Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7. On the verge.There's really no way to start the 2011 regular-season finale of the Magnificent Seven without talking about Maurice Jones-Drew. And while it's true that we pretty much ran out of accolades talking about the Jaguars running back weeks ago, it's just as true that he's deserving of every one of them. What's most telling is the way Jones-Drew has continued playing in the weeks since the Jaguars were eliminated from the playoffs, and his attitude during that time toward winning the NFL rushing title. He has continued to play hard since that time, and if you spend any time around Jones-Drew, you know quickly that effort and desire isn't about the yards. Does he want to win the title? Of course, he does. He's a prideful, competitive guy and finishing first is infinitely better than finishing second. But without question he would prefer to rush for 600 yards, miss the Pro Bowl and go to the playoffs. Jones-Drew has spoken to the media after every Jaguars game, win or lose, this season, and after each of the 11 losses, the pain in Jones-Drew has been real. And speaking of pain, there's no question Jones-Drew is playing through it at the end of the season. He has had his ankle rolled each of the last two games, and has returned in productive fashion on the next series each time. He has run against defenses designed to stop him and despite very difficult circumstances, he has been a consistent, reliable presence on an offense that has lacked such things this season. He's almost certainly going to win the franchise's first rushing title Sunday, and he has a real chance to finish this season with more rushing yards than any back ever has rushed for in a single season in franchise history. Little question Jones-Drew deserves to set both marks.
6. Fast friends.There was a lot of good stuff from Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew this week. Not that you'd expect anything different. They are class guys who are passionate about the game and value their place in it. Taylor texted Jones-Drew Wednesday, challenging him to get the 136 yards necessary to break Taylor's record, and Jones-Drew – who played three seasons with Taylor, 2006-2008 – said it would be more special for him to break Taylor's record than to win his first rushing title. "This guy taught me how to play the game, showed me the way in the NFL, how to be a player and how to be consistent," Jones-Drew said. "And in this league, that's what it's all about, is consistency. Consistency is what this league is all about because if you have one big year and then you have a down year, you're labeled as not a great player. To be consistent throughout your whole career, doing things the right way and playing at a high level, that's when you get those Hall of Fame guys or whatever you want to call it. It would be awesome to do that. Like I said, the guy showed me the way and to go out and do that would be fun."
5. Too-often overlooked.There's a slew of players who fit into this category this week, as often is the case when Pro Bowl teams are announced. Jones-Drew was the only Jaguars players selected to the team, and while 4-11 teams are often overlooked many Jaguars players had better years than were reflected in the balloting. Strong cases could be made for Uche Nwaneri and Eugene Monroe on the offensive line. Someone had to be blocking for Jones-Drew, and Nwaneri in particular was consistent most of the season. Defensively, Jeremy Mincey deserved some consideration, as did linebackers Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith. Smith deserves particular mention. He is a player about whom I knew little when I arrived in Jacksonville in February, and what's impressive about the guy is pretty much everything. He's quiet, professional and simply shows up for every practice and every game and plays at an extremely high level. The Jaguars were a Top-5 defense all season, and didn't collapse despite a slew of injuries, and Smith was a very big reason. He gets overlooked annually in Pro Bowl voting, because he's not a big sacks guy, but few who play with or against him would tell you he's not one of the NFL's best at his position.
4. A word on the alternates.We didn't mention the players who most narrowly missed Pro Bowl consideration in the last section: special teams ace Montell Owens, fullback Greg Jones and kicker Josh Scobee (third alternate). All three are very deserving. Owens as first alternate has a pretty good chance of going, with Scobee obviously a long shot because three other kickers would have to drop out. Jones would need two players to drop out, and while that's also unlikely, it'd be terrific to see. The Jaguars have faced defense after defense with eight, nine and 10 players stacked in the box and you don't run effectively against that sort of defense if the lead blocker isn't playing well. Jacksonville fans long have known about Jones, and though Jones said this week he is self-confident enough to know he's one of the best fullbacks in the NFL without Pro Bowl recognition, it's hard to think of a Jaguars player significantly more deserving.
3. Fighting to the finish.You've almost certainly heard the endless talk in recent weeks about motivation – as in, why in the world should the Jaguars be motivated for the last game of the regular season? They are, after all, 4-11; what is there to play for? What's striking about that question is the answer you get when you actually ask it of an NFL player. Walk through the locker room this week and ask about motivation, and you get so many passionate answers that you feel silly to have even brought up the question. Professional pride. The idea that everything you do is on tape for the world – and the rest of the NFL – to see. Competitive spirit. One of the most interesting responses, and one I think most people overlook, is that NFL players know they only have a limited number of chances to play football. Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey this week took that a step further, noting that with the high turnover in the NFL each off-season, Sunday's game also is the last time he will play with this version of the Jaguars, and yes, Mincey said, that means something. "This is my last time playing with this group of men," he said. "The team changes every year, so it's going to be good to embrace the moment. You do what you can to win."
2. Things I'm worn out on.Actually, this week it's one thing, and that's criticism of Tyson Alualu. Jaguars observers seem split on the second-year defensive tackle, with many wondering if he should have been selected No. 10 overall. This again is a case of perception and reality. The reality is Alualu is precisely the sort of player franchises wish they could draft over and over and over again when selecting in the Top 10. He is, as interim coach Mel Tucker said this week, a rock-solid player and what's important to remember when assessing Alualu is he is not and likely never will be a big sacks guy. That's not what he was drafted for and to judge him that way is incorrect. The Jaguars built their defensive front from the inside out, and the way they play defense, you need the defensive tackles set for the defensive ends to have success. The Jaguars have good defensive ends this season, but they don't have what most people would term an elite-level pass rusher. Despite that, they have played very good defense much of the season. Alualu is a huge reason for that, and he has been doing so on a knee that is less than 100 percent. When that situation is resolved, there's every chance he will be even better.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback . . .We at last have reached the final week of the regular season, and you know what I maybe have liked best about the week? There is a bit more buzz in the inbox that maybe Blaine Gabbert's making progress. Let's take it a step further: he ismaking progress; no maybe about it. The reason it has been somewhat overlooked is some laziness on the part of the national media, with commentators saying in recent weeks that Gabbert has looked scared in the pocket. A look at the film from recent weeks, particularly against Tennessee this past Saturday, contradicts that stance in a major way. Yes, Gabbert has a lot of work to do in the off-season, but to think he hasn't progressed, particularly in the last month, is just not true. Gabbert had the misfortune to have a very difficult game on national television against San Diego, and because of the profile and a certain commentator in that game, the idea took hold nationally that Gabbert was a disappointment. Once that sort of thing takes hold, it's hard to turn the other way. Realistically, that public perception likely will carry into the off-season. Gabbert can't worry about that. What he must hear is what people inside the Jaguars are saying – that the team believes this kid can not only play, but can be special and is on the way to being just that. If he heads into the off-season with that in the front of his mind, he'll have the productive off-season he needs, and soon enough, perception will change.