Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com Senior Writer John Oehser will offer seven thoughts on things Jaguars-related . . .
7.Waiting and seeing.Here's what we know: The Jaguars are better defensively than they were last season, better than two weeks ago. The recent free-agency signings undoubtedly will be upgrades, and whereas last season – the last few seasons, really – the Jaguars were simply out-talented in too many games, that won't happen as often this season. Clint Session, Paul Posluszny, Dawan Landry, Drew Coleman – these guys can function and, perhaps most importantly, be in the correct position on a consistent basis. That wasn't always the case last season. Here's what we don't know: Just how much better the Jaguars will be defensively. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said early this week there's no grace period, and that the team has the preseason to get the improvements made. The positive for the Jaguars is it shouldn't take the new players as long to get acclimated as it would were the major changes made on offense. Defense takes less time to come together, which is why defenses are often ahead of offenses early in camp. Still, there likely will be at least four new starters, perhaps more, and it will take time. Posluszny, Landry, Session and Coleman can't practice until at least Thursday, 37 days before the opener. As Del Rio has said often, a lot of work remains.
6.Tickets still gotta get sold.Yes, some of you are tired of hearing it. Yes, talking about it on jaguars.com is preaching to the choir. No, that doesn't mean you're going to stop hearing it. There has been movement on the ticket front early in camp, but not as much as hoped, and it may be a case of people not catching up to what's going on at EverBank Field. That's understandable. Not every fan follows Jaguars goings-on with the same intensity as others, but if you're watching closely – and certainly if you're around the team – it's impossible to miss the energy. Some of it is the free-agent acquisitions. A lot of it is the presence of a Top-10 quarterback who not only looks the part, but who has shown early signs of being everything the team hoped. Underlying it all is a feeling that General Manager Gene Smith is piecing together a solid roster short- and long-term. This thing is heading in the right direction. The key to it all remains selling out the stadium.
5.Austen Lane.In any training camp, there is a standout player, a guy who catches your eye maybe you didn't expect – at least you hope there is. The easy choice in the first week of Jaguars training camp is DE Austen Lane – and not just because of his energetic, crowd-pleasing performance in the Oklahoma Drill Sunday. Lane reported in outstanding shape and has shown quickness, speed and strong pass-rushing technique early. He also deservedly is working with the starters. Too early to go overboard, but really good teams have a few players in their core who weren't first-round picks and who weren't premium free agents. Lane's not yet a core player, but you look for signs early in camp, and he's showing those.
4.Good move.There has been some criticism of TE Marcedes Lewis for reporting and not participating in practice. The criticism really isn't fair. He has made it clear he wants a long-term contract, and in that situation, a lot of players could have held out or at the very least created a disruptive situation. Lewis and the Jaguars found a way to get Lewis into camp so he's around the team, and while he ideally would be practicing, him being here and in meetings is a solid gesture of good faith. The long-term deal almost certainly will get done. Having Lewis around the team and in meetings in the meantime is a far better situation than it could have been.
3.Ridiculous situation.For more than a week, the common thought around the NFL has been that free agents could begin practicing August 4. That has become the red-letter date of training camp around the league, and it's particularly true of the Jaguars. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has talked several times about having 15 players – including six new free agents – who can do little more than watch practice. The August 4 date was problem enough, but on Wednesday, Steelers Player Representative Ryan Clark told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette that the CBA ratification necessary to get free agents practicing might be delayed because of issues surrounding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's disciplinary power. This is no good for players or coaches. Jaguars coaches have been annoyed because the players have not been allowed to practice, and the players are no more happy about it. This needs to get done. For any team with significant free agent acquisitions, the Jaguars particularly, every day without a ratified CBA is one more day ridiculously wasted.
2. The Big Name Debate.At any position where Jaguars fans perceive there to be a potential for upgrade there has been a panicky cry to sign a Big Name Free Agent. Aside from the hard-to-spell guys – Osi Umenyiora at defensive end and Nnami Asomugha at cornerback – there has been off-season long focus on wide receiver that has in recent days gotten out of control. While the Jaguars signed six free agents this off-season, what they did not do was spend wildly at every big name that popped up on ESPN's crawler. They focused on trying to fill needs that were absolutely glaring and where they realistically did not have players on the roster who could play without absolutely getting you beat. Linebackers Clint Session and Paul Posluszny filled holes at their positions that needed drastic upgrades. Ditto Dawan Landry. The signing of cornerback Drew Coleman was about getting enough quality players at the position to have a chance to compete with teams with four quality wide receivers. With Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Rod Issac and Coleman, you have that. Before, you didn't. At the spots of debate – wide receiver, defensive end, starting cornerback – the Jaguars have players they feel can play and specifically at defense and end and wide receiver, they believe players such as Jason Hill, Mike Thomas and Austen Lane to name a few can develop and play at a high level this season. If you're drafting and signing the right kinds of players, players already on your roster often develop and play at a higher level than big names from other teams. It's popular among Jaguars fans to say they trust in Gene Smith. At these three positions, particularly wide receiver, it's time for fans to start trusting.
1.Eye on the kid.A word of warning: if you don't like reading about quarterbacks, you're going to get tired of reading about the Jaguars in the coming weeks – months, even. While every indication remains that the team is and should be committed to starting David Garrard coming into the season, the development of rookie first-rounder Blaine Gabbert is the primary storyline not only of training camp, but for the foreseeable future. Because of that, the early days of camp are very, very encouraging to the Jaguars. Gabbert has not looked perfect; far from it. He pulled the ball down and ran as often as not in Tuesday night's practice, and he'd be the first one to tell you that although he is fast enough to run effectively he won't develop into an elite-level quarterback running that much. Not to worry. He has had three padded practices in the NFL, and there are going to be more difficult practices than not early. But what Gabbert has shown early is more important. In nearly every practice, he makes at least one play – sometimes a lot more – that show signs of special things. A pass with the right touch. A pass with uncommon velocity. A pass between defenders that only special quarterback can make. It's not happening with the consistency enough to be a starter yet, but you're not looking for that. You're looking for evidence that there's something special there. The history of the NFL is littered with first-round quarterbacks who get to camp and you wonder how in the world anyone could think the guy could play. The buzz around the Jaguars is there's no question Gabbert is going to be very good – perhaps a whole lot better than that – and a week in, that's all you can ask.