Each week in the Magnificent Seven, jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Jaguars . . .
7) Pro's pro.We'll open this week's Thanksgiving Day Magnificent Seven with a word on Maurice Jones-Drew. It's not as if he needs praise in this or any other space. He has made two Pro Bowls, should make a third this season, and is certainly among the most appreciated players in the Jaguars' locker room by fans and teammates. But Jones-Drew deserves some credit on one front this season – remaining an available and visible leader in a difficult season. He is in the prime of his career, and is having one of his best seasons. Despite that, it is all but certain that he and the Jaguars will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. Jones-Drew could have gone the way this season of being moody, avoiding questions from media and generally turning the season into one of visible unhappiness. Instead, he has remained a vocal supporter of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and has helped the Jaguars' locker room remain a steady place, which is likely one reason that although the team has struggled it has not had the appearance of quitting despite some very difficult circumstances. "It is frustrating, but it's kind of how it played out," Jones-Drew said. "It was out of my control. It's not like I can control what goes on with injuries, or who's on this team and who's not. We just try to play it the best we can with the guys we have. For the most part, we've been in every game. We're just not finding a way to win them." That was typical of Jones-Drew this season. Not that players shouldn't behave as he has. They certainly should, but often they don't, and that he has handled it as he has is the mark of a professional.
6) On Clint Session.With the news that the Jaguars placed Clint Session on injured reserve this week with a concussion came the inevitable chorus of whether a player was worth the money when signed as a high-priced free agent. We're getting this a lot with Aaron Kampman, too, considering Kampman has played 11 games in two seasons since signing as a free agent in the 2010 off-season. Such criticism is expected and understandable, but expected and understandable doesn't mean it's valid. Yes, the Jaguars would have liked more from each player. They would have liked much more out of Kampman this season so far and would have liked to have had Session on the roster the final six games. In the case of Kampman, he was coming off of an ACL in 2009, but an ACL in 2009 in no way foretold that he would have one in 2010 and it is the one in 2010 that impacted his Jaguars career thus far more than anything before it. He actually was playing quite well before his 2010 ACL tear, so I'm not sure how you could have predicted the lost games once he signed. As for Session, to my knowledge he wasn't a concussion guy in Indianapolis and he was actually very durable before missing much of last season with an elbow injury. Players get hurt. It's part of the game. Usually, criticizing them or teams for it is pretty misguided.
5) A pride thing.It's a pretty obvious theme around the Jaguars this week – that at 3-7 with the playoffs just about out of the question it's that time of year when the team is playing for pride. What was interesting was that when players were asked about the concept most really didn't want to frame it that way. Jones-Drew quoted the movie Dumb and Dumber saying, "We've got a chance. That's all that matters." That's the right mindset for players – that until this thing is technically over . . . well, it ain't over. Play hard and keep believing until the last hopes are officially done. But the reality is at this time of year they're playing for pride, too, and that's a storyline to watch in the final six weeks of the season. There are a lot of prideful guys on this team and the roster was built with character at the forefront. A trademark of this team this season is that despite many not believing in it – and despite some difficult matchups and circumstances – they have not quit, and have been close in enough games that they could have a significantly better record. The better record hasn't happened, and as a result, we're talking pride before Thanksgiving. That's not what anyone wanted, but how the Jaguars respond to the situation will show a lot about the true character of the team.
4) Critical point. One of the best stories on the Jaguars this season without question has been the play of the defense. The unit is ranked No. 3 in the NFL in total defense, and it's also a unit that has passed the eye test, for the most part keeping the Jaguars in games during a season in which the offense has, well, struggled. This comes as little surprise to Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio, who echoed the thoughts of many in the organization when he said before the season he believed the Jaguars would be a Top-10 defense. We bring this up this week because the defense appears to have reached a critical point, and what has caused it to reach that point is a slew of injuries that is threatening the unit at its foundation. Not only has the team been without Kampman much of the season, in the last two weeks it has placed cornerback Rashean Mathis and Session on injured reserve. It also has been without defensive tackle Terrance Knighton for the last two weeks, and it seems likely he and defensive end Matt Roth (concussion) could miss Sunday's game. That's a lot for a defensive unit to overcome, particularly one that has gotten minimal help from the offense. This is a defense that deserves the recognition and praise it has gotten so far this season, but to be remembered as one of the better defenses in franchise history, it will need to finish strong the last six games.
*3) Quickly, things I'm worn out on . . . *Pretty obvious list this week. Time-out scenarios, instant replay, clock management, buses, pocket presence, incomplete passes, turkey, Christmas music before Thanksgiving, Christmas trees in windows on November 22, the Wednesday Night before Thanksgiving (a.k.a., Amateur Night). And I'm still a little worn out on the Brandon Lloyd topic. It's funny how I don't get Nnamdi Asomugha questions anymore. Not sure why that is. Anyway, we'll cut it off here this week. Yeah, it's a short "worn-out" list this week. It's Thanksgiving.
2) Things I'm thankful for.You don't get this much in the O-Zone. It's not a place for giving thanks, and lately, it's not really even a place for being nice to people – not for the readers, anyway. So, we'll use this Magnificent Space to give a little thanks: Offensive line improvement, Josh Scobee accuracy, Maurice Jones-Drew press conferences, Jeff Lageman, Brian Sexton, Cole Pepper, Joe Fortunato, Dan Edwards, Ryan Robinson. My wife, of course – and certainly my son. Six more games of the NFL season – even without playoff possibilities. Christmas Vacation (starting next week, though). And yes, even angry readers. God bless them, and thank the heaven they exist. What would our world be without them? I sure don't want to know, brother.
1) And finally, a word on the quarterback.We close with our weekly entry on quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and this week's thought is this: this game Sunday will be an intriguing game in the study of the rookie quarterback's development. Through eight starts, he remains a topic about which fans largely disagree. There are those who see progress and those who see only the negatives. That's understandable and in a sense, the fans' perception of Gabbert is pretty much a reflection of the nature of the individual fan. Those who want results now want Gabbert to show all of the things a franchise quarterback shows – right now. No waiting. Step right to the front, sir. Those fans who see the development of the franchise for what it is – a work in progress that should yield results soon, but not necessarily now – see Gabbert making progress. What I've seen is a player who has played pretty well for the last six quarters, and who must continue on that path. He's still not getting the help from receivers you'd like consistently enough, and at the same time, he's still making too many mistakes. That's about what you probably would have expected before the season, so you look next for progress. Is he making it? Right now, the answer has been yes on most fronts in the last two weeks. If he shows it again Sunday, it's a trend.