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Fabulous Four: Chargers-Jaguars

Posted Oct 17, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines four key issues as the Jaguars prepare to play host to the San Diego Chargers at EverBank Field Sunday.

4. Big-time talent. We begin this pre-San Diego Fabulous Four with the story of the week around the Jaguars – that is, wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon has shown significant improvement from last season, showing signs of becoming a go-to, No. 1 receiver. “It’s a matter of him getting comfortable,” wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. “He’s more confident than ever. It’s a very, very exciting time for him. He has a very bright future ahead.” Shorts, a third-year veteran, added, “He has an ‘It’ factor. He believes he’s better than the guy checking him, and he does a great job catching the ball.” Shorts said Blackmon’s raw, physical ability shows up pretty much every day in practice. “It’s like, ‘OK, I work my butt off trying to do that and he makes it look kind of easy,” Shorts said. “Some people just have it. Some people are blessed. He’s one of those guys. There are a select few, but he’s definitely one of them.” Trying to get Blackmon to break down his strengths is difficult. He is a player of enough natural ability – and he has experienced enough success at all levels – that what he does doesn’t particularly surprise him. “I guess I have a knack for judging the ball in the air,” he said. “I'm pretty good at that and going up and making a play, just going out there and competing and trying to go up and get the ball." He added, “It's a very simple game: you throw the ball, you catch it, you run the ball, you get yards. It's a game that is very simple that we complicate sometimes. All you've got to do is go out there and do your job and win your one-on-one battles and it becomes very simple.”

4(a). Bonus Blackmon. Blackmon was more expansive than usual this week in an interview with a small group of reporters, addressing the perception of him that has developed in the wake of several off-field issues. “I just don't really care about people on the outside,” he said. “I don't care what they got to say. I don't really care how they view me because, one, they don't try to know me. They won't never know me, so that's not important to me. They can feel however they want to feel. I don't really care about that. All I can do is control what I can control, and that's showing up here, trying to get better every day and carrying that out there on the field." Blackmon has drawn praise from teammates and coaches for his approach during a four-game suspension to start the season. “I'm a very good person, I would say, although people think (differently),” he said. “Not everybody's going to view me how I want them to. I'm not going to try to force them or make them view me that way, either. If they want to get to know me, they can get to know me. If not, I could care less about them." Blackmon also said the suspension benefitted him physically, giving him time to regain strength lost during the offseason after undergoing groin surgery. “It gave me time to really get my body the way I wanted it to be for the season, and that's the first time I've had it like that since OTAs,” he said.

3. Frustrated and optimistic. In a very real sense, this situation is very, very difficult for Marcedes Lewis. In another way, he couldn’t be more pleased. Lewis, the Jaguars’ eight-year veteran tight end, has been frustrated this season by a calf injury sustained in the preseason. He was close to returning for the regular season opener, aggravated it that week, and then irritated it again two plays into the Jaguars’ loss to Indianapolis. “I had one of my best camps in the last two years,” he said. “It’s been tough, because this is my first real injury, and what can you do? I just have to put my mind in a better place and understand things happen for a reason.” But Lewis said while that’s frustrating, what makes this season easier is the direction of the franchise. While Lewis has been perhaps the most vocal Jaguars player expressing dissatisfaction with last year’s coaching staff, he said this year couldn’t be more different. “Nobody liked coming into the building last year,” he said. “It was bad energy. It’s a blessing being a part of this. I’m in my eighth year, and I’ve seen a little bit.” Lewis said while he understands fans are frustrated with 0-6, “We’re getting better every day. Everybody’s bought in. We’re early for meetings. We’re early to the field. We take it very seriously. It’s tough for the viewer, but even in our losses we get better. We make strides. I’ve been around it enough to know that what we’re doing, what we’re creating, it’s good. It’s just taking time.”

2. Analytically speaking. The Jaguars played their best game of the season for a second consecutive week, and for a second consecutive week, several players had their best grade of the season. Blackmon’s 3.6 receiving grade from Pro Football Focus against Denver was the NFL’s best at the position for the week, with his overall grade brought down slightly by a negative run-blocking grade. The Jaguars’ work against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning also was reflected in the grading, with two players in the secondary – cornerback Mike Harris and Alan Ball – registering positive grades while the overall defensive line grades were average. Overall, Blackmon and Shorts are the highest-graded Jaguars offensive players this season and while the Jaguars’ offensive lineman all grade negatively as run blockers, guard Uche Nwaneri, center Brad Meester and tackle Austin Pasztor grade positively as pass blockers. Cornerback Will Blackmon is the defense’s highest-graded player followed by defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks.

1. And finally . . . a word on the quarterback. Chad Henne will start at quarterback for a second consecutive week, doing so with many fans asking the question, “When will that be permanent?” But while there are many who believe that’s how the question should be posed – “when” rather than “if” – that’s not how the Jaguars see the scenario. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley did not commit to either quarterback this week, saying that Henne will start against San Diego and that Gabbert had been ruled out for the Chargers game with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the loss to Denver. The reason the Jaguars haven’t committed to a quarterback remains simple – that although many observers believe Henne has played significantly better than Gabbert this season, there isn’t a feeling that the difference is staggering enough to commit to Henne as the permanent starter. Gabbert has thrown one touchdown and seven interceptions, and struggled in his last start. Henne threw for 303 yards against Denver, but the Jaguars scored just one offensive touchdown and Henne also was intercepted twice. Can Henne earn the starting position with an impressive effort against San Diego? Perhaps. But at this point, when Bradley says the decision to start Henne is just for San Diego, that’s what he means.

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