Now that the Fourth of July is past us, it’s time to start looking ahead to training camps in the NFL. This time of year is still considered the dead zone of the offseason for the NFL, but fans can still look forward to training camps by focusing on roster position battles on teams. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, I see three that really stand out as far as competition is concerned. There will be others as training camp rolls around, but these three are more important to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ success this year than others.
No. 3 Defensive Line
One of the biggest transition areas in the off-season, the DL is a very important position for a rebuilding team. Coach Bradley has implemented a new position, the LEO defensive end, and the competition for that spot will determine how well a scheme can be used to create pressure on the quarterback. Both Jason Babin and Andre Branch will be battling for that spot, which needs a quick burst, speed type of DE to play almost a hybrid end/LB position. On the tackle side of things, it seems that the battles there will be for depth. Free Agent’s Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks look to be the starters while D’Anthony Smith and Kyle Love will be competing for rotational depth. So what about the true defensive end spot? A position switch for incumbent Tyson Alualu and line stalwart Jeremy Mincey will provide a serious challenge for the Right DE spot. Moving Alualu to a more natural position where he is not asked to take on double teams, may free him up to show that he truly does belong and was being misused by previous coaching staffs. Whoever wins these spots in camp will be asked to provide a lot of pressure from really only changing the scheme. Hopefully that works out.
No. 2 Defensive Backs
This is the area of the team that did see the most transition and is going to be the youngest area on the team. Mike Harris, Kevin Rutland, Chris Prosinski and Dwight Lowery are the only holdovers from last year and that’s not really saying much. The additions are mostly all young guys acquired through the draft. Jonathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz highlight the group and from all accounts from writers and media who follow the team so far, they have the look of being big time players who should provide immediate impact. Their improvement is going to very critical to the development of the defense overall. This new coaching staff came in and evaluated the team and determined that the secondary was the weak link on the team by their actions in either cutting or letting people go. Who they chose to replace the departed will determine a lot about the future of the defense. This will be a huge battle to watch all year and it starts in camp.
Ok, I’ll admit this is pretty obvious. But I will approach this in a different way. If Chad Henne beats Blaine Gabbert out of a job in camp, I will be shocked. But maybe not for the same reason as others may be thinking. Some fans and fellow bloggers want Henne in there due to a perceived notion that he had better chemistry with Justin Blackmon and the receivers than Gabbert did. I say perceived because there is no way to know whether it was Henne making Blackmon better or if it was just his natural talent emerging more, and also with Gabbert hurt, who’s to say that wouldn’t have happened with him in as well? If Henne wins the job, then that will mean disaster for the Jaguars’ season. And I am not knocking Henne. If Henne wins, then that means that Gabbert is done here in Jacksonville, and then Jag fans can officially start to look forward to the 2014 Draft. That will signal the end of the Gabbert era in Jacksonville, and GM Dave Caldwell will be forced to take a QB in the 2014 Draft with what will likely be a high pick again. If Gabbert actually shows marked improvement and can lead this team with confidence, then that would be the best scenario for all parties. It would mean that the Jags have a future at QB and wouldn’t have to waste another pick and potentially 3 more years to start a build. We can attack other needs in the draft and build a roster to win consistently. That’s the best case scenario and the one I am hoping happens. Gabbert isn’t as bad as a lot of people think and isn’t as great as others think. However, he deserves a chance to show which one he is, and the only way to do that is to beat out Henne in camp and prove it on the field. That is the most important position battle on the field and is vital to the future of this franchise that Gabbert wins it.
These are only the most important battles this year for the Jaguars. There are always other ones to watch out for as well, but these are the most critical to the success of the Jags this year. There aren’t a lot of expectation this year of the Jags, but to see these roster spots get filled with long time contributors and to watch a team grow in to a competitive unit, that’s about all that can be expected from such a young team this year.