JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines four Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics as the team prepares to play the Arizona Cardinals at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
4. “A special coach…” We begin this fresh-off-a-victory Fabulous Four with a topic that remained pertinent throughout this week – that the relationship Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley is continuing to establish among players. While this has been addressed in this space in recent weeks, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew brought it up again this week. “Gus … the way Gus has handled things has been tremendous,” Jones-Drew replied when asked why the Jaguars didn’t fall apart after losing the first eight games. In the wake of a 42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in London, Bradley opted to give the Jaguars the entire week off rather than practice for a portion of that time as allowed under NFL rules. “You tell me any coach at 0-8 who would give you the whole week off,” Jones-Drew said. “That right there lets you know he’s a different guy.” Cornerback Alan Ball agreed that many coaches would have been hard-pressed under that circumstance to not practice during the bye. “It resonates that not only does he care about his players, but the way everybody else sees it isn’t necessarily the way he’s going to do it,’’ Ball said. “He’s not going to panic and he didn’t panic. As a result, we came back ready to play.” Ball added, “For me, all year I’ve been saying, ‘Gus is a different kind of coach.’ The kind of coach he is, that’s why it was so big we got that win Sunday – I wanted that for him. He’s a special coach. He has vision, and no matter what’s going on outside, that’s the way he does it – he operates on his vision.”
3. Getting their chances. The Jaguars made two subtle lineup moves Sunday, giving second-year veteran Winston Guy and rookie linebacker John Lotulelei defensive repetitions. Guy played 27 snaps at free safety, sharing reps with rookie starter Josh Evans (49 snaps). Lotulelei played 10 plays in base defense in place of Russell Allen. Bradley on Monday said he liked how both Evans and Guy played, saying he wasn’t sure if Evans was motivated, but “Whatever the case, we got better play out of the spot.” Look for Allen to start in the middle and Lotulelei to start on the outside if starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (concussion) can’t play Sunday, but even if Posluszny plays, Lotulelei likely will get more reps at outside linebacker. Guy also is expected to get reps along with Evans again Sunday. They’re the sorts of moves that could come more often in the second half of the season as the Jaguars increase competition at various positions. Coaches don’t want to randomly throw young, unprepared players into the starting lineup. But as younger players earn more opportunity, there could be more young players sharing repetitions at various positions.
2. Analytically speaking . . . With Sunday being the first victory of the season, it unsurprisingly was one of the best-graded Jaguars performances of the season, too. That was particularly the case for the Jaguars’ defense, where five players – defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, linebacker Geno Hayes and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz, Alan Ball and Will Blackmon – had strong positive grades from Pro Football Focus. Blackmon graded well in pass coverage, and that didn’t count his fourth-quarter sack/strip/touchdown to secure the victory. Gratz was the highest-rated Jaguars defensive player, grading well in run and pass defense in his first start since Week One. Hayes and Ball both had their highest-graded performances of the season. Also unsurprisingly, the Jaguars’ 1.8-yards-per-carry rushing performance reflected in the grades, with every starting offensive lineman grading negatively. Tight end Marcedes Lewis scored well in the passing game and in run blocking for the best offensive grade of the week and his own highest grade of the season. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III also had a positive grade for the game and generally has graded solidly since a subpar game in the regular-season opener against Kansas City. Quarterback Chad Henne’s 4.9 was the lowest grade by a Jaguars quarterback since Blaine Gabbert 5.8 grade in a Week Five loss at St. Louis.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. Henne will remain the starter at quarterback, and though there has been speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of Gabbert again starting, there appears little chance of that happening. Henne completed 14 of 23 passes for 180 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions in the victory over Tennessee, prompting a question to Bradley the following day about the quarterback position. Bradley said while Henne “would have liked to have a couple of those decisions back with the turnovers,” he also went four-for-four on the Jaguars’ touchdown drive to start the second half. “He does enough of those things to give him another opportunity, but it’s still open for competition,” Bradley said, adding that Gabbert needed to be ready for an opportunity if Henne became injured. Bradley reiterated that point Wednesday, saying, “We want to keep Blaine still competing. I think they’re both good with it. I’ve talked to both of them with it and they understand that we’re going to keep competing. … I think Blaine’s got to be ready to go at any moment.” Those aren’t the words of a coach seriously considering one more chance for the No. 10 selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, so while Henne’s performance this past Sunday may have raised questions about the quarterback position, the answer remains very much the same.