This week we talk to Alfie Crow who writes for BigCatCountry.com, a Jacksonville Jaguars blog on SBNation's family of blogs. When Alfie isn't writing about the Jags you can find him railing against....lots of stuff on Twitter or reading whatever book from the Song of Fire and Ice series he has in his hands at that moment and drinking a fine beer.
The Jags are a team in transition, having drafted David Garrard's replacement, shuffling the offensive line and trying to keep Maurice Jones-Drew healthy, all while battling constant rumors of fanbase disinterest and potential relocation.
Yet despite all that, the team has improved at least a little bit each of the last few years.
So I've asked Alfie to take us through the Jags and tell us what's going on in Jacksonville.
1) Let's get right to the important stuff - Is Jon Snow dead in Dance with A Dragon?
Nope. He's Azor Azai!
Ok wait, let's go with the REAL questions... otherwise we'll waste a whole column on A Song of Fire and Ice....
1) You're not the biggest David Garrard backer in the history of Jacksonville football. What-if anything-have you seen so far in Blaine Gabbert that makes you think he should be the starter Week 1?
No, I'm not the biggest David Garrard backer in Jacksonville, but that's because mediocrity at the QB position doesn't get you very far, and that's bore itself out since 2008. As far as what I've seen from Blaine Gabbert, just on the surface he's got the size, arm, and athleticism you want at the quarterback position. His first few days in practice, he made some throws I don't think Jaguars fans have seen since the Mark Brunell days, and even then I'm not sure if Brunell could make some of those throws. In my opinion, Gabbert has been consistently better so far in camp and nothing I saw in his first pre-season action has made me think he can't win the starting job out-right. He'll have his rookie growing pains and need to adjust to the speed of the pass rush in the NFL, but the only way to work that out is to play him. If he continues during the preseason, I think the chance of him starting Week 1 is a real possibility.
2) The wide receivers corps is in a bit of disarray: Mike Thomas is a better fit (in my opinion) as a WR2 or slot guy, Jason Hill has promise but seems to be having a poor camp - what do you make of this group and who are you expecting to step up?
I agree that Mike Thomas is better served as a WR2/slot guy. He faced single coverage quite a bit last year because teams often bracketed Mike Sims-Walker on the other side. When Sims-Walker would go out, the bracket coverage would shift to Thomas and he'd struggle to get open on anything other than underneath routes, which are really his forte. Hill was having a poor camp, but looked solide in the first preseason game, so the book is still open there. Rookie Cecil Shorts looks like the real deal so far, but he missed the first game with a soft tissue injury. To me, the group still needs an injection of talent. They don't necessarily need a "number one" receiver, because those are hard to find. They need someone who's at least dependable, however. For this group to be productive, they're going to need either Hill, Shorts, or oft-injured Jarrett Dillard to step up and actually produce.
3) You can't say enough about Maurice Jones-Drew's ability, although there have always been some concerns about his long term health and durability. Last season was actually the first season he missed time, albeit in the midst of his second heaviest workload so far in his career (just one carry shy of 300). Do you think it's a blip in the road or something the team should be concerned about? Can he sustain his productivity at a 300 carry a season clip?
There's been talk that Jones-Drew's injury was a bone-on-bone situation, so anytime you hear that I tend to worry. I don't think it had anything to do with Jones-Drew getting the extra workload, I think it was just coincidental. As far as sustaining his productivity at a 300 season carry number, I don't think any running back should be getting 300 carries in today's NFL. When Jones-Drew first got in the league, he had a near 60/40 split with Fred Taylor, Taylor getting the former. Right now, Jones-Drew is carrying at an 85/15 clip, with Jones-Drew hardly coming off the field. I think it would behoove the Jaguars and Jones-Drew to move that number to the 65/35 mark. The days for 320 carry guys are going to the wayside.
4) Behind MJD we've got Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim. Jennings is a solid back, who seems like a better overall compliment to Jones-Drew then Karim who is a similar back (though nowhere near as effective) to MJD. Do you see either of these guys getting some extra carries this year to keep MJD fresh or just to change it up? If the worst happens and Jones-Drew goes down again, if Jennings the guy?
I actually think Rashad Jennings is a stud and would be a very good starting back in the NFL. If Jones-Drew goes down, I'm confident Jennings could pick right up where he left off. He's not as explosive as a playmaker like Jones-Drew, but he's big, can break tackles, and fast for his size. He's also exceptional at catching the ball out of the backfield.
5) Jack Del Rio seems to constantly be on the hot seat and yet survives every season. How hot is that seat this year and how serious does it get for him if they have a bad season? If they start Gabbert does that buy him time?
This is the tricky situation I've touched on a bit for the Jaguars. I don't think Wayne Weaver wants to fire Del Rio, as he's under contract until the end of the 2012 season and he'd be paying him $5 million to not coach. Weaver models himself after the Rooney's, and is loyal almost to a fault. If Jack Del Rio starts Blaine Gabbert Week 1 and cuts bait with David Garrard (who's owed $0 in guaranteed money in 2011), he'll buy himself his final season. If he starts David Garrard and Garrard goes the way he typically does, up and down, and winds up pulling him for Gabbert and misses the playoffs, I don't see how you can't fire him. Del Rio's gambled before with the QB position and come out on top, this feels very similar to the 2007 offseason to me.
