This is the worst time of the year as far as trying to make predictions for teams. Everyone wants some news about their teams and other than OTA’s going on, there is not much to report. Those practices are closed to the public and a limited amount of coverage gets put on team websites and reported by the few media members who get to attend. But within that coverage, there are ways to read into and see what possible battles may emerge in Training Camp and over the pre-season. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are quite a few to peruse over.
The biggest camp competition by far, is the Quarterback spot. Blaine Gabbert is the incumbent and Chad Henne is trying to win the starter’s spot. Both QB’s did not particularly play well at all, last year, and each had hits and misses during the season. Gabbert will likely be named the starter, but with a new coaching staff, nothing is definite. He has been a former first round pick and of the two, probably deserves to get the most of the reps in camp, seeing as how much the team has invested in him. He is going into his third year and this is usually when it clicks for most players. Holding him back is the fact that this will also be his third different head coach and offense to learn, in that same time-frame. A positive for his development is the investment in the last few years of weapons and protection. Justin Blackmon and Luke Joeckel in particular, are two first round picks intended to give Gabbert all the pieces and building blocks to let him develop and hopefully build on the flashes that he has shown. With hopefully a steady coaching staff and a “one-mind, one-voice” approach, we should see a lot better play from him.
The next group that is going to be fun to watch in camp, will be the defensive line. The Jaguars, historically, have not had that game-changing defensive end that gives offensive coordinators fits. With Gus Bradley’s new scheme coming in and a new position emerging, the “Leo”, there is hope among the staff that an existing player can emerge and become that type of player. With Jason Babin and last year’s second round pick Andre Branch on the roster, the coaches are saying that they like what they see. The tackles have been revamped and a player that has been under the gun since his drafting, Tyson Alualu, is even trying a new position in order to give this unit a breath of fresh air. How they develop and adapt to coach Bradley’s system will be key to the development of this young defense overall.
The group that got the most attention in the offseason, the secondary, is the next one to watch. Seemingly overnight, this unit got younger, faster, and highly inexperienced. A complete overhaul from last year’s starters to the new draft picks signaled a new direction for this unit. This is a group that you should expect to see a lot of mistakes with and a lot of patience will be needed. They should be a physical and fast bunch, but I am expecting them to be prone to the play-action. That is something that will just have to be learned by game-day experience and all the training camps in the world won’t prepare you for someone like Peyton Manning throwing one at you. How these guys can handle the adversity while trying to gel as a unit will be a great story to follow in camp, this year.
And finally, there is one guy that is just drawing all kinds of raves and is quietly having a tremendous offseason. All the reports so far coming out of OTA’s are saying Cecil Shorts III is doing all the things necessary for him to take that proverbial “next step”. Smooth, quick route running and no balls being dropped have highlighted why coaches have called him the most improved player. Shorts needs to build on his breakout season of last year and continue to provide a consistent target for Gabbert . His development into a potential elite receiver will pay dividends for the entire offense overall. The coaches are raving about him, the media members say he is the most polished of the group and he himself said he has put the work in to take that step. Here’s hoping he does.
Jacksonville has a lot of holes everywhere on the team. How Coach Bradley and his staff can get these guys to perform will obviously be the biggest key to success, not just this year but for future years. This year will be about setting a tone and a base, while realistically this will take a few years to get put all together. These are just a few of the stories to watch for with competition. There will always be off the field stuff to talk about, but on the field is where all the best action will be.