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Fabulous Four: Jaguars-Raiders

Posted Sep 12, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines four key issues as the Jaguars prepared to visit the Oakland Raiders in 2013 NFL Week 2.

4. Growing up. We begin this pre-Week 2 Fabulous Four with one of the primary themes of the week as the Jaguars prepare to visit the Oakland Raiders. Head Coach Gus Bradley in the wake of a one-sided loss to the Chiefs Sunday spoke multiple times of the moment being a bit too big for some young players, and while he offered few specifics, several younger players struggled more than expected against the Chiefs. With the team playing four rookies as starters – wide receiver Ace Sanders, left tackle Luke Joeckel, cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien – and other young players such as wide receiver Mike Brown and tight end Allen Reisner playing key roles, that’s an issue moving forward. Can the young players who weren’t ready enough for prime-time mature quickly? Left tackle Eugene Monroe said it’s possible, and said he knows from experience a first NFL game can be dramatically different from all that follow. Monroe’s first came against Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney in Indianapolis in 2009, a game in which Freeney had a sack, a tackle for loss, two hurries and a pass defensed. “I’ve never been more fired up for a game in my life,” Monroe said. “It probably was the most impactful day of my rookie season. I learned a lot from that day even though I didn’t perform the greatest.” Joeckel allowed a sack and four pressures Sunday, and Monroe said he expects Joeckel will learn from the experience. “You learn from those types of situations,” Monroe said. “I’ve talked to him about it, and I’m sure it will be the same situation for him as well.”

3. Making strides. It’s difficult to pull much positive from a loss as one-sided as the Jaguars’ to Kansas City. Even a solid performance defensively was somewhat tempered by the Chiefs not really not needing to do much creatively offensively in the second half leading by three scores. But significant was the play of Cyprien. A second-round selection from Florida Atlantic University, Cyprien missed the early part of training camp with a hamstring injury, and then struggled in his first two preseason games before improving in the preseason finale. He had five tackles Sunday, and a quarterback hurry, and seemed to be comfortable blitzing. He’s far from polished, but he seems to be well into the process of adjusting to the NFL, with Bradley making a point this week to say it didn’t appear on Sunday that the moment was too big for Cyprien. That’s important. This team needs its rookies to be core players, and Sunday was an early, small step toward that for Cyprien.

2. Tough early road. The Jaguars struggled everywhere offensively Sunday, with one reason the inability to get wide receiver Cecil Shorts III involved. Shorts, who caught 55 passes for 979 yards and seven touchdowns last season, was the team’s best player in the offseason, but caught just three passes for 40 yards Sunday despite being targeted 10 times. He was targeted just twice in the first half, and at least one reason was that without wide receiver Justin Blackmon in the lineup, the Jaguars’ wide receivers on Sunday aside from Shorts entered the game with seven career receptions. Rookie Ace Sanders started opposite Shorts, with first-year veteran Mike Brown the third receiver. Neither had an NFL reception entering the game, and fourth receiver Stephen Burton – acquired off waivers the previous Sunday – had seven career receptions. With Marcedes Lewis out, the Jaguars’ tight ends were Allen Reisner and Clay Harbor, the former of which had two career receptions entering the game and the latter of which was claimed off waivers the previous Sunday. Shorts this week said he didn’t believe the Chiefs swung coverage significantly his way, but the eye test indicated the Chiefs’ focus was there, and that – combined with less time to run routes because of a struggling offensive line – made it difficult for Shorts. The challenge until Blackmon’s return will be finding ways to get the team’s best receiver in situations where he can make plays.

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. Blaine Gabbert will miss Sunday and could miss the following week at Seattle, because of the laceration on his hand. That has caused many to wonder if that means the end of Gabbert’s time as the starting quarterback. Not likely. There is a chance that Chad Henne, who will start in place of Gabbert, will play so well in Gabbert’s place that he earns a chance to start moving forward. He would have to play really, really well. This no doubt will anger a portion of fans who gave up on Gabbert in the offseason, and who had that sentiment confirmed Sunday against Kansas City. But the team’s decision-makers don’t share that sentiment yet. Gabbert went 16 of 35 for 121 yards against the Chiefs, but he had three passes dropped, was sacked six times and pressured 11 times. The Jaguars had many, many offensive problems Sunday, and Gabbert was far from blameless, but there’s not a feeling within the team that it’s time to make a permanent change.

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