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Fabulous Four: Pre-combine edition

Posted Feb 18, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics from GM David Caldwell to scouting to the offensive line to Blaine Gabbert

4. A change in method. We begin this pre-NFL Scouting Combine Fab Four with a word on the Jaguars’ scouting department, an area that has remained intact this offseason, with the only change the departure of former General Manager Gene Smith and hiring of new General Manager David Caldwell. Many observers expected significant changes in scouting, and there could be personnel moves following the April draft, when most scouting department changes around the league occur. But Caldwell has said since his hiring personnel changes in the department may not be nearly what many expect and he reiterated that this past week, saying he didn’t expect “sweeping changes” in terms of personnel in scouting. Caldwell said the more significant changes may be in how the Jaguars’ scout and draft rather than who is doing the scouting. “I think there will be sweeping changes in our process,” he said. “The average person may not see it, but the process has changed. Every organization is different in how players are selected. Some teams, the general manager is pulling cards off. Other teams, it’s a collaborative effort between the coaching staff and personnel. Other teams, it’s just the head coach and general manager. I don’t know how it went here, but area scouts weren’t pulling cards off the draft board.” Caldwell also said this past week that despite taking over as general manager just five weeks ago he feels comfortable entering the scouting combine that he is prepared for the pre-draft process. “I feel pretty comfortable, because I spent all last spring and all last fall scouting colleges,” Caldwell said. “If in my role (with the Atlanta Falcons) I hadn’t been as involved in the scouting aspect as I was, I might feel more behind. But I feel very prepared.”

3. Talking philosophies. As Caldwell prepared for the combine last week, he took time to talk to jaguars.com about his draft philosophies. One, he said, was that the Jaguars moving forward likely will lean more toward major conference players as opposed to smaller schools, though he has nothing philosophically against selecting small-school players. Caldwell said the approach is simply a matter of playing the percentages. “I always believe in drafting and acquiring toward what the norms are,” he said. “If 93 percent of the players in the NFL are playing at Division I-A programs, that’s the norm. I’m not saying I would never draft a small-school player, but they would have to dominate that level. I wouldn’t say absolutes, but I’m a believer: big school, big competition.’’ Caldwell also said he’s a believer in having physical minimums in terms of size, speed, etc., depending on positions, but added that those minimums are guidelines more than hard, fast rules. Some teams, for example, will not draft a corner under a certain height or whose 40-yard dash time is above a certain number. “We do have minimums, but they’re not hard,” Caldwell said. “If they’re an eighth of an inch shorter or a 10th of a second slower, we’re not going to bypass the grade. It’s part of the process, but we won’t split hairs on some things.”

2. Potential up front. The Jaguars’ offensive line hasn’t drawn quite the attention of the quarterback position, but it’s a critical area this offseason. The unit allowed 51 sacks last season, and the run offense – partly because of the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew – stumbled from its 2012 form. The line will look different next season, but how different remains to be seen. One change will be in approach, with offensive line coach George Yarno expected to install a scheme that emphasizes zone-blocking more than former line coach Andy Heck did. How zone-blocking heavy will the scheme be? That remains to be seen, with Yarno saying last week the reality is every team runs some element of the scheme. “We’re going to run the zone play, we’re going to run the power play, we’re going to run all the plays other teams run in the NFL,” Yarno said. “It really is an NFL offense with zone plays, inside-outside zones, and downhill cylinder run, gap plays, whatever you want to call those, power plays. It will be a mixture of all that. . . . The zone plays, everyone runs the zone play. They may call it something else, but it’s what it is.” How the personnel will change also remains to be seen. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Uche Nwaneri are expected to return and seem likely to start. Mike Brewster likely will play a role, and could either move to center or compete at left guard, where 2011 starter Will Rackley is returning from an ankle injury that kept him out all of last season. The future of center Brad Meester, a 13-year veteran who is scheduled to become a free agent on March 12, remains uncertain. Right tackle is also an uncertain area, with Cameron Bradfield losing his starting job late last season. The team could address that area in the draft or in free agency. “Sometimes change is a good thing,” Yarno said. “Looking at things a little differently, doing things a little differently, sometimes the players will respond to that and respond quicker and maybe develop in a different direction. Hopefully we can get the most out of them.”

1. Earn means earn. We’ll end this Fab Four with a word, yes, on the quarterback position. Much has been made about the team’s public comments regarding Blaine Gabbert, particularly quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo saying if Gabbert were in this year’s draft he likely would be the first quarterback – and perhaps the first player – selected overall. What’s important to remember about those comments is that not only is it still mid-February, but that none of the comments mean that Gabbert is being given the starting job entering the fall. The Jaguars still are going to use the draft and possibly free agency to look for quarterbacks, with the idea of creating competition to find the best player for the position next season. That player could be Gabbert if he earns the position, or it could be someone else. Scelfo’s comment that he has no preconceived idea about Gabbert probably explains the organization’s stance the best. What Gabbert did his first two seasons isn’t going to influence the decision for better or worse. If he deserves to start, he’ll start, but he’s going to have to deserve it.

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