Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7) On Maurice Jones-Drew's pursuit.We open this Magnificent Seven Holiday Edition with the only topic you can really open with as the 2011 season draws to a close. That's Maurice Jones-Drew, and his pursuit . . . well, let's forget about the pursuit of the NFL rushing title for a second. What Jones-Drew is pursuing in the final two weeks of the season actually is one of the greatest single-season individual performances in franchise history. Jones-Drew leads the NFL in rushing by 60 yards with two games remaining and with 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns, he is 238 yards from Fred Taylor's franchise record of 1,572 set in 2003. It is, of course, well-documented and remarkable that Jones-Drew has accomplished what he has in a season in which the passing offense has struggled, and that he has had to run every week against defenses stacked to stop him. Also remarkable is Jones-Drew has accounted for 46.9 percent of the offense. Ray Rice of Baltimore is next highest in the category this season, averaging 36.2 percent of the Ravens' offense. But what may be most remarkable is Jones-Drew's consistency. Rushing titles are often built on huge, 180- or 190-yard games with some 40- or 50-yarders mixed in. Jones-Drew's season-low was 63 yards at Houston October 30, and in the other 13 games, he has rushed for no fewer than 84 yards. The Jaguars' linemen openly talked this week of their desire to get these milestones for Jones-Drew, and it's easy to see why. This is a guy whose dedication to the team and to winning is unquestioned, and in a season that has been otherwise disappointing, having him reach the individual honors wouldn't numb the pain, but sure would make the season a bit more memorable.
6) On Wayne Weaver.We'll have more in this vein next week, but I got a chance to sit down for an extended interview with outgoing Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver this week. We'll run the conversation on jaguars.com soon, but the impression I'll take away is sitting in Weaver's office with the shelves empty and boxes open for packing all around the office. As someone who covered Weaver and the franchise in its infancy, it was a bit emotional to think of him no longer occupying his office at EverBank. We talked before the interview started about how tough it was to be packing, and to be closing a chapter in his life that had meant so much. And I kept thinking, how could it not be? But mostly when I think about Weaver leaving, I keep thinking about something I thought about while talking to him at the league meetings in Dallas last week – about how different the past two decades would have been for Jacksonville had it not been for Weaver. No Coughlin Era. No Fred Taylor. No Mark Brunell. No Jimmy Smith. No Maurice Jones-Drew. No Super Bowl. No Monday Night victories over Pittsburgh. No 375-yard day against the Colts. No 59-yard game winners. No Hail Mary. Weaver talked pretty extensively of being disappointed to not win a Super Bowl, and about some of the choices he made that he regrets, but as he prepares for his final days as Jaguars owner, let's not forget that without him, none of this would have existed, and bringing the NFL here is not something that should be underappreciated.
5) Pitch perfect.It will be hard to get through a Magnificent Seven in the coming weeks without observing what owner-to-be Shahid Khan is bringing to the Jaguars, and as we move on from his first frenzied days as owner, we can look back with a little perspective. The most striking impression came after his meeting with Jaguars players on Saturday. Khan already had addressed front-office employees, and he had addressed the fans through multiple interviews with the media. But he had not talked to the players, and he took the opportunity to set a tone. Now, it's true that there is only so much that such a meeting can be expected to accomplish, but it was clear speaking to players afterward that Khan had gotten his message across. He spoke to them about his background, and connected with them by telling the story of how he came to the United States with next-to-nothing and built a multi-billion dollar corporation. He also made clear his enthusiasm and excitement over owning the team. But this meeting wasn't all feel good and smiles. He, too, made clear that 41-14 losses on national television weren't acceptable, and that losing out this season wasn't acceptable, either. Putting a stamp on an organization takes time for a new owner, and Khan will be the first to tell you it's about more than speeches and introductory meetings, but Khan's first few days sent a clear message to players that more will be expected.
4) Things I'm worn out on.Gabbert bashing, Smith bashing, Jacksonville bashing – bashing in general. We've reached the point in a 4-10 season where it's vogue to bash everything, and it's also understandable. But just because the season has been a disappointment doesn't mean it's time for a blow-it-up and start over approach. I liked what Khan said at his Jacksonville press conference last week, that this isn't a rebuild – more of a remodel. That's about right. Deafening roars along these lines to the contrary, this is a solid roster that's not far from contending. Khan sees it that way, too, and it seems the off-season will be conducted with that in mind. Good thing, too. There's too much going right and too much building has been done to tear things up and start over.
3) Letting him play. This maybe could have gone in the "Worn Out" section, or maybe even in the Jones-Drew section, but it didn't quite fit. Whatever. What needs to be addressed before we get into the holidays and the final two weeks of the regular season is this whole idea that somehow Jones-Drew should be saved for next season. It started a few weeks ago and gained more traction than I expected when Jones-Drew left the game briefly with an ankle injury Thursday. Why risk him, some asked. First off, an ankle injury isn't something that should have a lingering effect. Secondly, this is a guy who plays with passion week in and week out and who it bothered tremendously to have to miss the last two games last season. He is driven by the desire to play, and does so at a high level each week. It would take something very, very serious for him not to play the final two games, and that has nothing to do with his status in the NFL rushing race. He wants to play, and to think he should do anything else is to not be in touch with the situation.
2) And not-quite finally . . .We'll break tradition here by not closing with a word on the quarterback, but we're not going to get out of Magnificent Seven without discussing Blaine Gabbert. We've discussed a whole lot of things around Gabbert at length in recent weeks, but one aspect that can't be overlooked is what he has gone through this season. First, there was the lockout, which meant no minicamps or OTAs. Every rookie quarterback had that. But unlike Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, Gabbert did not spend training camp as the starter. He also spent training camp working in an offense still designed around David Garrard. Within two weeks of the regular season, he then was put into that offense as the starter, and has spent the season playing in a scheme essentially designed around Garrard's strengths. He has had two head coaches, two quarterbacks coaches and a wide receiver corps that has struggled much of the season. This is not to make an excuse for Gabbert, but to get to the point that coaches and those around him say he has stayed mentally strong under the circumstances and continues to make good decisions on the field. That's a good sign. If the circumstances of this season don't crush the guy, it's a good bet that nothing will. Again, there's no way to know how Gabbert will turn out yet. But while criticism abounds, there is still a lot to like.
1) Happy holidays.We won't get sappy here, and we'll save the What a Year It Has Been retrospective for next week's Magnificent Seven, but we'll take this chance to wish everyone a Happy Holidays. And make no mistake: around the Jaguars, there is a whole lot about which to be happy. There's a new direction here, new ownership, and while we don't yet know the end game, we're not supposed to know the end game yet. Sometimes, it's OK to enjoy the ride and you get the idea in the coming weeks and months, the ride's not only going to be interesting, but it might starting getting more enjoyable, too.