-3 after the Seahawks routed them 45-17. Sunday presents another tough task for the Jaguars. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco take a look at this week's matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Mike, Peyton Manning was such an iconic figure in Indianapolis. With all the success he's had in his first 20 games, has Andrew Luck come close to that level yet?

Mike Wells: Manning may be on his way to his fifth MVP trophy out there in Denver, but the Colts could be set at quarterback for the next decade with Luck. It’s only natural to compare the quarterbacks because they both carry themselves in the same manner. They’re humble, perfectionists and, best of all, damn good quarterbacks. Luck isn’t at the same level as Manning, but the goal in Indianapolis is for him to reach that status or beyond. Speaking of quarterbacks -- or maybe it’s not a good idea -- what’s going on down there in Jacksonville with that situation? When do the Jaguars officially throw in the towel and say Blaine Gabbert is not the answer for them?

DiRocco: That is the general belief around Jacksonville, but that's not yet the case for new general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. They have given Gabbert a clean slate and will evaluate him based on what they see from the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder this season. They have to find out whether Gabbert is the player around whom they can build the franchise, so this season is essentially a pressure-packed tryout for him. He has not performed well since being taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. This year he's dealing with a pretty porous offensive line, and two of his top three weapons -- tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) and Justin Blackmon (suspension) -- have yet to play this season. By the end of the season Caldwell and Bradley will know whether Gabbert is the answer. The Colts obviously have one piece of their foundation in Luck, but they recently traded for Trent Richardson to fulfill the role Edgerrin James had for years. My question is this: Who's the next Marvin Harrison?

Wells: They don’t have that receiver yet. Reggie Wayne is obviously a future Hall of Famer, and he’s still playing at a very high level. But he’s also 34 years old. The Colts are hoping that Darrius Heyward-Bey could be that receiver. He was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009, so he has the potential to complement Luck and Richardson. But Heyward-Bey has to get over his case of the drops. Playing well in spurts isn’t good enough. In fact, T.Y. Hilton, the Colts’ third receiver, outplayed Heyward-Bey in the preseason. I hate to do this to you -- and probably a lot of NFL fans -- but is there any possibility that the Jaguars would even think about bringing in Tim Tebow? There are fans down there rallying for him. And if anything, it’ll help in the attendance department.

DiRocco: Not going to happen, no matter how much noise Tebow’s supporters make. The Jaguars are moving forward with Gabbert, and if it turns out he’s not the player around whom they can build the franchise, they’ll look to the 2014 draft to find a quarterback. I covered Tebow at Florida, and he was fantastic, one of the best collegiate players of all time, but he’s just not able to make the leap. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t diminish what he did at Florida in any way. As for attendance, the Jaguars actually ranked 20th in that stat last season, drawing an average of 64,984. That’s ahead of teams such as Chicago (62,329), Minnesota (60,725) and Miami (57,379). That was for a 2-14 team that didn’t have Tebow. Sometimes young, talented teams that make the playoffs take a step backward the following season before really taking off a year later. Do you see that being the case with the Colts in 2013?

Wells: The Colts are a better team this season, but they will take a step back with their record by a game. Good fortune was on their side in more ways than one last season. They caught some breaks and Luck led them to seven fourth-quarter comebacks. They're still a playoff team, and if Houston slips up, the Colts will take advantage of it and win the division. The Jags are ranked last in this week's Power Rankings. Will they stay there all season?

DiRocco: I think they'll battle the Browns and -- I can't believe I'm writing this -- the Steelers for the last spot all year. Right now no team is playing worse than the Jaguars, especially on offense. But I do think things will get a little better with the return of Lewis and Blackmon. The offensive line has to play much better, though. Cleveland's victory last week was surprising, but I see that as more of a byproduct of emotion and anger after the Richardson trade than anything else. The Steelers have looked horrible, and the loss of Maurkice Pouncey has them reeling. Plus, we all know it's a matter of time before Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt.

Gabbert over Henne is the right call

September, 24, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Gus Bradley’s decision to go with Blaine Gabbert as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback may not be a popular one in Jacksonville, but it is the correct one.

