4. A numbers game.We begin this post-bye, pre-Raiders Fabulous Four discussing the Jaguars' pass rush, a key area coming out of the bye. The Jaguars through five games have registered three sacks, and just one since the regular-season opener. While few expected the team to push for pass-rushing records, this wasn't what was expected. There is confidence the team can improve in the area, though, with the reason centered around depth. Defensive line, and particularly defensive end, is one of the most-rotated positions in the NFL. As opposed to offensive line, where teams ideally play the same five players throughout the game, most teams aim to rotate six-to-eight players along the defensive line. That's the Jaguars' ideal, too, but through five games the team has lacked the numbers to rotate as much as would be ideal. That's particularly true at end, where veteran Jeremy Mincey and rookie Andre Branch played the majority of the snaps in the first four games of the season. Neither player has a sack this season, and with Mincey registering a career-high eight last season and Branch playing well in the preseason after being the team's second-round selection, more was expected from each. "He was trying to do more than what we were asking him to do and he knows that, and he knows we can't do that at any position," Head Coach Mike Mularkey said of Mincey. "It's minimizing reps – as hard as he works, I think that will be good for him." The Jaguars expect to have veteran reserve George Selvie back this week, and with veteran Austen Lane starting a second consecutive game after returning from a foot injury, that gives the Jaguars their deepest end rotation of the season. The team also hopes to get John Chick, perhaps their best outside rusher at times last season, back in a week or two. There is also expectation that Branch will improve, as many rookie pass rushers do in the latter half of the season. Add to that the return of linebacker Daryl Smith, the team's best blitzer, and there's reason to hope for an improved pass rush over the final 11 games.
3. Go West.Much has been made of the Jaguars heading to the West Coast Sunday. The Jaguars historically have struggled on the West Coast, and they're far from alone. Studies have shown that the body clock has trouble adjusting for East Coast athletes on the West Coast. It's particularly difficult for East Coast teams in prime-time games, but even during the day it has been difficult on the Jaguars, who have played on the West Coast eight times in their history, losing six. One concern is staying hydrated, and with that in mind, Jaguars players will drink one water and one Gatorade every hour on the flight. The Jaguars also will leave for California a day early, a technique used with varying degrees of success. Former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin took the team to Oakland two days early in 1996 for a 17-3 loss to Oakland, but after that the team traveled West on Saturdays for Sunday games under Coughlin. Coaches are often creatures of habit, which is one reason the Jaguars are traveling early this week: Mularkey was the Falcons' offensive coordinator from 2008-2011. The Falcons, who travel to the West Coast two days early under Head Coach Mike Smith, were 5-0 on the West Coast during that span. "It's just a long trip – a different type of atmosphere, no humidity, a different type of heat or cold whatever you call it," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "The fans are crazy. It's going to be a nice trip though. I don't think it's anything we can't handle." Jones-Drew said fans and circumstance have as much to do with making West Coast trips tough as the time change. In California, particularly in Oakland, Jones-Drew said fans essentially choose between football and church – and in Oakland, they often choose football. "A very different type of religion," he called it. "It's called Raider Nation so that's what we are going against. It's going to be nice."
2. Youth is served.With wide receiver Laurent Robinson expected to miss a second consecutive game Sunday with a concussion, a young, inexperienced area of the Jaguars' roster got a little younger. Second-year veteran Cecil Shorts is expected to make his first NFL start in Robinson's position Sunday, taking over for four-year veteran Mike Thomas, who started against Chicago but has had his role reduced. Playing Shorts makes sense. He has three of the Jaguars' biggest pass plays this season – an 80-yard touchdown against Indianapolis, a late touchdown against Minnesota and a diving catch against the Bears – but it also makes the Jaguars perhaps the NFL's youngest passing offense. With Blaine Gabbert and Shorts in their second seasons and Justin Blackmon a rookie, the Jaguars' starting quarterback and two starting wide receivers Sunday will have a combined 24 NFL starts at kickoff. The Cincinnati Bengals are the only other team with a quarterback/receiver combination consisting entirely of first- and second-year players. Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Armon Binns have a combined 48 NFL starts. The Jaguars' passing offense is ranked 32nd in the NFL, and while that number must improve, inexperience could be at least part of the issue.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback.Maybe no one needed a bye week quite like Gabbert. The second-year veteran again is spending the season being analyzed, scrutinized and criticized from just about every angle. Whereas last season the buzzwords around Gabbert were pocket presence and footwork, this year the buzz is centering around the phrase, "internal clock." Head Coach Mike Mularkey has mentioned multiple times in recent weeks the need for Gabbert to be more patient and allow plays to develop, and Mularkey also said this week he would still like to see Gabbert run more. One of Gabbert's attributes entering the NFL was the ability to run if needed, and Mularkey said that's a point of emphasis. "Either quarterbacks scramble to throw or a quarterback can scramble to run," Mularkey said. "Sometimes you've just got to tell them that, even in practice out there, to run. Some of the coverages we're getting there is room to run. They're all man-to-man or a variation of man-to-man. There are lanes to run so I would not discourage him from doing that. We're trying to promote it a little more."