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Fabulous Four: Waiting game

Posted Jan 4, 2013

Senior writer John Oehser examines Jacksonville Jaguars-related issues including David Caldwell, Shad Khan, Daryl Smith, Jason Babin, Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert

4. The wait continues. We begin this Waiting Game Fabulous Four with a thought on the topic that’s on everyone’s mind these days – Jaguars Owner Shad Khan’s hiring of the team’s new general manager. As of Friday morning, here’s the situation: Atlanta Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell reportedly has interviewed twice, with San Francisco Director of Player Personnel Tom Gamble reportedly interviewing once. There are also reports the team will interview Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross and Arizona Director of Player personnel Steve Keim. Some have speculated that the longer the process, the more limited the options regarding the team’s coaching situation. First, we’re five days into this, so Khan has moved quickly. Second, speculation aside, Mike Mularkey is the head coach and Khan has said nothing to the contrary. Khan almost certainly is discussing the coaching situation with the candidates, but that doesn’t mean that the general manager wouldn’t want to retain Mularkey. That’s likely playing itself out during the interview process. But whatever the effect on coaching, the general manager search is important enough that Khan must get it right. The GM not only decides which players to draft and pursue in free agency and which players to release, he sets up the structure of communication and information flow between coaching and scouting, an underrated part of success or failure in the NFL. A GM and a coach can have a vision, and ideally that vision will be shared, but unless that vision is translated throughout football operations, then you have moving parts not necessarily working together. Will Mularkey be the coach next season? That may be uncertain, but whatever the answer, taking an extra day or two to get the GM decision right is more than worth it.

3. Peaking late. OK, it’s overstating it to call what happened to the Jaguars’ defense at the end of the season “peaking.” Generally speaking, 2-14 teams that finish 30th in the NFL in defense haven’t done enough to peak. But there’s little argument the Jaguars’ defense had one of its better stretches the final two games of the season. The Jaguars held New England 13 points below its season average in the next-to-last game of the season, getting the Patriots’ offense off the field on two key fourth-quarter possessions. And while the Jaguars lost the regular-season finale 38-20 to Tennessee, the defense allowed just 10 points, and played well following an easy opening touchdown drive by Tennessee. One reason for the improvement was the late-season return of linebacker Daryl Smith, who missed the first 14 games with a groin injury, and another was the late addition of end Jason Babin. He finished with two sacks in four games, but was perhaps the most active player on the defensive line late in the season. Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said without question the addition of Babin showed the fundamental truth that good players make a difference. “I think at times we could benefit from having big-time guys on our roster,” Posluszny said. “You see when you bring in a guy like Jason Babin and he’s only here a short period of time but he’s a big-time player. He’s a Pro Bowl player and things changed when he got here. The pass rush was immediately better just with him on the field, so there are situations like that where we know as a team we can benefit from.” Will Smith, a free agent, re-sign with the Jaguars? Will new management want to retain Babin, who is under contract with the team for another year? Those are questions yet to be answered, but they’re good enough players to merit serious conversation in the weeks ahead.

2. Disappointing end. What was most striking in the aftermath of the season – and the aftermath of General Manager Gene Smith’s departure Monday – was the disappointment players felt for how Smith’s tenure ended, and how his final season played out. We’re mostly looking forward in this edition of Fabulous Four, and will continue to do so, but it’s worth nothing that the energy and excitement felt by this team in preseason was real. There was very much a feeling that if this wasn’t a playoff team, it certainly would be more competitive than last season. It also speaks to how narrow the margin between success and failure is in the NFL that even after 2-14, players really believed there wasn’t a huge difference between that record and showing significant improvement. “We’re right there,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “There were a lot of games we could have and should have won. We’re just a few players off, a few plays off. It’s just an unfortunate situation. When it’s not your time, it’s not your time.” The Jaguars indeed lost three road overtime games, and had enough injuries – Smith and running back Maurice Jones-Drew most notably – that an argument could be made that with a few breaks, 8-8 could have been a possibility. But it’s difficult to win every close game in the NFL, and too many games were one-sided to believe the Jaguars were much better than a 4-12 or 5-11 team. That’s not good enough, and the general feeling in the locker room Monday was time had indeed come for a change. “You can’t say that we’re too close after the season and have people believe you,” kicker Josh Scobee said. “But there are some good things going on here. Unfortunately it’s the end and we’ll have to wait and see next year if those things can continue and go in a positive direction.”

1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. This weekly entry on the quarterback has remained that way for the most basic of reasons – that for the past year the position has remained frustratingly unsettled. That it’s still unsettled has much to do with the overall unsettled state of the franchise four days into 2013, and without question it will be a major focus of the new general manager. Mularkey said Monday the position will be evaluated when the coaching staff begins that process in the coming days, and said he didn’t feel it was fair to put either Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert ahead of the other. On Monday, neither spoke the words of a player convinced he had earned a starting role. “All I know is I have another year here and whether I’m here or not I’ve just got to play it as is,” said Henne, who completed 166 of 308 passes for 2,084 yards and and 11 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in six starts. “I want to be here. I enjoy this team. I enjoy this town. We’ll just have to wait and see.” Henne, who signed a two-year contract as a free agent last offseason, has a year remaining on his contract, while Gabbert the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft – has two years remaining on his rookie contract. “There’s competition every year,” said Gabbert, who started 10 games, completing 162 of 278 passes for 1,662 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions. “You’re going to compete throughout training camp, throughout OTAs, throughout minicamp. Every player has to compete to do that job. Nothing’s ever given to a player in the NFL. That’s what makes it so tough. It’s what pushes us.” Who’s going to be doing the pushing? Will Gabbert and Henne be the primary names in the competition? Until a new general manager is named, all there is to do regarding those questions – and a whole lot of others around the Jaguars – is speculate.

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