It has nothing to do with the way Chad Henne played against Oakland and Seattle. Even if Henne had thrown for 300 yards and led the Jaguars to improbable victories on the West Coast, the Jaguars have to start Gabbert this Sunday and the rest of the season.

It’s not about wins and losses in 2013. It’s not even about wins and losses in 2014. It’s about 2015 and beyond. It’s about finding out whether Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 draft, is the quarterback around which Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell can build the franchise. The only way to learn that is to see Gabbert play.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackInjuries and several coaching changes haven't helped the growth of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The backlash from fans, though, is warranted. Gabbert has certainly done nothing in his two-plus seasons to show he has that ability. In his 25 starts he has completed at least half of his passes 17 times (including the game in which he was injured last season and went 2-for-2) but has also had eight games in which he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes, including his 16-for-35 performance in the season opener against Kansas City.

Even worse: The Jaguars are 5-20 in games in which he has started.

The team isn’t much better with Henne as the starter (1-7), but the offense has looked marginally better. Gabbert started the first 10 games of the 2012 season but suffered a forearm injury after throwing just two passes in the 10th game. In the first nine games the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game, and 14.1 points per game.

Gabbert’s injury landed him on injured reserve and Henne started the final six games, during which the Jaguars averaged 326.3 yards per game, 233.3 passing yards per game, and 15.3 points per game.

There are some valid reasons for Gabbert’s poor play. He is on his third head coach and offensive coordinator. He has not exactly had an all-star list of receivers at his disposal. He also has battled a series of injuries (toe, shoulder, forearm, ankle, thumb, hand) that have caused him to miss eight games.

Some see those as excuses, and they very well may be, but the bottom line is this: Gabbert has a clean slate with the new regime. It would be easy for Caldwell and Bradley to adopt the belief held by nearly everyone outside the organization that Gabbert is a bust and any time spent trying to develop him is a waste. That would be irresponsible on their part.

Look at it this way: You’ve taken an executive job at a new company that has been floundering for years. You are under a lot of pressure to quickly turn the company around and make it among the best in the country. Would you take the word of the person you replaced -- who was fired for actually making things worse -- on issues vital to whether you could succeed?

Caldwell and Bradley need to make up their own minds on Gabbert and they’re starting from ground zero. They see a big kid (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) with a strong arm and the athleticism to move around in the pocket. They like his attitude and work ethic and they obviously feel he has potential or they would have drafted a quarterback in April.

Henne obviously isn’t the long-term answer and his contract expires after this season, anyway. Playing him over Gabbert would do no good and the team would essentially be in the same place in December as it was when Caldwell and Bradley were hired in January.

Gabbert may look terrible. He may throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. He may not lead the team to a single victory. But at least Caldwell and Bradley will have their answer and can start seriously investigating quarterbacks.

So Gabbert has to play. It may not be the popular decision, but it is the right one -- and the Jaguars' future depends on it.

Signing Tebow would be a bad idea

September, 16, 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The fans who are gathering outside EverBank Field Monday afternoon for a “Sign Tebow” rally are going to be wasting their time -- and not just because Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell is still on the West Coast with the team and won’t be able to witness the demonstration.

Caldwell has made it abundantly clear the team has no desire to sign free-agent quarterback Tim Tebow, a Jacksonville, Fla., native who won the Heisman Trophy and helped Florida win two national championships. He’s not going to budge on that issue, and it’s the right move.

Tebow wouldn’t have any more success than Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne has had in the first two weeks of the season. He’d be just as hamstrung by a depleted receiving corps and leaky offensive line as Gabbert and Henne have been. He would be able to add a running element to the position, but that doesn’t necessarily make a difference.

Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are quarterbacks who can run, but they’re also more accomplished passers than Tebow. Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin all complete at least 61 percent of their passes. Tebow’s career completion percentage is 47.9. In the NFL, you win because of a quarterback’s arm, not his legs.

