QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Blaine Gabbert. Backups - Chad Henne, Jordan Palmer.
There are some that still think this is an unsettled position, that Henne can win the job from Gabbert. Don't count on it. The Jaguars' new coaching staff loved what they saw from Gabbert during spring drills. He showed little of the ineffectiveness displayed as a rookie, and displayed more confidence in his leadership in the huddle and the zip on his passes. This is Gabbert's job, even if he gets off to a slow start. The belief is that he is the one person who can take the franchise to the playoffs, though it may not be ready to happen this year. Should Gabbert be sidelined with an injury, Henne would be a more than capable replacement. But that's the only way that this former Miami Dolphins starter will get anything more but mop-up time with the Jaguars.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Maurice Jones-Drew, FB Greg Jones. Backups - Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens, DuJuan Harris, Brock Bolen, Richard Murphy.
What should have been a team strength could turn into an area of concern if Jones-Drew doesn't report to training camp. Last year's NFL rushing leader skipped all of the team's spring drills including the mandatory team minicamp in mid-June. He wants his contract that has two years left on it to be replaced with one that would pay him around twice that amount. The Jaguars have adamantly stated they won't redo it prior to the start of this season. That could cause Jones-Drew to miss some games which would mean extended playing time for talented backup Jennings who missed all of the 2011 season with an injury and is anxious to make up for his lost time. Whoever is in at running back, will have the luxury of Greg Jones at fullback, one of the game's best at that spot.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Marcedes Lewis. Backups - Zach Potter, Zach Miller, Matt Veldman.
Lewis had a big year in 2010 when he caught 58 passes for 700 yards and a team record 10 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl squad and was rewarded with a lucrative new contract. But his numbers dropped significantly last year to 39 and 460 and even more disturbing, no touchdown catches. The belief is that with an improved Gabbert and a much better group of wide receivers, Lewis will benefit the most with single coverage, maybe even linebacker coverage. That should be enough to hike his numbers closer to the 2010 figures. Miller looked ready for a breakout year in 2011 only to have a knee injury limit him to four games before he was placed on injured reserve in October. Both he and Potter are solid backups and threats behind Lewis.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson. Backups - Mike Thomas, Lee Evans, Cecil Shorts III, Brian Robiskie, Chastin West, Taylor Price.
Easily the most improved unit on the team from a year ago. Thomas, last year's leading receiver, might be the fourth option Gabbert looks for should the Jaguars feature a four-wideout look. Robinson could be in line for a career year after playing in an inconspicuous role in Dallas the past couple of years. He was tabbed the Jaguars No. 1 receiver from the day he signed as a free agent and will take that role into training camp. He'll be pushed by the talented, but untested Blackmon, who has the skills to eventually be a No. 1 receiver, but must overcome demons off the field and the ability to run proper routes. If the veteran Evans can live up to his past exploits, the Jaguars could have three talented receivers for Gabbert to throw to, three more than he had a year ago.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Eugene Monroe, LG Will Rackley, C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, RT Eben Britton. Backups - T Guy Whimper, T Cameron Bradfield, T Daniel Baldridge, T William Robinson, G Jason Spitz, G D.J. Hall, C Mike Brewster, C John Estes.
Simply put, if Monroe and Britton can stay healthy, the line will be better than it was a year ago. These two were drafted 1-2 by the Jaguars in 2009 and became the first pair of rookie tackles to start for a team since 1982. But both have had their shares of injuries, Britton more so than Monroe after missing the last eight games in 2010 (shoulder) and sitting out all but four games a year ago (back). Both appear healthy and should start training camp in top shape. The interior is adequate with Rackley, Meester and Nwaneri, though at 35 and in his 13th season, Meester is likely in his final year. Whimper and Bradfield are solid backups but one of the tackles, probably Britton, would have to move inside if one of the starting guards went down.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Tyson Alualu, RT Terrance Knighton, LDE George Selvie, RDE Jeremy Mincey. Backups - T C.J. Mosley, T Nate Collins, T Jeris Pendleton, T D'Anthony Smith, T Corvey Irvin, DE Andre Branch, DE John Chick, DE Austen Lane, DE Aaron Morgan, DE Kendrick Adams.
Such an important unit with far too many question marks entering training camp. Mincey is a solid starter at one end but is Selvie the answer at the other or will the rookie Branch be able to win that spot? Alualu and Knighton are young and talented but both had offseason surgery and will they be 100 percent for the regular season? Smith has the talent to be a starter, but this is his third season in the league and he's yet to play a down, missing both years due to injury. Will he stay healthy to be a contributor? If the Jaguars can get positive answers from those questions, this will be a unit of strength. The pass rush was better last year than from the 2010 season when the Jaguars had one of the league's lowest sack totals in NFL history. Branch alone should make this a more effective group.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Daryl Smith, OLB Clint Sessions, MLB Paul Posluszny. Backups - Russell Allen, Brandon Marshall, Kyle Bosworth, Joshua Jones, Donovan Richard.
Add Allen to the three starters and it's a quartet the Jaguars would stack up against any team's four best linebackers. Concerns about a concussion injury that forced Sessions to injured reserve with six games left last year carried over to the spring drills when he was withheld from all physical activity. Allen is certainly a capable backup, but the quality of depth behind him takes a nosedive. If two or more of the top four linebackers are out for any significant period of time, the defense will suffer. Marshall and Bosworth are the two most likely to step up and fill in. Smith and Posluszny are underrated type players who haven't gained the recognition they deserve. Smith has started all but three games in his last seven years with the Jaguars; Posluszny has started all 61 games that he's played in the NFL since 2007.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Rashean Mathis, RCB Derek Cox, FS Dwight Lowery, SS Dawan Landry. Backups - CB Aaron Ross, CB Kevin Rutland, CB William Middleton, CB Ashton Youboty, CB Mike Harris, CB Antwon Blake, CB T.J. Heath, CB Dontrell Johnson, S Chris Prosinski, S Courtney Greene, S Jeremiah Brown.
In the Jaguars' last six games of the 2011 season, they alternated starts at cornerback among four different players, all of whom will be fighting just to make the team roster this year. That's how bad the situation was a year ago. Entering the 2012 season, it's an area of strength. Veterans Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox are both back after missing the last seven and six games respectively of the 2011 season due to injuries. Coupled with the signing of veteran Aaron Ross in free agency, this starts out as a solid unit. Lowery and Landry return as starters at safety after solid first seasons with the Jaguars as free-agent signings in 2011. If all four of the starters can stay on the field and with Ross' backup support along with a couple talented youngsters (Harris, Rutland, Greene), the secondary will not be an area of concern.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Bryan Anger, PK Josh Scobee, LS Jeremy Cain.
With Scobee and Anger, the Jaguars' kicking game is in excellent shape. Scobee has led the team in scoring seven of the last eight seasons and is closing in on nearly all of the team career marks. Anger was one of the country's top punters a year ago. He showed his talent in the team's spring drills when his long punts with excellent hang time were a consistent happening.
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