Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7. Ch-ch-ch-changes.We open the week's Magnificent Seven . . . well, where in the world do you open it? The week's early changes have been well-documented, but while the changes that came Wednesday afternoon didn't get the same headlines, they were significant. The Jaguars that day not only released wide receiver Jason Hill, they fired wide receivers coach Johnny Cox, moved quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard to receivers coach and assigned offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the role of quarterbacks coach as well. The message was clear: the two positions that have struggled the most – wide receiver and quarterback – must improve, and there's no reason to wait until the off-season to do it. The receivers this season digressed from last season – and got worse since training camp – and while there may be no true No. 1 receivers in the group, they too often this season have played like that. The result has been the 32nd-ranked passing offense. The release of Hill made sense. After 11 games, it was clear he wasn't in the future, and in his absence, six receivers remain on the roster. Players such as Chastin West, Cecil Shorts and Brian Robiskie need to have time to show how they fit into the future, and with the playoffs no longer realistic, the future is now. There were strong indications after Thursday's practice that the move could produce at least some benefit. Interim coach Mel Tucker liked what he saw from the group and there were those around the receiver position saying the coaching improved immediately.
6. Don't write him off.We speak here of Tucker, and while it was only natural that Tucker got lost a bit in the flurry that was the Tuesday news cycle, he deserves better. Tucker this week took over as interim coach in the wake of Jack Del Rio being fired. Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver said this week he made it very clear to Tucker that it was an interim position, and said Tucker also would get an opportunity to interview for the position. That's standard stuff in the world of interim coaches, and it's rare for interim coaches to be elevated to permanent status although it did happen twice last season. Usually, a head coach getting fired leaves too much wreckage in its wake, and there's too much sentiment for change to have an interim be more than temporary. Perhaps that will be the case with Tucker, but even beyond Tucker's performance this season in improving the defense from No. 28 to No. 4 he is deserving of consideration. Tucker is well-respected within the organization, and within the NFL, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, he not only will be a head coaching candidate, he likely will be a head coach. While he's not the type to lobby for such a position, he is well-prepared for the opportunity at hand. At minimum, Tucker and several of the defensive coaches certainly are deserving of strong consideration to remain the core of the staff moving forward. Tucker this week immediately brought a remarkable change in energy, and it was clear in his handling of the media and other obligations this week he is worthy of head-coaching consideration. This guy's an asset to the organization, and there will be a push to keep him, whatever the capacity may be.
5. Lasting Legacy.There will be time for this discussion later, but checking the calendar, not as much as we think. The reality is it's December 2, and that means in less than 35 days, Wayne Weaver almost certainly no longer will be associated with the Jaguars. That became true when he announced on Tuesday he had agreed to sell the Jaguars to Shahid Khan, but when you step back and chew on the concept it's hard to believe. For 18 years, through Tom Coughlin and Tony Boselli and Mark Brunell and Fred Taylor and Jack Del Rio and Maurice Jones-Drew and everyone else involved with the Jaguars, Weaver has been the constant. There are others who date to the franchise's inception, including General Manager Gene Smith, but obviously no one who has played so prominent a role. That's an obvious statement, because no one has played so prominent a role in the history of the team – or for pro football in Jacksonville. Some may not remember how ridiculous the notion of an NFL team in Jacksonville seemed not only to people nationally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but to people locally, too. When Weaver came aboard, it gave the movement credibility and without him no way does this city have a team. Whatever his good or bad moves as owner, to question his commitment to Jacksonville and his dedication to making this an NFL market is ignorant. He should be and will be remembered as such and his legacy in this town is secure and timeless.
4. On the change at the (very) top.If there has been one email to the O-Zone this week asking the question, there have been a hundred – and understandably so: What's with this Khan guy? And why should we trust him? That's a difficult question to answer, because I – like nearly everyone else in Jacksonville – haven't yet had the opportunity to meet Khan. Without first-hand experience around him, it's hard to pass along insight, but what I can pass along is a consensus of people with whom I've discussed Khan and that's that he's not only a good, sincere man, but that his commitment to keeping the Jaguars in Jacksonville is real. What assurances do you have that that's real? For the cynic among us nothing, but what you can believe is that Weaver turned down opportunities to sell the Jaguars for more money and sold to Khan for one reason – that he believed in Khan's commitment to Jacksonville. And everything you hear about Khan is he didn't buy a team to get caught up in the wranglings and headaches of trying to move a professional sports team from a city that doesn't want that team to move. People smarter than I with knowledge of the discussions firmly believe this is a good thing for people who want the NFL in Jacksonville, and those people have no reason to lie. Now, if Jacksonville doesn't support the Jaguars and doesn't make it a viable market, Khan like any other intelligent businessman couldn't reasonably be expected to stay in an unworkable situation, but for now, the pending sale should be seen for what it is – the transition of the team to someone committed to building a winner in Jacksonville. There are a whole lot of indications that this is a positive move for the city and the team and fans in Jacksonville and it's time to behave as such.
3. In support of Jones.Hard to believe that Jaguars fullback Greg Jones remains out of the Top 5 in fan voting for the Pro Bowl. Jones is an unassuming guy except when he's blocking linebackers and safeties, and that's one reason he's overlooked. Another reason, of course, is that too often Jaguars players simply get overlooked because they play in Jacksonville. But running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the NFL's second-leading rusher despite defenses gearing to stop him every play, and Jones is a major reason for that. "You guys ask me, you've got to ask other linebackers," Jones-Drew said. "They're the ones that get mad at him for blocking them all the time and creating holes. You hear guys yelling at each other. I think he does a great job. I've been here six years and Greg, every year that he's played he's dominated. So hopefully he gets a chance to get his recognition that he deserves."
2. Topics I'm worn out on.Franchise relocation, Los Angeles, London, Pro Football Talk . . . but not moustaches. Goodness, no. Can't get enough of moustaches this week. But mainly, I'm just worn out – as a lot of people are. It's just, plain been a long week.
1. A final word . . .on the quarterback. We'll keep with tradition by closing with a word on the rookie quarterback, and state the obvious by saying the reality is the final five weeks are important. How important was made clear by the decision to make Koetter the quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator. If Tucker and Smith didn't think Gabbert could improve on some basics and mechanics throughout the next five weeks, they wouldn't have bothered making the move. As important a topic around Gabbert is the issue of pocket presence, which has become an ongoing topic of discussion among fans and Jaguars observers. While there are times when Gabbert shows the need to develop in the area, those around the team insist it wasn't as bad as many believed this past Sunday. He was sacked six times against Houston, but at least four and perhaps five of those sacks came on plays when no receivers were open, and Gabbert had little choice but to take the sack. Perhaps most important is how Gabbert is being viewed by teammates. Despite observers "observing" things about Gabbert's toughness and his effectiveness thus far, teammates will tell you he is plenty tough and that he continues to show the things you want to see in a developing quarterback. They also will tell you he responded to last week's benching, and that although he's not happy with the year he has had, neither is he discouraged or lacking confidence. The bottom line on Gabbert remains that while he has not yet shown if he will be great in the NFL it's just as true that because of what has gone on around him offensively this season, it's still too early for anything close to a final assessment. The beginnings of the reset began with this week's coaching shift. Time will tell.