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Fabulous four

Posted Apr 20, 2012

Senior writer John Oehser takes a look back at mini-camp and a look ahead to the Draft in his latest Fabulous Four.

First, about the title: We did this feature last year as Magnificent Seven, which didn’t fit the writer’s lazy persona. It was too much work, and frankly, sometimes it was just too long. We’ll switch to Fabulous Four for now, with the goal to be down to Terrific Two and Wonderful One in no time . . .

4. Six days out. OK, mini-camp is over, and the reader mock draft is over, which means we can spend the next six days focused on what everyone else is already talking about – and that, of course, is the real NFL Draft. We’ll hit the draft hard on jaguars.com next week, and Thursday sometime around 9 p.m., we’ll know something at last. What will we know? That’s the question. The Jaguars obviously want to trade down out of the No. 7 slot. They have talked relatively openly about it, and it continues to make the most sense. This is a deep draft at wide receiver and there appear likely to be pass-rushing defensive ends available outside the Top 10 who make trading down attractive. There is a multitude of possibilities that we’ll discuss throughout next week, but heading into the weekend I’ll stick with the theory that the Jaguars will have a tough time passing on Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne if either is available at No. 7. If they’re gone and the Jaguars can trade, they likely do it. If the Jaguars are on the clock at No. 7 and there’s no trading partner with Blackmon and Claiborne gone, I’d guess defensive tackle Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State is a possibility and I wouldn’t rule out cornerback Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina. As for other players routinely mocked to the Jaguars – i.e., defensive end Melvin Ingram, defensive end Quinton Coples, wide receiver Michael Floyd – never say never, but I’d guess the fits are wrong for various already-discussed reasons.

3. What about the second round? We spend so much time on Round One it’s easy to forget there’s a draft beyond the first 32 players. While the Jaguars are a best-available-player team when it comes to draft philosophy, the guess here is by the end of the second day – i.e., Rounds 1-3 – the team will have selected a wide receiver and a defensive end. I wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee a wide receiver-defensive end/defensive end-wide receiver combination in Rounds 1-2. As general managers are fond of reminding the world on draft day, the draft does not end after the first round or even the second. There’s a big-picture strategy, and this draft is expected to be deep enough to get contributing players into the third and fourth rounds, minimum. One scenario that’s intriguing regarding the second round involves a first-round trade down. If the Jaguars are able to engineer a trade back that involves another team’s second-round selection, could that selection be packaged with the other second-round selection to trade for another first-round selection? That’s a scenario in which the Jaguars would have two first-round selections, something the team has had twice in its history – 1995, when it selected Tony Boselli and James Stewart; and 1998, when it selected Fred Taylor and Donovin Darius.

2. Interchangeable roles. The Jaguars held their first mini-camp under new Head Coach Mike Mularkey this week, and because it was instructional in nature more than it was about competition, it was difficult to glean much in terms of how the roster will play out next season. One area of focus was and will continue to be wide receiver, where this week for the first time the group worked with new coach Jerry Sullivan. The group also began getting its first look at the new offense. Through most of the week, newly signed Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans worked outside with four-year veteran Mike Thomas working inside. Cecil Shorts, Brian Robiskie, Jarett Dillard and Chastin West also worked this week, with Taylor Price sustaining a stress fracture in his foot that likely will keep him out through the off-season. How the depth chart will shake out is as unknown, but both Thomas and Evans said the specific positions may not be critical in the new scheme. Asked in a press conference about playing the “slot,” Thomas replied, “There you go with the labels. I think it’s going to be good either way. Everybody I think we’re pretty much interchangeable and the thing about the offense is that there’s not really a specific role. Everybody kind of has to know everything because the way it’s set up they can switch a play and me and Laurent (Robinson) might switch responsibilities. It’s more set up if they find a matchup they want to expose it’s an easy formation they can get into to get a matchup.” Evans, who played in Mularkey’s system in Buffalo, agreed and said, “The offense can move you anywhere. It gives you opportunities to get different matchups and exploit coverages.”

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. We close as we often do, with a word on quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He was a focal point in mini-camp, and this time the focus for some wasn’t so much on his arm but his hair. Gabbert showed up for mini-camp with the long hair that had become a trademark cut short, and although he correctly downplayed the new look, how he downplayed it – and indeed his demeanor throughout the week – seems a good sign. Gabbert joked with the media Tuesday about the new look and seemed at ease in the situation. He also seemed at ease entering an off-season that is critical to his development. It’s impossible yet to know how Gabbert’s future will play out, and it’s really just as impossible yet to know what he will gain from this off-season or how much he will improve. It’s impossible to know those things because they are in the future, and he is very much still in a present that is about working, developing and improving. What you can get a feel for is how someone is approaching a situation, and all indications are Gabbert is approaching his task with a combination of confidence and desire. He could have been different this week. Considering the criticism he has taken in the off-season – some of it just and some of it extreme and ridiculous – he could have shown up with an attitude, and he could have shown up with hair longer just to tweak some of the people who for whatever reason believe that was a huge issue. That he instead showed up with a positive demeanor appearing ready to work is important. You don’t have to bend over praising him for doing things the right way, but here’s acknowledging that he’s doing them. Gabbert, for all of his criticism, continues to approach things the right way, and continues to have the respect and confidence of his teammates. That’s a good sign, and it’s a key element that gives this thing a chance to work.

 

 

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