Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7)A huge gap inside.We'll open this week's Magnificent Seven talking defensive line, and specifically, Terrance Knighton. The third-year defensive tackle likely will miss a second consecutive game Sunday with an ankle injury, and although much has been made of this being the first time in Knighton's career – pro, college or high school – he has missed with an injury, something else is more pertinent. His absence? It's very, very important. The Colts' offense is struggling enough that it didn't hurt the Jaguars much this past week, and the Browns aren't running well, either, so the timing could be such that it doesn't show up much on the field. But to hear middle linebacker Paul Posluszny tell it, Knighton has been key not only to the Jaguars' defense this season but to Posluszny's success as well. "C.J. Mosley came in and played very well (against the Colts)," Posluszny said, "but there's something about not having Terrance in there – you can feel a difference. He's not only a big body on the field and takes up blocks, but he's a guy who really energizes us. Everybody kind of rallies around him. He's a centerpiece of our defense and we all know that. You can definitely tell when he's not in there." Posluszny said while he has recorded a team-high 111 tackles this season, "Any time a middle linebacker is able to get to the ball, it's mostly because the two guys in front of him are playing extremely well. That's been the case for us all year. Tyson (Alualu) and Terrance are playing at a high level. We need to keep them healthy because those are big guys and great players for us. If you want to have a successful defense, it starts with those two guys."
6)On Marcedes Lewis.Not that this topic hasn't been overanalyzed in the last month, but Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew took some time this week to discuss perhaps the perplexing issue around the offense: the receiving dropoff of tight end Marcedes Lewis. After a 58-reception, 700-yard 10-touchdown season last year, Lewis played in his first Pro Bowl. He then signed a big-money contract extension, and has 16 receptions for 170 yards and no touchdowns this season. Speculation has run rampant about just what happened to cause such a difference, but Jones-Drew – who played collegiately with Lewis at UCLA – said Lewis is facing tougher situations than many might suspect. After making the Pro Bowl and establishing yourself as a premier tight end Jones-Drew said, "People are going to do everything they can to stop you and not let you beat them. It's much easier to turn around and hand the ball off than to drop back and try to get it to somebody, especially at that position. You're in the trenches and they can get their hands on you and not get called. At tight end, they can pull you by your facemask and do a lot of things. We'll continue to find ways to get him the ball and get things going."
5)Moving on up.It may have seemed logical and inevitable, but it wasn't insignificant when the Jaguars moved Jarett Dillard and Chastin West to backup positions on the depth chart this week, moving Kassim Osgood and Cecil Shorts to third team. West and Dillard earned the promotions, with West catching three passes for 39 yards and Dillard catching two passes for 30 yards against Indianapolis last week. West caught two passes for 26 yards in the second half and Dillard caught an 11-yard touchdown that was one of the Jaguars' better pass plays of the season to cap a third-quarter drive. The passing offense and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert weren't stellar against Indianapolis, but there were signs of efficiency in the second half, with Gabbert completing eight of nine passes. West and Dillard were in the game extensively when that happened, and as Jack Del Rio said this week, when players make plays in the NFL they earn more playing time. Dillard and West earned promotions and playing time, and with seven games remaining, it's time to find out if that can lead to something permanent.
4)On the topic of injuries.We're getting to the time of the season when injuries are in the news. Kyle Bosworth, Rashean Mathis and Eben Britton all went on injured reserve this week, and what was striking was some of the vehemence of fans criticizing Britton in the wake of the injury. Of course, there also was vehemence for Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith for not knowing a player who started 37 consecutive college games might miss half of his second season with a torn labrum then be taken down in his third season by a back injury. It's understandable that people want to pick apart Smith's drafts. When a team is 3-6 and has missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons, fans want better than that. But to criticize Britton for being injured and to criticize a general manager for drafting a player who eventually becomes injured – and to count that as a miss as a draft pick – defies reason and logic. Britton by most counts played well as a rookie and seemed to be developing into a solid right tackle. Perhaps he can put the back injury behind him and continue that progress. There is a chance because of the nature of back injuries that won't happen. Either way, it's not something that can be projected.
3)A word on Rashean.Very tough break for Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis this week. Mathis, the Jacksonville native who has been with the team longer than any other player on the defense, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Indianapolis Sunday. He went on injured reserve Monday, ending his ninth season with the Jaguars seven games too soon. What's too bad is that Mathis, after entering the season fully healthy for the first time in several seasons, was playing as well as he had played in several seasons – and in fact, was playing very near a Pro Bowl level. He was even playing well enough that he had quieted the critical buzz among fans that reached a crescendo this past off-season when many wondered if he should be on the team or moved to safety. The Jaguars maintained throughout the off-season that Mathis was the best option at cornerback and were confident he would help them this season. Without question, he did that, and few who saw it will forget the shut-down effort he and Derek Cox turned in during a 12-7 nationally-televised victory over Baltimore. Mathis' future with the Jaguars is uncertain. He is in the last year of his contract and at 31 coming off a torn ACL, it will be difficult for Mathis to get much on the open market. Whether he returns to the Jaguars probably will depend on his willingness to return for a reasonable contract, and that storyline won't play out until February. If Mathis indeed has played his final game for Jacksonville, he spent his final season reminding fans why he was one of the best defensive players in franchise history.
2)Topics I'm tired of . . .Resting starters, Tim Tebow (not going to stop being tired of that one), playoff hopes (back to that), Marcedes Lewis, back injuries, route-running, separation, passing efficiency, Justin Blackmon, the 2012 NFL Draft . . . and, oh yes, I'm still a little tired of Andrew Luck. Don't think I'll get much of a respite from that come March. Not tired of Jeremy Mincey or Jones-Drew. It's always a joy to watch guys who play with maximum effort on every play.
1)And finally, we again close with the quarterback.In a sense this is going against Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio's approach of not discussing Gabbert for a while, but really, it's not. That's because I sort of like Del Rio's approach to the situation this week. He said Monday it may be best to stop talking about and defending Gabbert, and just get back to the process of working toward the improvement everyone wants to see. That makes a lot of sense. We've said around these parts since the day Gabbert was drafted that his rookie season would be a process. When he moved into the starting lineup, it by definition became a process that would be played out in a public forum and therefore picked apart, criticized and analyzed ad nauseum. That's OK. It's to be expected. But at this point, for a week at least, we'll take a break from offering up reasons and theories about what's going right and why he's not putting up numbers on the level of this guy or that guy. He's developing and learning and that's going to continue through the end of the season. An accurate assessment of his future likely won't occur until after the coming off-season. For this week, at least, that's where we're at.