Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Give Reason For Hope

When Shad Khan decided to make a change at the top of his football operation last year, it wasn’t because the team went 2-14. It was because the advice he received about how the Jaguars were going to win games didn’t pan out. So he put Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley in charge and changed his timeline for the Jaguars to win. That’s why Caldwell and Bradley have the luxury of not winning this year and maybe not next year either. Sure, they’ll have to show improvement, but being a contender in three years is the timeline for Bradley and Caldwell’s plan to take effect.

So what’s that mean for 2013?

There’s no question they’ve upgraded the roster, if only by a bit. Taking players like Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson from big schools who have played on the big stage gives the roster an uptick almost immediately. And they have some speed. Even on the practice squad, the Jaguars are faster, which makes a difference in the NFL.

“I don’t think Sunday will show just who we are,” Bradley said this week. “We’re a work in progress, looking to get better every week.”

That’s what almost every coach should say, and kudos to Bradley for admitting it. He is one of those guys who appears very straightforward. You see what you get without a lot of deceit. Honest answers and engaging personality. You can’t ask for much more as a reporter when it comes to dealing with the people in charge.

The one thing the team doesn’t have is depth. They need to stay healthy among the first team in order to stay competitive. Last year’s injury to Maurice Jones Drew had a domino effect on the team, and not only at his position. MJD’s health is important for the whole team. He’s what sets up the whole offense and without him, there’s not much the team will accomplish. He looks the same in training camp as in previous years, which is a good thing. Although they’ve gotten better behind him, none of the rest of the running backs on the roster present the same threat that MJD does.

They’re better at wide receiver, even with Justin Blackmon missing the first four games. And can you trust him to be a part of the team each week? Another violation and he’s suspended for a year. Nonetheless, Sanders, Cecil Shorts, Mike Brown and the rest should make them better this year catching the football.

Of course, it’s all about the quarterback in the end and Bradley and his staff have chosen Blaine Gabbert as the starter. He has a thumb injury but it hasn’t seemed to hamper him mechanically in practice. A thumb injury is slow to heal and it hurts. But you can play with it.

Gabbert seems to have bought into the offensive philosophy that Jedd Fisch has brought as the offensive coordinator. If his first read is open, throw it to him. Sounds simple but Gabbert, and in turn Chad Henne always seemed last year to pass up somebody open while they looked downfield. If they’re going to play an up tempo offense, you have to take small chunks and “move the chains.”

Maybe the best, and maybe the funniest thing said in training camp was from Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars offensive tackle and a Pro Bowl type player. “The best thing is that on third down, the same guy is in front of me,” he said when I asked about his conditioning and this offense. “We stay on the field and that means they have to as well. No situational substitutions. And that’s good,” he said with a smile.

On defense it all comes down to pass rush. It looks a little better in the preseason, but it’s hard to tell until the regular season starts. I’m still not sure why they didn’t re-sign Daryl Smith because between Smith, Paul Posluzny and Geno Hayes the linebacking corps would be fairly formidable and something you could build on. The defensive backfield is young but talented and will be picked on. The only way to change that is with a pass rush.

I generally like what they’re doing but don’t have any idea whether they’ll win or not. I do know they have a couple of years to get to be a contender and if they don’t, like they’re predecessors, they’ll be leaving on the same day. Let’s hope that’s way down the road and of their own choice.