JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines four Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics as the team prepares to play the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
4.A vital piece.We begin this post-Brad Meester Retirement Announcement Fabulous Four with … who else? Meester, who announced Wednesday he will retire after the season after 14 NFL seasons – all with the Jaguars. The Jaguars wanted him to return, and for legitimate reasons. He may not have graded particularly well analytically this year, but he was key to the team's transition to Head Coach Gus Bradley's system and more specifically, to the offensive line's transition to a zone-and gap-blocking scheme. The offensive line, after struggling early with the transition, has helped the Jaguars rush for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games, with veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis calling Meester the offensive line's "point guard. "He gets guys lined up, and gets the line calls out," Lewis said. "He makes sure everybody is going to the right spots every time. That's going to be tough to do (without him), but we'll have to get it done. We all appreciate him. Everybody knows how big of a piece he is, not just to our offense but to the team.''
4a.One more Meester story.This didn't fit the first entry, but it was worth passing along. Meester stated the obvious this week when asked if he imagined playing 14 years, saying, "I never would have thought about that kind of a thing." He also said there was a time in his rookie season he wondered if he'd even play 14 games. Meester started at guard as a rookie and allowed three sacks in a Week Three loss to the Colts at the RCA Dome. "I walked in that locker room, head down," Meester said. "The other center was Quentin Neujahr. I said to him, 'That's it. They're going to bench me. I'm done. I was awful.' He said, 'No, no. Hang in there. Keep doing the right thing. You'll be fine.' I remember that. That meant a lot to me, but I remember things like that, thinking, 'I'm done.' And here I am 14 years later with the same team." Meester added, "Even though I was a second-round pick I was thinking, 'I need to make this team.' I didn't know if I was going to make it."
3.Analytically speaking…Running back Jordan Todman surpassed 100 yards rushing in his first career start Sunday, and not surprisingly he scored well on Pro Football Focus' "Breakaway Percentage" statistic, which measures the percentage of yards gained by a player on runs of 15 yards or more. Todman scored a 45 percent, which was the league's fifth highest score last weekend. For the season, the Jaguars' secondary continues to be the highest-graded unit on the team, with cornerbacks Will Blackmon, Mike Harris, Alan Ball and Dwayne Gratz all scoring positively for the season. Safety Johnathan Cyprien has a low season grade, but that was skewed by a large negative grade in the first half of the season and he has a positive grade since the bye week. No Jaguars defensively player graded positively against the Bills, and offensive guard Uche Nwaneri was the lone positive grade offensively or defensively Sunday. For the season, wide receiver Cecil Shorts III and tight end Marcedes Lewis continue to grade positively, while defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and defensive end Ryan Davis grade positively defensively.
2.Finding a niche…Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley likes to talk about players making plays that "show up," and in recent weeks, Jaguars defensive end Tyson Alualu has done that. He didn't have his best game of the second half of the season Sunday – few players on the defensive front did – but Bradley said he played well and had some "splash plays for us. He really showed up – a couple of chase-tackle plays, runs away from, defeating a block and going. It feels like the last couple of games he's gaining more confidence." Alualu, who started 48 games at defensive tackle in 2010-2012, moved to defensive end in Bradley's defense this season. The end position played by Alualu is opposite the pass-rushing "Leo" position played by Jason Babin, Andre Branch and Ryan Davis, with Alualu's role being more run-defense oriented than pass-rush oriented. It's also similar to the role Alualu played as a 3-4 end at California. "I think it just comes from playing the position – a better understanding of what's expected," Alualu said. "Overall as a team we got better and I think that makes a difference. Everybody's understanding the defense better and that allows everybody to play faster and to be at their best. We've been in a position to make plays and I think that has a lot to do with it. … I still feel there are a lot of things I can work on to better my game, so I'm still working."
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback…Two games remain in the season, which likely means the final two games for the current quarterback room. We've covered the Blaine Gabbert situation ad nauseam in this space, and there will be time to summarize that later, but what shouldn't be overlooked in the context of this season is the performance of Chad Henne. While Gabbert was starting early in the season, Henne never lost sight of his role, and since moving into the starting lineup on a permanent basis shortly in the eighth game of the season, he has been solid – and sometimes better than that. That's particularly true given the circumstances. Justin Blackmon was suspended immediately one game into Henne's stint as a starter, and playing in an offense that's hardly bursting with elite players, Henne has allowed the offense to improve. Henne has been criticized this week for his late-game interception in a loss to Buffalo, but playing without Blackmon, Shorts and Maurice Jones-Drew, the offense on Sunday produced its third-highest yardage total of the season – and its highest total without Blackmon. A season-best day running helped, but Henne made plays at the end of the game to put the Jaguars in position to tie. The Jaguars are 4-2 since the bye for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Henne giving the team improved play at the quarterback position.