4) Showing confidence.We begin this pre-Packers Fabulous Four focusing on Jaguars rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who – like any rookie Top 5 selection – has been under pretty much constant scrutiny this season. Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as college football's best receiver, for the most part has struggled this season, catching 14 passes for 126 yards and no touchdowns – this after impressing much of the preseason and entering the season with high expectations. Blackmon caught one pass for seven yards Sunday against Oakland, and Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said there were at least two passes that Blackmon probably should have caught. Mularkey at the same time made it a point to say the mistakes were a normal part of the learning curve, adding that he has been impressed the last three weeks with Blackmon's approach. He also said he has remained impressed with Blackmon's sideline demeanor and effort this season. "He's had three good weeks of practice, and it will produce at some point," Mularkey said. "I'd like it to be sooner than later but it's going to happen. A lot of other things have to happen for that to happen, starting with the protection and everything that goes along with it." While a head coach has motivation to support his first-round draft selection, Mularkey this past off-season was up front in his disappointment with Blackmon at times. If Mularkey is saying he's pleased with Blackmon's approach, it's fair to assume he means it and remains convinced that Blackmon's production will increase in time.
3) Keep it simple.The Jaguars have simplified their offensive movement before the snap, and Mularkey said there's a chance it may get more simple. That's something of a departure from Mularkey's past offenses, and it's intriguing because a lot of the offense is based on confusing the defense with motion and changing formations. While that may again be the approach in the future, Mularkey said this week the offense is moving around far less before the snap. "We scaled back a lot of the things we do pre-snap just to make sure our guys are aware," Mularkey said. With the offense ranked 32nd in the NFL overall and scoring one touchdown in two games before the bye week, Mularkey said the approach entering Oakland was, "Let's worry about the Jaguars first, and then second let's make sure we're not putting ourselves in the position to fail. We have scaled back and we may have to do that even more." Mularkey said the coaching staff addressed the issue again Monday. "Some of the things we're doing we've got to be careful how we're doing them," he said. "The more we're getting to know who we have and what we can do, it will always be the case."
2) Back to it.The Jaguars will be without running back Maurice Jones-Drew for an indefinite period, and while the loss is significant, the bigger issue for the Jaguars is overall improvement in the running game. Jones-Drew won the rushing title a year ago, but even before the injury, he was averaging 44 yards per game the last two games after rushing for just over 100 yards a game last season. The Jaguars also struggled to run this past Sunday after Rashad Jennings replaced Jones-Drew, with Jennings finishing with 44 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. One issue is that beginning with a loss to Cincinnati the week following Jones-Drew's 177-yard performance against the Colts, teams began overemphasizing stopping Jones-Drew with the idea that the Jaguars couldn't pass consistently enough to make that strategy fail. While that has made running difficult, Jaguars offensive linemen long have prided themselves on being able to run block whatever the circumstance. That pride served as motivation last season when the team helped Jones-Drew gain the rushing title in a 5-11 season, and players this week said the run must be established whatever the approach of the opposing defense. "The running game has got to be better," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said. "It's kind of like a given for us, and for us not to be able to create space and create lanes for our back – for us not to be consistent enough to create lanes – that takes away from what our offense does." Of teams stacking the line, Nwaneri said, "We've dealt with that in the past. We've had success against any number of men in the box. As a group, we just have to be more effective. We have to be more keyed in on our run game. We can't think that just because we're running the ball we're going to gain yards. We have to make it happen."
1) And finally, a word on the quarterback.Not that there's ever a week when Blaine Gabbert's not a topic among Jaguars observers, but it was particularly true this week. First, he had one of his best stretches early against the Raiders, then, just like that, he was on the sideline after sustaining a shoulder injury. On Tuesday came the teeth-gnashing over whether his season was over and on Wednesday came word that he practiced and likely will play Sunday. There were among fans the requisite questions about toughness that come whenever a player leaves a game without a bone sticking from his body – that despite Gabbert returning to the game following the injury. The bigger issue is that it's critical that Gabbert play the rest of the season. The team has shown flashes at times with him in the lineup, and if you're a glass half-full person the offense for a short time on Sunday looked like it did in the opener, when it functioned well enough for enough stretches to nearly beat the now 5-2 Minnesota Vikings. Even for those not as optimistic it's hard to argue that it's not critical that Gabbert be in the lineup. Whatever your feelings on Gabbert as the quarterback of the future, he's the best quarterback on the roster and these 10 games are critical to not only his development, but to getting a clearer picture of just how far he has progressed.