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Magnificent Seven II


Each week in the Magnificent Seven, Senior Writer John Oehser will offer seven thoughts on things Jaguars-related . . .

7. Left, right, left . . .There was speculation when the Jaguars signed safety Dawan Landry as an unrestricted free agent that the team hadn't addressed its biggest need in the secondary – that of a safety who could roam the field and play the pass. That was because Landry played mostly strong safety in Baltimore, with perennial Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed playing free. But while Landry is indeed expected to help bolster the run defense, he's not locked into playing the strong safety position. So far in training camp, he and Courtney Greene have played left and right safety instead of designating one to the strong side and the other to the free, with Landry playing the right side and Greene playing the left. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith, remember, is against reaching and very much for adding talent to the roster. The idea with Landry was to get the best safety available rather than trying to force a player with a reputation as a cover safety and not improving the talent level of the defense.  The Jaguars will figure a way to get the best players on the field, and that may not mean sticking to strong and free safeties.

6. About time.Good move by Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio eliminating hazing of rookies by veterans in 2011 Training Camp. This is the NFL, and it's 2011. Camaraderie can be found many ways, and it doesn't take adolescent pranks and meanness to find it. Happiest among Jaguars rookies may be quarterback Blaine Gabbert, whose golden-shoulder length locks were a pre-mandate target. Wide receiver Mike Thomas said he had planned to shave his number, 80, into the back of Gabbert's hair. Pretty much the extent of the hazing this year is rookies carrying the shoulder pads and helmets of the veterans from the practice field. And the first-year guys likely will have to provide food at various times of the week, but haircuts and the like . . . no more. Thomas joked that he wondered why the hazing ban came around too late to benefit him, but for the most part, there's more to lose and little to gain from getting rid of it, and veterans won't miss it much.

5. An overall approach.A criticism of the Jaguars nationally in recent days has been that they didn't address needs in free agency because they didn't sign a defensive end or a starting cornerback.  What the Jaguars did was improve their talent level defensively, particularly in the back seven. Smith said several times this off-season that the hope was to get stronger up the middle – hence, the addition of linebacker Paul Posluszny and Landry. Though neither specializes in pass defense, the duo – along with linebacker Clint Session – is expected to drastically solidify the run defense. Don't forget: the NFL is a situational game, and being in downs and distances that favor the defense in passing situations can drastically impact pass defense. A defensive line that specializes in rushing the passer is far more effective on 3rd-and-7 or 3rd-and-10 than it is on 2nd-and-3. An improved overall defense will get the Jaguars' improving defensive line in far more obvious passing situations, and that should only help the pass rush.

4. Finding his stride.Covering training camp, you keep your ears open for little things that tell you about a player – good or bad. Del Rio touched on a pretty big thing Monday when discussing defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. Del Rio praised Alualu fairly effusively, and said he would be a force this season, that there was little doubt about that. I've only been around Del Rio a few months, but I don't get the idea he's overly given to false praise. Last week, while praising defensive end Austen Lane for his off-season improvement, he also cautioned people to let that storyline play out a little longer. Alualu obviously has more developing to do, too, but it's obvious from what Del Rio and others are saying in camp that he has a very real chance to fulfill the expectations created when he was selected No. 10 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.  When the Jaguars selected him there, it meant they were as certain as they could be he would develop into a franchise-level defensive tackle, the sort of player for whom defenses must game plan. While he played well at times last season, he needed to further develop toward being that sort of player. His ability to do so is a huge key for the Jaguars not only this season, but for the foreseeable future. All indications are he's headed that way.

3. A Rotation Thing.It's hard to overestimate the excitement around the Jaguars' defensive line this season. Throughout the off-season, the talk among some observers was about the need to add another pass-rushing element, but the Jaguars' thought was they could generate rush with a developing group of young players along with Aaron Kampman. The group is going to rotate a lot more, and look for Kampman to perhaps not play close to every snap as he has in the past. That's not because he's lost any effectiveness, but the hope is to keep the entire group fresh – throughout every game and throughout the season.

2. Fitting in.Another Magnificent Seven, another Gabbert mention. Well, get used to it. There's no bigger story on the roster, whether he starts at some point this season or not. The coaches and personnel people have been impressed with Gabbert thus far, and so have his teammates.  "Blaine possesses all of the intangibles that you need to be a professional quarterback," Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas said this week. "Great arm, I think he has a good sense of what is going on and a good sense of coverages. To me, him and Dave (Garrard) kind of throw a similar ball, a nice tight spiral, pretty soft when it needs to be. I think also that he's willing to learn. Blaine doesn't say too much. He kind of just sits back and takes his coaching. There's not too much to be said at this time, I guess staying in his place, but I think definitely when it's his time whenever that may be I think he'll step up to the plate and be everything he needs to be." That's good stuff from an older teammate. It's obvious to anyone that Gabbert is eventually going to be the guy, and how he handles himself obviously is important. So far, he's not acting entitled. Not that he should, but it's a good sign he he's not.

*1. And one more thing . . . *about Gabbert. With many of the Jaguars' front-line players – Aaron Kampman, Maurice Jones-Drew, Marcedes Lewis – not playing Thursday against New England and a lot of the recently-acquired free agents expected to play sparingly, there aren't a great deal of high-profile storylines. But make no mistake: how Gabbert plays is important. If he doesn't fare well, or if he looks overwhelmed, it's not cause for alarm yet. The kid only has been in camp a week and a half, and if things are ugly Thursday, there won't be teeth-gnashing inside EverBank. They are absolutely prepared to go with veteran David Garrard as the starter, and are comfortable with that. Thursday night's game is all about evaluation and the Jaguars aren't particularly worried about overall appearances. They expect mistakes to be made and they're trying to get a good feel for 90 players, many of whom just joined the team. But if Gabbert plays well, and if he shows signs of being ahead of where he's expected to be – something that can happen in game conditions such as the preseason – then all of a sudden the next three weeks get a lot more interesting.

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