Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7)Committed to Jacksonville.We'll lead Magnificent Seven this week talking commitment to Jacksonville, and while that applies to owner-to-be Shad Khan, what we're referring to in this opening segment is Maurice Jones-Drew. The idea has been floated by media and fans in recent weeks that it's a shame that Jones-Drew is having his best season for an otherwise struggling team, and the comparison has been made to former Detroit Lions and Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. And you know what? The comparison is valid. But I sat down with Jones-Drew a couple of weeks back and asked him about the same topic. He was very specific about his commitment to this organization. He said the reason he went to UCLA instead of USC when he did was there was no challenge in going to Southern California. The Trojans were a power and everyone went there. He liked the challenge of building and doing something where it hadn't been done before. He said he felt the same way about Jacksonville. Would Jones-Drew love to win a Super Bowl? Sure. Would he like to be a perennial playoff back? Sure. But from being around him this season I get the idea that playing on a couple of deep-playoff competitive teams in Jacksonville would mean more to him than getting traded and playing for five or six in another city. He wants to do it here, and he believes that will happen.
6)Pro Bowl talk.We're not in the habit of turning Magnificent Seven into All Promotion, All-The-Time, but with a month of games remaining, we'll talk Pro Bowl during this segment. It's tough to go overboard pushing players from a 3-9 team, but there are legitimate candidates who shouldn't be overlooked because of the record. The first is obvious. Jones-Drew is easily one of the best three backs in the AFC, and as we've discussed all season, could have had a much, much bigger season if teams weren't able to stack eight and sometimes nine players near the line of scrimmage most plays. Guard Uche Nwaneri also has played at a Pro Bowl level. It will be harder for Nwaneri to make it from a 3-9 team, but someone's accounting for Jones-Drew's running room. The same is true of fullback Greg Jones, who is overdue for a spot and who is playing as well as he ever has. Defensively, cornerback Derek Cox was playing very, very well before a season-ending knee injury, which leaves linebackers Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith. Each player is deserving, though Posluszny likely would get more votes because of the perception that his addition was one of the major reasons for the Jaguars' dramatic defensive improvement. A case also obviously can and will be made for kicker Josh Scobee, but again, a guy from a 3-9 team has to be above and beyond and Scobee's had a couple of misses here in the last two weeks. Yes, they were from plus-40 and plus-50, but the Pro Bowl voting ain't always fair.
5)Another word on Mel Tucker.He was the Topic of the Week last week, and because he is an unassuming guy, the storyline around him has calmed in his second week as interim coach. But before we let him completely fade to the background, let's offer this on his approach: He has said since taking over that his No. 1 goal was to get the Jaguars practicing better and more efficiently. He has done that. That's not a sexy, headline-grabbing goal, but Tucker knew it was an area that he could influence quickly. He said at times you saw its benefits Monday and other times you didn't. It's hard to dramatically change things in a week or two, and that may be why you don't see a huge on-field difference under Tucker. Still, in the long run, he's a guy who can and should get a head coaching job, whether it's in Jacksonville or somewhere else. If it's not in Jacksonville, whoever is the new head coach could do much worse for a defensive coordinator. He has the conviction of his beliefs and the courage to stick with them. Easier said than done.
4)A word on Whimper.There have been jokes in the O-Zone this week about Guy Whimper and his 17-yard receiving average Monday and how maybe Whimper could help the receiving corps. Sometimes jokes are just too true to be funny. We've discussed the receivers over and again in Magnificent Seven, and we'll keep discussing them as we ease into the off-season. There seems no question at this point that the Jaguars will sign at least one receiver as a free agent, and draft at least one receiver early. You almost have to find one in free agency, because it's very difficult as a rookie to come in and make the sort of game-by-game, play-by-play consistent impact that's going to come in and make the difference the offense needs. Realistically, you can see Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts being key to the equation going forward – and both are still very capable of making a long-term impact --and Jarett Dillard and Chastin West likely get a chance in training camp, but you almost certainly need to get a No. 1 or a No. 2 in the off-season. Jokes aside, that won't be Whimper.
3)Building momentum.It's hard to see on the field, because these things are hard to see when you're 3-9. I'll also preface this by saying you're not going to see the full results of which I am speaking until next season. But there's still a pretty prevalent belief around EverBank Field that some major seeds of a pretty strong future were planted last week with the announced change in ownership and the firing of former Head Coach Jack Del Rio. You saw the beginnings of that before the San Diego game Monday, and you saw more of it in the first half before the Chargers pulled away. The game didn't work out as the Jaguars wanted, but you saw a team energized, and one that was able to rally briefly in the first half after facing adversity. A depleted defense hurt the rest of the way. You also saw a fan base that was excited about the future and ready to throw its support behind the organization, and the new ownership. It's more than excitement over a mustache. It's an energy about home and a new beginning. While the fans didn't get the victory everyone wanted, they showed an energy that should only grow and intensify as the team improves on the field, which it will.
2)Things I'm worn out on.Gabbert bashing, draft talk (can't we just wait a while?), DeSean Jackson, Justin Blackmon, footwork, injured reserve . . . actually, we can just about stop at "injured reserve" this week. I've explained it over and again. The Jaguars' season wasn't ruined by injuries. It was ruined by giving away a few too many games late. The injuries started piling up once the season was already essentially over, and at that point, a whole lot of things have really piled up. Yes, the number is high, but a lot of it can be attributed to timing. A lot of players sustained multi-week injuries and when that happens at 3-8 or 3-9, it's usually just as well to put them on IR than to keep them around for one or two season-ending games without playoff ramifications.
1)And finally, a word on the quarterback.See why I started this deal way back when of closing with the rookie quarterback? You just can't overtalk it and overanalyze it, and that remains as true in early December as it was in mid-September. We instituted a non-Gabbert day on the O-Zone this week just to give everyone a breath, but we won't ignore him here. Although the topic has been talked out this week, what was true six weeks ago and two months ago remains true: Gabbert is and was a work in progress. He will remain as much until the off-season. Yes, Monday night was really bad at times. Yes, a lot of the season has been really bad at times. People are tired of hearing about Gabbert's youth and inexperience, and they're tired of seeing other rookies outplaying him. All of that's not going to change this season. There's going to be a drastic change in offense around the Jaguars this off-season. As it looks now, what is put in place almost certainly will be built around Gabbert and will be put there by people who are in it for the long haul. He will need to be coached, and will need to spend months of hard work working on things that will carry over to games and keep things from looking sloppy. If all of those things are still showing up a few games into next season, then there's more reason for concern, and more reason for criticism. Until then, criticize all you want, but remember that this story isn't completely written. Not yet.