Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7) A new era. We begin this first 2012 off-season Magnificent Seven at the only place that's appropriate – with a thought on new Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. We can finally say that – Owner Shahid Khan – because as of 1:35 p.m. Wednesday, he officially took over full ownership of the franchise. No more "Owner-to-Be," or "Owner-in-Waiting." Khan joined us on Jaguars This Week Wednesday evening, and the reaction to the show has been strikingly, overwhelmingly positive. The same was true when Khan joined Sports Illustrated writer Peter King recently for an extended podcast. Each time Khan speaks in a relaxed, informative forum he receives overwhelmingly positive feedback from fans, and the reason is clear: when he speaks, it's clear he doesn't believe he has all the answers, and it's just as clear he is open-minded enough to ask the right questions – and to hear the real answers. That gives people a good feeling about the direction of the franchise, and it should. Those who aren't listening – i.e., the national media and even some people locally – might be missing the importance of that, but it's the critical reason there is renewed hope going forward. In the NFL, it begins with ownership, because ownership must listen to the right people and make the right decisions on issues that shape the franchise for years. Former owner Wayne Weaver emphasized to anyone who would listen throughout the sale/approval process that there was something special and unique about Khan, and it has been easy in recent weeks – and especially in the last two or three days – to see why. So far, he has struck the right cord and so far, fans are responding to his message.
6) A thought on the issue of the day.The hot button issue of the week without question has been Khan's public support of Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith. I made it a point Wednesday on Jaguars This Week to ask Khan about Smith. We hadn't spoken on the issue previously, but I thought it likely that after several weeks knowing and working with Smith that Khan might have something to say on the matter, and he did. Among other things, he said, "I have tremendous respect for him and he's absolutely a huge asset to this organization." The following day, when speaking with Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union, Khan said, "The fans that are complaining about Gene Smith don't know Gene Smith. The uninformed fan is the one who comes up with, 'Fire Gene Smith.' If they knew him like I knew him in the last few weeks, I think they'd feel differently." Khan's point – being until very recently a fan himself – is an owner must take a different approach than a fan. An owner needs a general manager he trusts to run the organization, to help find the right coach and to help build the structure – and obviously, to find the right players – and Khan believes he has that in Smith.
5) Handicapping the coaching search.OK, this really wasn't a fair lead-in. You know why? It's an impossible search to handicap. There are the names of five offensive coordinators that have been out there since Monday – Brian Schottenheimer (Jets), Mike McCoy (Broncos), Bill O'Brien (Patriots), Rod Chudzinski (Panthers) and Mike Mularkey (Falcons) – and interim coach Mel Tucker also reportedly interviewed this week. There also are reports the Jaguars have contacted Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden about the position. To clear up one element, Gruden, McCoy and Mularkey could interview next week even if their teams win playoff games this weekend. They can interview until the end of the Divisional Playoff round (January 15), and Schottenheimer and Chudzinski obviously can interview any time. O'Brien is out because he took the Penn State job. But the reason it's impossible to handicap isn't that there are so many names; it's that Khan and Smith don't want this to be handicappable. Khan on Jaguars This Week this week made it clear that while we knew some names we didn't know them all, and that that's how it would remain. He talked a lot about preserving the integrity of the search. That's a goal of his, and because of that, you still get a pretty good idea that we won't know all of the details of this process until Khan and Smith decide to share.
4) One more thought on the search . . . We may not know exactly who is going to be the Jaguars' coach, but we do know a lot of attributes. Khan said he's seeking three elements. One, the coach must have chemistry with Khan and the rest of the organization. Two, he must be a winner. Three, he must be community-minded. From what we all know about Smith, he's going to look for a coach who will provide discipline and structure within the organization and who will be a leader. There's no way to know before a coach is hired how that coach will fare on the field. What you can do is increase your chances of success by looking for the right things. When it comes down to decision time, all of the speculation and the statistics and the coaching trees will matter a lot less than the feeling Khan and Smith have about the candidates. At some point, Khan will look someone in the eye and decide he's the guy. At that point, it's key that the research and interview process have been done correctly, and early impressions of Khan and long-term impressions of Smith make it hard to believe that won't be the case.
3) One more thought on Jones-Drew.As we get a bit of time to breathe in the wake of the regular season, let's pause for one more moment of reflection on the season turned in by Maurice Jones-Drew. The lasting image I'll have from Jones-Drew's season was after Sunday's regular-season finale against Indianapolis. Jones-Drew rushed for 169 yards in that game, 47 more than his previous season-high, and he also turned in his longest run of the season. What's impressive is he did this under very difficult circumstances. Not only did the Colts, like every other team this season, know that Jones-Drew was going to run, they knew the Jaguars were going to run him even more considering how close he was to breaking Fred Taylor's franchise record. But the image I'll have isn't as much on the field as off, after the game. Jones-Drew walked slowly from the post-game press conference to the locker room, limping and favoring the ankle injury he played through throughout the final two games. Jones-Drew never let on the severity of the injury, just as he never let on this past off-season how worried he was on a couple of occasions he might not play again because of off-season knee surgery. This season wasn't easy for Jones-Drew. Not even close. Considering the record and state of the season, there almost certainly were times Jones-Drew could have quit, given a bit less or saved himself for next season. He didn't, just one more aspect of what made his 2011 season one of the most remarkable performances in franchise history.
2) Critical point.Somewhat lost in the coaching search speculation this week were the thoughts of Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton as he heads into the off-season. Knighton spoke to reporters Monday, and a major topic was his desire to report to training camp next off-season in shape. That's something he hasn't done the last two training camps, and Knighton said he knows his approach this off-season could not only shape his football future, but his overall and financial future as well. He will be a free agent at the end of next season, and if Knighton can't show that he can report to camp and maximize his ability for an entire season, he will be a tough risk for anyone – Jaguars included – as a high-priced free agent. Knighton is a player of uncommon athletic ability, and he has been a major asset for the Jaguars even with his weight issues. The consensus is he could be even better and more consistent were he in better condition. Knighton is an extremely likable guy and people who work with him say he is a very good person who wants to do the right thing. He knows this is a key juncture in his career. Here's hoping he approaches it as he knows he should.
1) A final thought on the quarterback . . .and this time, it almost certainly is the final "final thought" on the quarterback—for his rookie season, anyway. We have dedicated this final entry to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert since he moved into the starting lineup, and we did so because there was no way he wouldn't be a constant topic of debate for Jaguars fans and followers all season. And without question that was the case. Gabbert struggled much of the season, and partly because some of his early struggles received scathing reviews in the national media, the perception by season's end in some circles is that the entire season was a disaster, and that there is no hope for the future. The reality is far different. The reality is that where we are at season's end is about where you might have expected to be this past off-season when you selected a rookie quarterback with tons of upside who was considered a year away from being ready to start in the NFL. We said when he took over the starting job that there would be ups and downs and steps forward and back, and that's what his rookie season was. I talked all season of not being able to judge Gabbert until there was a reset on offense, and that reset has begun. When Gabbert returns for the off-season, he will return to a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive scheme, new assistant coaches and quite possibly new veteran free agent wide receivers. Gabbert's development essentially will begin then, and from that point in he will be judged.