4. A changed player? We begin this pre-St. Louis Rams Fabulous Four discussing Justin Blackmon. The return to practice of the Jaguars’ second-year wide receiver normally would have been a major storyline Wednesday, but reaction to the trade of left tackle Eugene Monroe overshadowed everything else around the Jaguars that day. Still, Blackmon remains an important story. His four-game suspension to start the season hurt the offense, and the team should benefit not only from his ability to make difficult catches, but from the run-after-the-catch ability that was a major reason he was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. “He came back in great shape and he’s done a great job,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. The Jaguars very much need Blackmon to continue his development, and to build on his 64-reception, 865-yard, five-touchdown performance last season. He showed signs of having developed in the preseason, and ideally, they need him to develop into a core player who can be an elite receiver. If he does that, then the Jaguars have a very, very good wide receiver combination with him and Cecil Shorts III. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley likes Blackmon and has spoken highly of his approach during his suspension. He lost body fat and appears in the best shape of his Jaguars career. That’s a good start, but the Jaguars need that to be a long-term trend.
3. Luuu-u-u-u-u-uu-ke. With Monroe having been traded to the Ravens, the focus around the Jaguars this week turned to Luke Joeckel, who will now assume the starting left tackle position after playing the right side for the first four games of the season. The Jaguars originally drafted Joeckel with the thought of playing Monroe on the left and Joeckel on the right at least this season. But the line as a whole has struggled this season, and while Monroe had graded out well as a pass blocker this season according to Pro Football Focus he had graded negatively run-blocking. Joeckel, too, has graded out negatively overall, with the grade brought down largely by a negative run-blocking grade. Joeckel said part of his focus early has been adjusting to the speed of the NFL. “You have no idea what to expect when you first get here,” Joeckel, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft from Texas A&M, said. “You like to think college football gets you prepared, playing SEC football. They say the speed of the SEC is the closest thing to the NFL, but it’s really nothing compared to the speed of the NFL and how fast everyone’s moving and how good everyone is at their technique and their position. It’s definitely a little bit of a shock.” Joeckel said this week he expects to be more comfortable on the right side, but said the switch isn’t a cure-all, and that he still has areas where he needs to improve as he takes over a player who started 62 games since 2009. “I have to slip everything back over, but I still have to focus on playing with better leverage and better knee bend, and coming off the ball a little better,” he said. “I have to keep working on my pass sets, my feet. I just have to keep working on getting better and polishing up.”
2. Grading game. In this age of analytics, not all grades tell the whole story. Jaguars safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans, for example, have graded negatively overall according to PFF, but coaches and the Jaguars’ front-office remain high on the aggressiveness and futures of the two players. Not surprisingly, the Jaguars as a whole have graded higher on defense this season than offense, and PFF’s grades this also agreed with what the eye test has shown all season – that defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has been perhaps the team’s best offseason unrestricted free agent acquisition. Marks is the second-highest graded player for the season on the defense behind cornerback Will Blackmon, having started all four games. He does not have a sack, but along with Jeremy Mincey he leads the Jaguars with seven quarterback hurries. While Marks never earned the role he wanted in Tennessee in four seasons, Bradley said he fits perfectly with what the Jaguars do defensively. “It’s tough to get a three technique that has the size to hold up in double teams and then also has the ability to pass rush from the inside,” Bradley said. “That’s a tough trait to find those combinations. He seems to have it. He’s a little bit quicker than most at three technique but he has the size in there to play so that’s why he’s been a good fit for us.”
1. And finally . . . a word on the quarterback. On the fringe of the buzz and speculation about the Monroe trade remained the issue of the Jaguars’ quarterback situation, which meant the focus of many remains on Blaine Gabbert. There were those who speculated that trading Monroe meant the end for Gabbert, because it will be tough to judge him behind a theoretically weakened offensive line. While Monroe’s departure may not strengthen the line, don’t be certain it will significantly weaken it. There are those who believe Joeckel could be a better fit at left tackle for the team’s zone-blocking scheme than Monroe, and Bradley said on Wednesday that new right tackle Austin Pasztor’s toughness could benefit the running game. How does that all impact Gabbert? The line needs to pass protect better, and how the new tackle combination fares will be a storyline moving forward, but the deal isn’t a commentary either way on Gabbert. He’s likely going to get the majority of the rest of the regular season to show if he can be the quarterback for this franchise, and whatever moves occur around him doesn’t likely change that.