Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
*7.More praise for Poz. *We've praised the acquisition of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny in Magnificent Seven already, but you know what? My column, and I praise who I want as often as I want. The bottom line is there were a lot of people who questioned the signing of Posluszny in August. That may be, but the Jaguars are very, very glad they signed him. The Jaguars made five significant defensive free-agent acquisitions – Posluszny, linebacker Clint Session, defensive end Matt Roth, safety Dawan Landry, cornerback Drew Coleman – and traded for safety Dwight Lowery. Considering the overall improvement of the defense, it's safe to say overall that strategy worked. If there is a key to the group, though, it might be Posluszny. He has complemented defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton to improve the run defense, and has played better in coverage than many believed he would. He also gave the Jaguars something they sometimes didn't have last season – a middle linebacker who could get the team in and out of the right defenses and act as something like a coach on the field. The belief is that Polsuszny will only improve as he gets more comfortable in the defense, and if that's true, he could be a key to the defense for several years.
6.He's ba-a-a-ack -- perhaps.Veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman practiced Wednesday and it's possible he'll make his 2011 debut this week against Cincinnati. There have been a lot of fans asking about Kampman being a bust because he only has played eight games thus far with the Jaguars. I don't see that the way a lot of people do, mainly because he has missed time because of injury. To me, that's not the same as someone coming in and detracting from the team because he's underperforming or a locker room malcontent. Last year, Kampman gave the Jaguars eight games of leadership, but more importantly, he gave them significant on-field performance: four sacks in eight games. He did that coming off of an ACL. Doing so again will be more difficult. He's a year older and now has had two ACLs in a two-year span. The odds aren't with Kampman, but from all you hear and from the time I've spent around the guy, if anyone can squeeze more production than what might seem logical from a situation, it's Kampman. He prepares with professionalism and if there's anything to give, he's going to give it. The Jaguars are hoping that's enough to add some significant pass rush to an already solid defense. We'll see.
5.Tough October.Anyone who's read the O-Zone regularly knows I'm not a big look-at-the-schedule-in-August guy. Too much changes from week to week and the NFL is too much of a year-to-year league to know in August what will happen in November. I still believe it's tough to look too far down the road during the regular season, but now we're into October and we'll overstate the obvious by saying this is a very difficult month. Not only did the Jaguars face one of the NFL's best offenses last week against New Orleans, they now face Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in consecutive weeks – the NFL's top three defenses – before facing the Texans in late October. The good news? It's not absurd to think the Jaguars can play with Cincinnati, and although the Steelers are still very good defensively, they don't look like the dominant team they did this time last season. My thought is that the Jaguars are going to get better as the season continues. I believe quarterback Blaine Gabbert will improve and that while there aren't many long-term solutions in the receiving corps, the unit will improve in the short-term as the players get used to Gabbert's style. For that reason, I think the Jaguars will play significantly better than people anticipate in the second half of the season. The question: can they improve quickly enough and piece enough victories together in October for November and December to matter?
4.AFC South.So, here were are – just another year with the Houston Texans atop the AFC South. That's sarcastic, of course, but with the Indianapolis Colts – the division champions seven of the last eight seasons – seemingly out of the division race practically before it begins, the division has a decidedly different feel. The Texans through four games are 3-1, and while they look very, very good, let's not forget: they looked very, very good last season before shattering at mid-season and finishing the season 6-10. The Texans' defense appears improved – and it's certainly well-coached with Wade Phillips as the coordinator – so there's little indication the Texans will collapse, but there's a lot of season to be played before we anoint them division champs. The same is true of the Tennessee Titans, who at 3-1 are better than many originally thought but who still have holes. Can the Jaguars get back in it? It's possible, but as mentioned, winning this week and sneaking one in Pittsburgh seems to be the most reasonable chance. Some pretty drastic immediate improvement offensively will be needed. That's the harsh, cold reality, but that's the situation through four weeks.
3.A question of balance.With so much talk this week of offensive balance – how much running or throwing is too much – I asked the Jaguars' best player this week his definition. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew's answer was straightforward and simple. "Fifty-fifty," Jones-Drew said. "That's balance." But Jones-Drew also said while that's ideal, there are situations where it doesn't make sense. One such situation was this past Sunday, when the Jaguars threw 42 times and rushed 17. "We saw some things we wanted to attack in the passing game, but generally, you want to be 50-50,'' Jones-Drew said. "Sometimes, you're going to see things in the course of the game that might alter it. You might be up or you might be down, so you might throw or run a little more, but for the most part, you want to be 50-50." I also asked Jones-Drew how much it might help him when Gabbert improves and forces defenses to not defend so heavily against the run. "It definitely will," he said, "but now, he's a rookie quarterback. It may be in the next couple of years – or maybe in the next couple of weeks depending on how the passing game picks up. If that happens, the box might lighten up, but for the most part, it's going to loaded. That's how it's been."
*2.Back in the lineup. *One of the biggest match-ups Sunday is the Jaguars' offensive line against an improved, deep Bengals defensive line, and within that match-up is the one between Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe and Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. The two faced one another when Monroe played at Virginia and Johnson played at Georgia Tech. Monroe remembers the match-ups well, primarily because Johnson got one of the few sacks that Monroe allowed as a collegiate player. Monroe said Johnson recorded a sack on a speed rush that year. "Me and Mike had some great battles," Monroe said this week. "He's developed. It's a great challenge." Monroe this week said he is back up to 300 pounds after being at 287 entering training camp. After he struggled in the preseason, the Jaguars asked him to get his weight back up, and though he said he doesn't personally put much stock into his weight – calling it just a number – he has played better during the regular season than the preseason. Monroe said during the off-season that his goal is becoming one of the NFL's best left tackles, something he said is still his objective. "I think it's already started, putting together a couple of good games," he said. "I'm just looking to continue that. I don't think anything has changed. I'm just continually getting better. I always want to upgrade my performance and my workings have shown it."
1.And finally, on Gabbert . . .It just wouldn't be a Magnificent Seven without a mention of Gabbert, and as I've said, get used it: he's going to be a topic all year and beyond. The Topic du Jour around Gabbert this week has been footwork, a topic that became du Jour when tight end Marcedes Lewis mentioned Monday that most of Gabbert's second-half issues stemmed from it. Lewis said it in a positive way, indicating it was a very correctable issue and that it wasn't something that would necessarily be a problem going forward. Asked about it this week, Gabbert had this to say: "Footwork is a focus every day in practice. We drill that constantly because you've got to have great footwork to be a quarterback in this league. That sets the timing for the routes." Asked specifically what he works on, he said, "Just what everybody works on, opening up, not closing off your hips. There is a lot of little stuff that you work on on a daily basis." Footwork is an issue with a lot of rookie quarterbacks, mainly because it's not something that's always a focus in college. And it's absolutely something that can be taught and coached. All reports are that Gabbert is a worker and a film-room guy. If that's the case, footwork needn't be a long-term issue.