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Fabulous Four

Posted Aug 5, 2012

Senior writer John Oehser examines four issues as the Jaguars look ahead to the first preseason game

4. Added element. We’ll lead this Sunday, pre-practice edition of the Fabulous Four with a thought on Friday’s scrimmage at EverBank Field. Come to think of it, we’ll close with a scrimmage thought, too, but first we can talk about the play of two significant skill players Friday – Rashad Jennings and Cecil Shorts. One scrimmage isn’t enough to define those players’ seasons, but there was much about which to be encouraged. A lot of focus was on Jennings Friday with Maurice Jones-Drew not in camp, and he performed about as well as he could have in the time he played. He ran hard and with confidence, and with quarterback Blaine Gabbert checking down a lot on the offense’s early drives, Jennings showed the ability to turn a short pass into a long gain. That’s something the Jaguars thought he would bring last season, and something the offense lacked when he missed the season with a knee injury. Jennings’ performance in no way makes Jones-Drew expendable, but it does show the running game won’t necessarily be ineffective if the three-time Pro Bowl selection continues to hold out. As for Shorts, his performance didn’t get the attention of Jennings’ but it was significant. He looked lost at times last season, but has gained confidence since the arrival of receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and he had three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown Friday. Both Jennings and Shorts stood out in the scrimmage’s second-half “red-zone” work. Jennings had two strong short touchdown runs and Shorts caught an 11-yard touchdown on a quick pass from Gabbert after Shorts made a strong cut to the inside of the field to break open. If Shorts and Jennings can build on this,that gives the Jaguars potential production from two players they got little from a year ago.

3. Making a mark. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said he was pleased with a lot Friday, primarily that a lot of players “showed up” in a pressure situation. That has been true of several players beyond the obvious during the first week of camp, and that’s a storyline that will become more crucial as we move toward Friday’s preseason opener against the Giants. Rookie free agent wide receiver Kevin Elliott caught a touchdown pass late in the first half Friday, and because of his special teams play and potential as a receiver has a chance at the 53-man roster. Also continuing to stand out is rookie free agent linebacker Julian Stanford. Mularkey held starting linebackers Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen out of the scrimmage to get a look at veteran Kyle Bosworth, Stanford and rookie Brandon Marshall, and Stanford – as he has been throughout training camp – was active early in the scrimmage. Veteran running back Jalen Parmele has impressed scouts and coaches in camp and ran well Friday when Jennings left the scrimmage. Also, with offensive linemen such as Eugene Monroe, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley out for various reasons early, several rookie linemen have gotten extensive opportunities. Tackle Dan Hoch, center Mike Brewster and guard D.J. Hall – all undrafted rookies – have impressed at times, and the feeling is they’re more than training camp bodies.

2. Working together. Bryan Anger did what the Jaguars expected Friday, showing he can be the change-the-field punter the team hoped he would be when he was drafted in the third round in April. Anger had a 56-yard punt with a hang time of 5.36 seconds and a 49-yarder with a 4.76-second hang time. He also spent the first week of camp working with veteran kicker Josh Scobee, for whom Anger will hold on field goals and extra points. “It’s going really well,” Scobee said. “He’s a much better holder than I was expecting. He has very good hands, very quick hands. I try to tell him, ‘Be fast, but not in a hurry to get the ball down. Be smooth, basically.’ He’s doing a great job of that. He’s ahead of schedule of where I’d him like to be. It takes time to get adjusted. He has the talent, obviously, to be a great punter. It’s nice if your punter is a great holder, too, and he has the potential to do that. It instills a lot of confidence in me knowing he’s capable of being not just a good holder, but a great holder.”

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. Unsurprisingly, Gabbert has been a focus early in camp. Also unsurprisingly, there has been a pretty wide range of reports regarding a player under so much scrutiny. In the first eight or nine days of camp he has been described as anywhere from inconsistent to improving and a lot of extremes in either direction. Instant analysis, while unavoidable these days, isn’t always accurate, and those who have stepped back and waited a bit on this issue have seen Gabbert improve steadily during camp. That was particularly true the last half of last week. Gabbert by any measure looks much, much better than he did last season. That’s not unexpected to anyone who observed him in minicamp and organized team activities. By any measure, too, he continued to look better on Friday. He led a 70-yard touchdown drive on the second series, and Mularkey said afterward he liked how Gabbert checked down to secondary receivers on a drive that was capped by a play-action, red-zone touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller. As the scrimmage continued, Gabbert seemed to find a rhythm, first completing some in-routes to Laurent Robinson and Cecil Shorts, then looking poised and confident in the second-half red zone work. No one around EverBank is doing cartwheels over a scrimmage, but what you’re looking for in training camp from a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie is improvement. You’re looking for signs he’s comfortable, that he’s leading, that he is going to make the necessary throws, that he’s going to be respond to the adversity that’s still to come. You’re looking for signs that he can lead the offense, and that he’s capable of continuing to build. So far during this camp, you have absolutely seen that from Gabbert, and that gives this camp a decided feeling of hope as we enter the week of the first preseason game.

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