4. Familiar story. We begin this pre-Houston Texans Fabulous Four on a familiar subject – the reliability and productivity of Maurice Jones-Drew. It’s hardly news that Jones-Drew is one of the NFL’s most productive running backs, so in a sense his regular-season opener wasn’t unusual, but against the backdrop of a 38-day holdout it was notable. There was among fans and observers much discussion and debate during the holdout about right or wrong, and some even questioned his value to the Jaguars. Such is the nature of holdouts. There also was the ongoing discussion of a running back’s value in what is becoming a passing league. What can’t be debated is when it comes to reliable production few backs rival Jones-Drew. In his seventh season, he may not be the biggest threat among NFL backs to break out for a 200-plus-yard game, but he can be relied upon to produce 70-, 80-, 90- and 100-plus games – and that the latter is more important than the former. That was no easy task last season, with defenses constantly bunched to stop him, and it wasn’t easy this past Sunday, with Jones-Drew likely not in maximum football shape or completely familiar with the offense. The original plan was for Jones-Drew to play a somewhat limited role, but if you knew Jones-Drew, you knew that was unlikely. The one question about Rashad Jennings, who started in Jones-Drew’s place, was his ability to be available every play, every game, and when Jennings sustained a knee injury against Minnesota, Jones-Drew reminded us that with him, availability is rarely an issue. “He was gone the entire training camp, and to be able to pick it up like that was something special,” Jaguars center Brad Meester said. “That’s the type of guy he is – he finds a way to get yards no matter what.” Whatever your view of his holdout, Jones-Drew’s biggest value to the Jaguars is he shows up, produces and does so whatever the circumstance. He did it again Sunday, and that as much as anything is what continues to make him one of the NFL’s elite players.
3. Making a mark. We’ve discussed Eugene Monroe comparatively little on jaguars.com this week, which hasn’t been an issue because he’s been getting praise in a whole lot of other circles. But Monroe deserves a lot of credit – and for more than just holding All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen without a sack or a tackle for loss Sunday. Monroe in four seasons has taken a lot of criticism from Jaguars fans, and he has been scrutinized endlessly. One reason is he was a Top 10 selection, and people expect immediate dominance from a Top 10 selection. Another reason is he happens to play on one of the few NFL teams on which a left tackle is not only remembered as perhaps the best player in franchise history, but who also happens to still be very high profile in the area. Until next month, the name Tony Boselli is the only name of a player on the Pride of the Jaguars, and Boselli is what fans expect around here from a left tackle. That’s a difficult standard to achieve, and Monroe could be a very good player for a long, long time and not reach it. Or he might. He has the talent to be an elite player, and it’s evident from his development in the last two years that he is working toward it. Perhaps most significantly, Monroe has shown beyond a doubt that he can be a long-term fixture at left tackle. Along with the improvement of Blaine Gabbert, that’s a key development for the foundation of a franchise.
2. An issue of angles. A major area of focus in recent days and weeks has been the Jaguars’ tackling, with Head Coach Mike Mularkey and Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker saying it needed to improve. Cornerback Rashean Mathis also targeted the area in the wake of a season-opening loss to Minnesota in which Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin often turned enough short passes into long gains to finish with six receptions for 84 yards. Mularkey on Wednesday again discussed the issue, saying that one area of focus will be doing a better job gang tackling. Mularkey said it’s a tough area to improve this time of year because teams can practice in pads no more than once a week. “You’re limited in number with bodies, you’re simulating it with dummies and things like that – things that protect you,” Mularkey said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of wrapping up.” Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said improvement can be made without extensive padded work. “It’s a point of emphasis,” Posluszny said. “We feel like if we’d tackled better a lot of their bigger, explosive plays wouldn’t have been, so we’re going to focus on that this week.” Posluszny said the issue wasn’t as much wrapping up as working to take better angles to the ball. “We will see improvement the more we practice it,” he said. “It wasn’t hitting or wrapping up. It wasn’t so much the physical. If we get our hands on a guy, we’re going to get him down. You have to take the proper angle, you have to take break down and have proper footwork. That all goes into it.”
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. We vowed last season closing this feature with a word on the quarterback wouldn’t last forever, and following the preseason and regular-season opener, we’re closing on the time when it’s no longer necessary to discuss and dissect Gabbert on a weekly basis. He’ll perhaps be relieved at this, though it’s telling that through nearly a season of scrutiny and often unfair criticism, he rarely has bristled or lost his cool publicly. How much improved was Gabbert in the opener? It’s difficult to quantify, though he had his best career statistical game Sunday and probably played better than the two touchdowns and 260 yards passing indicated. There has been doubt that he will established himself as the franchise quarterback. We’re not there yet, and there almost certainly will be stops and starts and spurt and sputters as we move on. That’s natural. It’s expected. That much we’ve said before and we’ll say it again. But probably the best gauge of what we saw Sunday is the same as what we have seen since the preseason began, and that’s that if you didn’t know you were supposed to be watching Gabbert for flaws and problems, you wouldn’t know you were supposed to be watching him for flaws and problems. He’s a normal young quarterback now, and it’s time to start considering him that way.