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Fabulous Four: Pre-offseason program edition

Posted Mar 29, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics including Greg Jones, Blaine Gabbert, David Caldwell, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley

4. Farewell to a fullback. We begin this pre-offseason program Fabulous Four with a word on the biggest Jaguars news of the week – that is, the departure of fullback Greg Jones. A 10-year veteran and one of the Jaguars’ most popular players, Jones signed as an unrestricted free agent with Houston Wednesday, which disappointed many fans. The first thing to know is this wasn’t a case of the Jaguars not wanting Jones. Head Coach Gus Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell did want Jones back, but Jones wanted a chance to play for a Super Bowl contender. “That was one of my main reasons for coming here,” Jones told reporters Wednesday. “I got more years behind me than in front of me. My window of opportunity is getting slimmer and slimmer every year.” You know what? Good for Jones. He was popular among fans, and loved playing here. He likely will consider himself a Jaguar long after he finishes playing, but at this stage of his career, he deserves to play where he wants for his reasons. From the Jaguars’ perspective, could they have sweetened an offer enough to change Jones’ mind? Of course. Every player has a price, but you can’t pay a fullback of any age cap-altering money, and that’s particularly true when you’re restructuring the roster and when the fullback is entering his 10th season. Jones will be missed on and off the field, but this wasn’t a move the team should have handled much differently.

3. Getting started. The day for which Bradley has been waiting arrives early next week. The Jaguars’ offseason program begins April 2, with the voluntary three-day veteran minicamp scheduled for April 16-18. Organized team activities are May 13-15, 20-21, 23 and June 4-7, with a rookie minicamp May 3-5. The dates are significant for many reasons, most notably with April 2 being the first day Bradley and the staff can begin coaching and talking football specifics with players. While the NFL calendar is now year-round, the April 2 date essentially serves as an unofficial first day of the 2013 season, with players having been limited previously to working out on their own. There have been player sightings around EverBank Field the last two and a half months, and many players are around regularly to work out, but next week the process becomes structured. Bradley joked at the NFL Owners Meetings last week that his biggest challenge in his first team meeting April 2 will be not having it last two and a half hours. However long that first meeting, Bradley said the next couple of months will be about establishing his vision for the team. “There are going to be unknowns with competition, but as far as our vision, there shouldn’t be,” he said. “The worst thing is the unknown.”

2. Due diligence means due diligence. Quarterback position remains in the news around the Jaguars, something that won’t soon change. Bradley and Caldwell each attended the Pro Days for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley, considered by many the two top quarterbacks available this year. But the biggest news around the position this week came with the team exploring the option of trading for Seahawks backup quarterback Matt Flynn before opting to not pursue the trade. The exploring makes perfect sense. Caldwell has said often throughout the offseason that there will be competition at the position, with a quarterback possibly being signed at some point in free agency and another possibly being drafted. Flynn, too, made sense as a possibility with Bradley having spent the last four seasons as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. At the same time, a trade for Flynn – a veteran with a significant contract – would mean substantial commitment. Right now, the Jaguars are about open competition, and a roster move involving significant trade value given up and financial resources outlaid may not fit the plan, particularly if the player is perceived as less than a sure thing.

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. We close as usual with a word on the quarterback, which this week means a final look at comments made this week by Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The third-year veteran made his first public comments of the offseason this week, and while much was made of his response to criticism from a former Jaguars assistant, what was perhaps most notable was Gabbert’s approach to the offseason. He is well aware this is in a very real sense an open competition, and although every year is critical for an NFL quarterback, this year – Year 3 – is particularly critical for him. He showed progress last season, and it’s easy to forget that the final three games before his season-ending injury marked the best three-game stretch of his career. That was washed away a bit when Chad Henne replaced him and was remarkably productive for a two-game stretch, but it doesn’t negate the fact that Gabbert indeed was showing some improvement before the injury. More is needed – a lot more – and the people making the decisions around the Jaguars have few ties to Gabbert. At the same time, Caldwell and Bradley have made it clear that Gabbert’s slate is very much clean and he will have the opportunity to be this team’s quarterback. Gabbert made it equally clear this week that’s what he wants, and is looking forward to it. Will Gabbert take advantage of it? Can he fulfill the potential that made him a Top 10 selection? Only time will tell, but his mindset and his approach appears in the right place as he begins perhaps the most critical stretch of his NFL career.

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