6) There seems to be some offensive line issues - Eben Britton in particular got called out in your recent article on Training Camp disappointments. What are your thoughts on what needs to happen for this line to be effective this season and what are your thoughts on whether Britton is going to be able to contribute in a meaningful way?
Guys like Eben Britton have to improve, point blank. Britton has struggled with pass protection since he came into the league, which is why he moved to right tackle from left, where he played at Arizona. Currently Britton's dealing with an undisclosed back injury that's kept him out of practice for over a week, and it looks like he'll miss the first two preseason games at the least. At this point, it's possible he could lose his job to someone like Tony Moll. Not only because of his inability to get on the field, but because even prior to the back injury he flat out hasn't been good in camp.
7) Last year the Jags surprised everyone by selecting Tyson Aluala in the first round and he turned out to be a gem. Talk about what he has brought to the defense so far and how he's approached the game.
He brings a relentless motor to the defensive line. He's a player you've never got to worry about not giving 100% on every play. It's just something in those Samoan guys, they play tough and work hard. He's a guy who's got very violent hands and can get through single blockers with technique, quickness, and power. He's also versatile, lining up at end, tackle, and 3-4 end in some packages. He rushes the passer from all of them. He's had a dominant camp so far and the hope is he'll build on the nice rookie season he had and help collapse the pocket from the interior.
8) The Jags signed linebacker Paul Posluszny to a six-year deal worth $45 million, $15 million
guaranteed. What can Jags fans expect from Pos and what do you think this addition will do for the defense? What kind of impact do you foresee Clint Session having? Will these two signings open things up even more for Daryl Smith?
I do think the signing of Session and Posluszny will allow Daryl Smith to be more "free" in the defense. Smith's kind of been held back the past two seasons having to cover up some holes in the linebacking corps. Smith's good at everything, but his biggest asset outside of pass coverage has been reeled in the past few seasons, his ability to rush the passer. Adding a stereotypical middle linebacker in Posluszny who doesn't make many mental mistakes and a quick big hitter like Session will let Smith be more free to blitz.
9) The team also added former Jet Drew Coleman at cornerback and onetime Raven Dawan Landry at the safety spot. What kind of impact do you expect them to have on a secondary that contributed to a 28th ranking against the pass?
The Coleman signing was interesting, because his biggest asset is his ability to blitz from the nickel position. "New" defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is supposed to be running a simplified defense for the Jaguars this year, but in practice we've seen lots of blitzing from many different angles. I think Coleman is an added angle for Tucker to use. As far as Landry, he adds a physical presence next to Courtney Greene in the secondary. You know when you play the Jaguars, the safeties are going to hit you and hit you hard now. While Landry isn't the best fit at free safety coverage wise, a tackling dummy would have served as an upgrade over 2010's start in Don Carey, who probably doesn't even make the Jaguars roster in 2011.
10) I know the answer to this, as we've talked about it 40 billion times, but given that the Los Angeles stadium looks to be a go, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about the constant rumor of a Jags move to Southern Cal. Explain to the fine folks here why you feel it won't happen and the issues that Jacksonville face in terms of keeping the home town happy in Florida.
Ah, my favorite topic. Quite simply, moving the Jaguars to Los Angeles just doesn't make sense for many different reasons. The biggest one is the fact that owner Wayne Weaver doesn't want to move the team, period. Another reason, which people fail to realize because I guess they don't actually research it, is the fact that the Jaguars have a lease with EverBank Field until 2029. In order to break the lease, the team would have to prove three consecutive years of operating at a loss and then have a country judge approve the team to break the lease and leave. The ticket sales have been a struggle and are indeed a black eye that makes them an easy target, but that's really an issue throughout the state. Tampa Bay, who won a Super Bowl less than a decade ago had all of 2010 blacked out, despite going 10-6. It's looking like they're going to blackout most, if not all, of their games in 2011. Blackouts around the league are still occurring, so it's not just a Jacksonville issue. The reality is, Jacksonville is the easy target because "no one cares" about them and most didn't feel like we deserved a city to begin with. Wayne Weaver is eventually going to sell the franchise, but again he's made a point that he plans to sell it to someone who has the intention of keep them team in Jacksonville and letting it continue to grow.
10a) Seriously, Jon Snow - what the hell is up?
He's going to warg into Ghost, then be reborn, and smoke Ramsay Bolton!
If that last part didn't make sense to you reader, you're missing out....
I want to thank Alfie for taking the time out of his preseason work to shed some light on the Jags and potentially Game of Thrones. As I said, head over to BigCatCountry.com for some great Jags takes and feel free to prod Alfie with Jacksoville-to-LA questions when you are there.
Next week we'll have Chris Hansen from RaidersBlog.com so make sure you stop by then.
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