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Magnificent Seven III


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

7.A quick start.Too early to put a rookie in the Pro Bowl, but there's little doubt rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts is a player the Jaguars like. A lot. This was true entering 2011 Training Camp, and while Shorts missed the preseason opener against New England, he continued to impress during practice this past week. Overall, it was a significantly better week for the Jaguars' offense, with veteran Jason Hill having some of his best practices, and the quarterbacks as a group seeming to pass with improved accuracy. Shorts had his ups and downs in practice, as is the case with just about any rookie, but he continues to show real signs that he will contribute in the short- and long-term. He does things with a naturalness at the position that often is not seen two weeks into an NFL career, and his hands have been as reliable as any on the team during camp. For those who say the Jaguars should have addressed wide receiver, the response is that they did. They didn't do it with free agency. They did it with Shorts, and the early signs are positive.

6.A welcome addition.Palpable excitement around the Jaguars about the addition of defensive end Matt Roth, who signed as an unrestricted free agent late last week.  Roth, a 16-game starter for the Cleveland Browns, has 20 career sacks and had 3.5 last season with Cleveland. Those around the Jaguars say he's the team's strongest defensive end and he has added an energy to the group in his first week. His presence immediately gave the unit a second proven pass rusher opposite Aaron Kampman, and makes the position significantly deeper unit. With Roth's addition, the group now features, Roth, Kampman, Austen Lane and Jeremy Mincey, with Leger Douzable also working outside and looking consistent and steady at the position. There are whispers that Roth could have a similar impact to the one Jason Babin had with Tennessee, when he signed as a relatively overlooked acquisition and added a significant presence to the pass rush by making his first Pro Bowl. Don't put a number on what Roth might do, but the belief is he'll significantly increase pressure on the passer.

5.Still critical.A lot of speculation, chatter and misunderstanding about Kampman this week.  It came about last weekend when Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio mentioned that the defensive end who originally signed with the Jaguars as a free agent from Green Bay in the 2010 off-season would be playing fewer snaps a game than he had in the past. This caused some to call Kampman a part-time player, and also caused some observers to speculate that Kampman's role might be reduced. The reality is while Kampman in the past has played more than 90 percent of his team's snaps, this is not a reflection on Kampman's ability, nor is evidence of Kampman somehow being less valuable to the defense. As Jaguars Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen told me last week, "it's not like he's not going to be out there on 3rd-and-6." Kampman is still key to the Jaguars' defensive line, and on critical downs he'll be on the field. The move to fewer snaps is about making sure he's at maximum efficiency not only late in games, but later in the season. Kampman also said early in the week he spent the off-season getting his head around the move, but that if it's good for the line as a whole, he's fine with it. It should absolutely be good for the line. A lot of teams, including the Colts with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, have their best pass rushers playing well fewer than 100 percent of the reps. It's a move that ensures a defense's best pass rushers are on the field and at their best in the most critical situations.

4.A chance to breathe.Now that we've all had a chance to relax a bit with a week to put the preseason opener in perspective, let's hope we've calmed down accordingly. With that in mind, we'll throw out a final thought about the game. First, it made sense that fans would be upset. A 35-point loss is something no one likes, not even the players and coaches who know that preseason losses or victories matter little. The reality is once coaches and personnel officials got a chance to look at the tape of that game there was very little worry over the game's events, and in fact, they saw a lot of positives. The biggest things they liked was the speed with which the defense played, and the fact that the defense showed signs of creating turnovers, something that lacked last season. There also were good things from the players recently signed as free agents. Then, of course, there was the play of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, something we'll get to a little later in Magnificent Seven. There is a feeling around EverBank this week that the team wants and will get a better performance against the Falcons, but whatever happens, remember: The Jaguars are trying to evaluate a building, developing roster, and they're using preseason games to do it. The score of the preseason games matters little compared to how the coaches and personnel guys feel after reviewing the tape, and entering the second preseason game, the overall feeling on that front is a pretty good one.

3.Making the effort.Yet another example of Jacksonville's season-ticket effort being misinterpreted nationally came this week. When Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown emailed season-ticket holders in an effort to boost ticket sales, some national media outlets took the opportunity to lampoon it again a bit. The Jaguars have been perhaps the most transparent organization in the NFL in terms of their season ticket sales, and because of that, they are an easy target for national scrutiny. Bottom line is the Jaguars philosophy these days is full transparency and full effort into finding creative ways to sell tickets. Could they avoid the national scrutiny if they were less honest about the numbers? Yes, but their goal is to sell tickets and avoid blackouts throughout the season -- not to save a little face in August. This is a difficult economy, and because of the lockout and a long run without post-season success, a lot of factors have conspired to make season-ticket sales an issue. The reality is there are other teams facing the same situation and their numbers are less transparent and therefore less publicized. Are the Jaguars going to have to work hard to sell tickets? Wayne Weaver is on the record time again and again saying as much. Is he willing to make the effort to make it work in Jacksonville long-term? He's on the record saying as much. Forget the national misinterpretation. Buy tickets if you can. Support what's on its way to again being a good product. Save the whale.

2.Dominant early.The Jaguars' defensive tackle position hardly could have had a better first two weeks of training camp. The biggest reason for that is defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. The No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, he was selected to be the cornerstone, dominant player on a young, improving defensive line, and throughout a training camp filled with worry over Terrance Knighton's weight and the return of defensive end Aaron Kampman, it has been Alualu who has emerged as the line's dominant player. This is important on a number of levels, primarily that he is playing at a high enough level that opponents almost certainly will have to account for him with more than one player, therefore making life easier for the rest of the Jaguars' defensive line. Couple that with Knighton returning this week and showing promising signs of being as dominant as he was at this time last season, and there's every reason to believe the Jaguars' run defense will be stifling this season. That's something positive to build around with two weeks remaining before the regular-season opener.

*1.Gabba, Gabba Hey. *Time for the weekly thought on Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars' rookie quarterback rightly remains a huge storyline, and that remains true although he likely won't start against the Falcons Friday. He hasn't been lights-out fantastic in every practice, but that's not what you expect from a rookie. He has made some mistakes, and thrown some interceptions. That's what you do expect, and further, it's what you want from a quarterback. In the modern NFL, you can't be great making safe, check-down throws and in order to learn the position, you have to make throws in practice and games that aren't going to be the safest. Early on, a quarterback making those throws is going to make mistakes and those mistakes are going to sometimes mean interceptions. Over time, those interceptions need to get fewer and fewer, and from all reports on Gabbert's football sense and work ethic, there's little reason to think his mistakes won't reduce as he becomes more comfortable and more experienced. Gabbert has played well enough to continue taking snaps at times with the first team even after the return of starter David Garrard, who missed the preseason opener with a back injury. Garrard likely will start against Atlanta, but Gabbert's going to get plenty of time. The Jaguars hoped Gabbert would push Garrard in camp, and while one preseason game and three weeks of practice is too early to start talking quarterback controversy, three preseason games remain, and this storyline certainly hasn't yet been played out. 

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