December 11, 2011; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) jumps over his own teammate during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville EverBank Field. The Jaguars won 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Franchise Development 15 of 32 : The Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are yet another team in the “rebuilding” mode as are both the other NFL franchises in the state of Florida. Interestingly enough, all three have first-year Head Coaches but the Jags appear to be further behind than their in-state counterparts. Let’s take a peek at their 2012 draft:

1 5 Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma State
2 38 Andre Branch DE Clemson
3 70 Bryan Anger P California
5 142 Brandon Marshall LB Nevada-Reno
6 176 Mike Harris CB Florida State
7 228 Jeris Pendleton DT Ashland

First, the good.

The Jaguars have had little to no luck in recent years in drafting or otherwise acquiring any talent at the WR position. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys’ Laurent Robinson had a breakout season and the Jaguars added him in free agency, giving them an apparently good target for second-year QB Blaine Gabbert. They followed that up with trading up two spots in the 2012 draft to land top-rated college phenom WR Justin Blackmon to play on the other side of Robinson.

This is great news for Gabbert, who finished dead last in the NFL QB rankings last season in just about every meaningful category. He looked like a high school Freshman playing in the NFL pretty much all year, and that play concerned the Jaguars enough that they signed Miami Dolphin cast-off QB Chad Henne. Given what I know about both players so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Henne starting opening day.

Neither QB showed that much in their first preseason game, however. Gabbert may have slightly out-played Henne against the Giants in their 32-31 victory over the defending champs as he led an opening-possession TD drive and did have a couple of nice passes, including a perfectly-placed short TD pass, lofting the ball over several defenders to put it where second-year WR Cecil Shorts went up and hauled it in. Gabbert didn’t do much after that, but Henne went 4/9 with their second team for 28 yards and a TD of his own.

The biggest concern is the team’s star player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, is holding out. “Pocket Hercules” has two years remaining on a 5-year $31 million contract but is underpaid by league standards. He was the NFL’s rushing leader last season and the only bright spot for an otherwise dreary offense. If the Jaguars won’t pay him more than the $6 million a year he’s making, it brings their dedication to building a winner into question. He has 6,800+ yards rushing in his first 6 years and his last three seasons have seen him eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and 2011 was the best of his career. He’s only 27 years old, so he’s still in his prime and should be for another 3 or 4 seasons.

Injuries have already taken their toll on the offensive line, with guards Jason Spitz and Will Rackley likely to miss most if not all of the preseason. Cameron Bradfield has been inserted at the right tackle position while Eben Britton is kicked inside to guard. Britton finished last season on injured reserve. LT Eugene Monroe appears to be the only solid player in his “natural” position other than 34 year old center Brad Meester and they’re only one game into the preseason. They have an average line at best so it’s unclear at this point if the shuffling will help or hurt in the long run.

On the one hand, it’s good to get the reserves some experience. On the other hand, shuffling linemen won’t help a struggling quarterback improve.

Things are not looking good for the offense, despite the 32 points they put up against the Giants. Preseason games have never been a reliable barometer of how well or poorly a team will do in the regular season since coaches rightly use the preseason for settling position battles and roster spots while only showing perhaps 20% of their playbook.

Defensively, the Jaguars once again look to have the better unit overall. Former Head Coach Jack Del Rio, now the Defensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos, had an above-average defense for years but couldn’t overcome the offensive woes to become much of a threat to anyone. So far, the status quo is holding.

DT Tyson Alualu is the best and most-seasoned lineman they have and Terrance Knighton should be starting at the other tackle position. Rookie Andre Branch from Clemson looks to start at the right DE spot while Jeremy Mincey brings a career-high 8 sacks with him from last season to the LDE spot so their starting DL looks to be solid again in 2012, pending Branch’s play.

The starting linebackers in their 4-3 defense look to be Daryl Smith at the strong-side LB (SAM) spot, Clint Session at the weakside (WILL), and veteran Paul Posluszny holds down the MLB (MIKE) position and will be calling the defensive signals once again.

Smith is the most durable of the group, having missed just 4 games in his 8-year career and is an active guy who can make a lot of plays. Posluszny is a steady if unspectacular MLB coming off a sub-par season in 2011, and Clint Session has only played a full slate of games once in his five years in the league. He’s also no pass-rusher, but that’s not that big an issue in the 4-3 as it would be if he were the rush/WILL linebacker in a 3-4.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis is coming off an injury but is a very good corner when healthy. However, he turns 32 later this month so he’s probably not going to play at a high level for too many more seasons. Right now, the Jaguars are just happy he’s getting healthy after tearing his ACL last November.

Derek Cox is slated to start at the other CB position but he left the Giants’ game with an injury after winding up on IR last season. Team officials say he’s got a hamstring injury and should miss most of the rest of the preseason, so things are not encouraging after the big rash of injuries the team suffered through last season. Hamstrings can be nagging over time if not allowed to properly heal, so they could just be using extra caution.

Dwight Lowery appears to be atop the depth chart at the FS position while former Baltimore Raven DaWan Landry mans the other spot. With the linebacking corps having some instability in the past with injuries and the same problems at corner last season, the safeties would seem to be the strength of the back seven along with LB Smith.

After the top 3 draft picks, there doesn’t appear to be much help from the 2012 draft. Of course, when they announced a punter with their third-round pick, I figured it made perfect sense despite the baffled pundits’ reactions. With a horrible offense and an unsettled defense, I had said that their punter may be their best weapon on the team – especially if Pocket Hercules holds out into the regular season, which it appears he’s ready to do.

With all that’s going on with the team in mind since last year, and their 5-11 finish last season, I think the Jaguars are….

standing still at best. While they appear to have finally gotten the receiving help that they need, the injury bug is still affecting the squad. Shuffling the offensive line and MJD’s holdout negate anything positive they added at the WR spots in the offseason, and trading up for Blackmon meant they gave up some later picks that they might have used to add depth that would help in case of more injuries.

So far, it looks as if the Jags might well end up with the top pick in 2013.

Hello, Matt Barkley!

Next up….the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Tags: Andre Branch Blaine Gabbert Brad Meester Chad Henne Clint Sessions Daryl Smith Derek Cox Ebon Britton Eugene Monroe Jack Del Rio Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 Draft Jason Spitz Justin Blackmon Laurent Robinson Matt Barkley Maurice Jones-Drew Paul Posluszny Rashean Mathis Will Rackley

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