JACKSONVILLE – Here’s what we learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 27-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 preseason opener Friday . . .
1. Blaine Gabbert needs to improve . . . This wasn’t the start Gabbert wanted, and he’ll need to perform better. A lot better. He was 5-of-10 for 19 yards and an interception in a quarter playing with the first-team offense.
2. . . . but statistics aren’t everything. We need to pause before burying Gabbert. Yes, he was 5-of-10, but he had three dropped passes, including the interception. He also was pressured on his second pass when rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel let Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake get free. Gabbert also was working against Miami’s first-team defense without Cecil Shorts III, Justin Blackmon and Maurice Jones-Drew. Injuries are no excuse, but the Jaguars need those players this season. And Gabbert does, too.
3. Chad Henne is still in the competition. There are those who believe Gabbert is leading the quarterback competition. Those people may be right, but Henne certainly kept himself in it on Friday, completing 8 of 11 passes for 87 yards. He also led the Jaguars’ lone scoring drive. Neither Henne nor Gabbert did much down the field on Friday, and Henne was playing against the Dolphins’ second-team defense, so the reality is probably that neither quarterback really separated in this one.
4. The Jaguars need Shorts. Remember how we talked all offseason about how good he could be? And how the Jaguars need him? Well, he is that good. And they do need him.
5. Sen’Derrick Marks could be a good signing. Of all the Jaguars’ free agent signings this past offseason, Marks somehow was overlooked a bit. No more. He got better pressure than any Jaguars defensive lineman in the preseason opener, registering an early sack and nearly getting another. Marks probably won’t be a double-digit sacks guy, but he showed quickness and penetration the Jaguars didn’t have consistently inside last season.
6. The pass rush got a good early start. If there has been an area that has consistently struggled around the Jaguars for a long time, this is it. One preseason game doesn’t make this a strength – and the Dolphins did give Ryan Tannehill time on a late first-quarter touchdown drive – but early on, the Jaguars had Tannehill on the run. That hasn’t happened enough in recent seasons.
7. Jordan Todman can contribute. The Jaguars’ third-team running back has been consistent in practice, running strong and showing good quickness. On Friday, he continued to show that, starting in place of Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Forsett. He rushed for 45 yards on six carries.
8. You can’t have turnovers. No team can win consistently with four turnovers a game. That’s particularly true of a young team trying to find its identity. Tobais Palmer and Jamal Miles each fumbled punts and Mike Kafka threw an unwise pass down the middle of the field early in the third quarter. Throw in a dropped pass for an interception by Gabbert and that’s four turnovers for a team that’s not high-powered enough yet to overcome so many mistakes.
9. He may be a weapon. The Jaguars tagged rookie Denard Robinson an offensive weapon, and General Manager David Caldwell made it clear after the draft he had liked Robinson since early in the former University of Michigan quarterback’s college career. Well, after a slow start to training camp, Robinson has improved almost daily for the last week and a half. On Friday, he rushed for 32 yards on nine carries, but even beyond statistics, he is showing breakaway ability and explosiveness.
10. The Jaguars are faster. There wasn’t a lot thrilling offensively, but the presence of Robinson and Ace Sanders clearly made the Jaguars faster. Sanders obviously will be a threat as a punt returner. Defensively, the front looked aggressive and fast to the quarterback for three series. That’s not long enough, but Tannehill was on the run and the Jaguars’ front looked fast chasing him. The Jaguars aren’t as fast as they will be in a few years, but they’re faster than before, and that’s a good start.
11. Justin Blackmon must continue to mature. Blackmon was escorted from the field by Jones-Drew after he got into an argument with Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll. There were also reports he argued with teammate Jason Babin. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has been positive and supportive of Blackmon despite off-field issues with Blackmon that preceded Bradley’s tenure as head coach. Behavior such as that in Bradley’s first game doesn’t help the cause.
12. This is a work in progress. Anyone watching this team knew this. The Jaguars committed to a major roster overhaul this offseason, and they’re playing new veterans and young players. When you do that, and when you’re not sure about your quarterback, there are going to be stops and starts early. The preseason opener was a stop, and there may be more, but the Jaguars showed some speed on Friday, in that speed and aggressiveness, perhaps showed early signs of heading in the direction Caldwell and Bradley want them to go.