The Jaguars are undertaking a major rebuild, and the No. 1 priority is finding out if Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in 2011, can be a franchise quarterback and the player around which the team can be built. The only way to determine that is by having Gabbert play. Plus, there are people inside the building who believe Gabbert is a much better quarterback than he’s shown so far and will, with the right pieces around him, be successful.

The additional ticket sale argument is compelling, but there’s no way to quantify that his signing would have a significant effect on attendance.

Tebow might have been ruined as a quarterback, anyway. He’s had many people tinkering with his throwing motion and has gone through three different head coaches and three different offensive systems. He isn’t the same player he was coming out of Florida.

Tebow is a great role model and person. He’ll likely be the best athlete to ever come out of Jacksonville. But he shouldn’t be a Jaguars quarterback.

QB Watch: Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert

September, 11, 2013
A weekly analysis of the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback play.

Rewind: Blaine Gabbert had a rough beginning to the most important season of his career. He completed 16 of 35 passes for 121 yards and threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Granted, it was the first action Gabbert had seen in three weeks because of a fractured right thumb and the offensive line gave up six sacks, but it was one of the worst performances in the league.

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.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Chad Henne will be the Jaguars’ starting quarterback against Oakland on Sunday now that Blaine Gabbert has been ruled out because of a severe cut on his right hand.

Might that be the best thing for the Jaguars’ offense?

Henne sparked the offense in the final six games of the 2012 regular season. Gabbert started the first 10 games of 2012 and suffered a forearm injury after throwing just two passes in the 10th game. In those first nine starts by Gabbert the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game, and 14.1 points per game.

Gabbert’s injury landed him on injured reserve and Henne started the final six games, during which the Jaguars averaged 326.3 yards per game, 233.3 passing yards per game, and 15.3 points per game. The record wasn’t much better -- Gabbert went 1-9 and Henne 1-5 -- but the offense was.

Those are significant increases in yardage and it would seem Henne would be the better option in 2013. However, he didn’t show enough during OTAs, minicamps or training camp to convince new general manager Dave Caldwell or new coach Gus Bradley to name him the starter. Even after Gabbert missed the second half of the preseason with the thumb injury and didn’t start throwing again until the weekend before the opener, Bradley decided to go with Gabbert against Kansas City.

Now he’s got no choice and Sunday may present Bradley with an interesting dilemma. If Henne plays well against the Raiders -- which held Andrew Luck to just 178 yards passing on Sunday -- one week after Gabbert played so poorly ...

"That would be a good thing," Bradley said.

But that would mean a quarterback controversy, especially if Gabbert is cleared to play the following week against Seattle.

"We don’t even think like that," Bradley said. "… We hate to see anybody get injured but because of that competition that we had where the total reps were close to 370 apiece through the whole process there’s one good out of that in that now we have a guy that’s seasoned and has played a lot of football for us. We have a lot of faith in Chad. I know that he’s a guy that we felt strongly about going through the whole process and hopefully we won’t miss a beat."

Maybe a better figure of speech might have been better there, because the offense certainly had no rhythm in the Jaguars’ 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It started with Gabbert, who completed 16 of 35 passes for 121 yards with two interceptions. One of those interceptions came when he threw a screen pass right at linebacker Tamba Hali, who walked into the end zone with a 10-yard touchdown return.

Gabbert had a total QBR of 1.2 -- the range is 1-100, with 50 being average -- and ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote that Gabbert’s yards per attempt of 3.46 was the seventh-lowest in an NFL game (minimum 20 attempts) since 1960.

Granted, the offensive line played poorly (six sacks), the Jaguars were without top receiver Justin Blackmon (four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy), and Gabbert was playing with a hairline fracture in his right thumb after not playing for 22 days. But an angry fan base is tired of hearing excuses for why the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft isn’t getting any better.

So they’re getting their wish with Henne -- for this Sunday, at least.

It's unlikely to be a long-term switch because Bradley and Caldwell have to find out if Gabbert can become a franchise quarterback and the only way that can be done is on the field.


Roster Advisor


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