4) Liking the depth. We open this pre-Colts Fabulous Four with a word on the offensive line, and we refer here to Brad Meester. While critics focus on a perceived lack of depth in the group, Meester – the Jaguars’ 13-year veteran center – believes the opposite is true. “I like our offensive line because of how much depth we have,” Meester said. “I think everybody who has come in and filled in has done a good job. It’s tough to come in and fill in in different spots than they’re used to.” The Jaguars this past Sunday played without five players who likely would have been on the roster if healthy – center John Estes, guard Jason Spitz, guard Will Rackley, starting guard Eben Britton and starting left tackle Cameron Bradfield. Herb Taylor, signed six days earlier, started at left guard and veteran Guy Whimper started at right tackle. While the depth has been criticized, and while the unit indeed struggled at times Sunday, having depth to adequately cover three or four injuries is rare enough, but almost no team has five “extra” starting-level offensive linemen. Estes, Rackley and Spitz provided the Jaguars options, and once you added season-opening injuries to Britton and Bradfield, the Jaguars were thrust into survival mode and they’re still sort of there.
3) Discipline needed. When it comes to the defense, tackling has been an issue since midway through the preseason. The unit is ranked No. 31 in the NFL against the run, and players including defensive end Jeremy Mincey and linebacker Paul Posluszny this week said one major issue is being more disciplined – i.e., getting better run fits and filling the correct gaps. Posluszny took perhaps the strongest stance this week, saying that the defense is supposed to be a rock for the Jaguars, and saying that would still be the case. He said one reason it hasn’t been has been a tendency for players to try to do too much. That leads to filling the wrong gaps, and in the Jaguars’ style of defense that can lead to creases that lead to big plays. “We’ve got to be a little more disciplined with our roles, basically,” Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. “That’s the (front) seven. That’s the secondary as well, as far as our angles – discipline with our angles of tackles, seeing the tackles. We’re missing too many, I don’t know if we’re closing our eyes or what, but we’re missing too many open-field (tackles). We’ve got to wrap up and see ourselves make the tackle.” Alignments, Mularkey said, are critical. “It’s all based on formations,” he said. “Communicating is very important. Don’t bite on things that you think are about to happen. Just trust where we’re putting you and stay in it and good things happen.”
2) Precision needed. Quarterback once again has become a topic among Jaguars observers and we’ll get to that, but what seemed more concerning to Mularkey this past week seemed to be the wide receivers. This area was addressed in the offseason, and indications following Week 1 were that it was moving toward becoming a strength. But on Sunday, the receivers caught four passes for 51 yards, with Laurent Robinson catching three passes for 39 yards and Mike Thomas catching one pass for 12 yards. Justin Blackmon was targeted four times and Cecil Shorts was targeted twice, but neither caught a pass. Of Blackmon, Mularkey said, “He’s still seeing the speed of the game. I think just the speed of the game will help him as he goes, and gets more repetitions. I think he’ll improve and get the ball more.” Discussing the receivers overall, Mularkey said the performance was more about running tighter, crisper routes. “Especially for a young receiver like Justin Blackmon, we can do a better job with the route running as far as being a little more patient, a little more decisive,” Mularkey said. “As he gets more experience inside and does some of those things, I think he’s going to get better but that’s a great teaching tool. We’ve just got to be a little more patient and get defenders getting their hips turned, so when we do break out there’s not such tight coverage on it.” Mularkey more than once talked about being patient in routes being able to help receivers. Talent is key in the NFL, but doing the right things to get the most out of that talent is key, too, and that didn’t happen much Sunday. This is a group has been with wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan a little more than five months, and it will be intriguing to see if the group creates better separation moving forward.
1) And finally, a word on the quarterback. We were veering toward not closing Fabulous Four each week with Blaine Gabbert, but he has again become a topic this week. Gabbert left Sunday’s game with a glute injury. While he is expected to play against the Colts Sunday, it was the Jaguars’ offensive performance and not his injury that was the topic for many observers. Such is the nature of quick-trigger judgments that one Sunday spent struggling can erase an offseason, preseason and regular-season opener marked by progress, but to accurately judge Gabbert on Sunday it is necessary to consider the circumstances more than the numbers. First, the Texans matched up well against a beat-up Jaguars offensive line, and a second factor was the Jaguars’ receivers’ inability to get open consistently. Gabbert on several first-half passes in particular tried to lead receivers to the side of the field, but had to throw incomplete because of tight coverage. Mularkey said Gabbert did a good job not throwing passes in a location that would risk interceptions, and he said a 32-yard third-quarter pass to Robinson was thrown in the perfect location with perfect anticipation, which is something Mularkey said Gabbert must improve upon. “It’s hard to defend if you get the ball in the air when the receiver’s not even coming out of breaks,” Mularkey said. Mularkey said Gabbert also needs to focus on perhaps being a bit more patient and trusting the protection, and yes, those areas need improvement, but considering the overall performance of the offense, to call Sunday a step back for Gabbert is a bit premature.