Coming off a second place finish in the AFC South in 2010, the Jaguars went into 2011 with hopes of a return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
What transpired was a disaster of a season, which ended up transforming the team both on and off the field.
The major moves the team made in the midst of a disappointing 5-11 campaign included a change in ownership, the firing of their longtime head coach and the release of their starting quarterback just days before the season started. Tenth overall pick Blaine Gabbert was given the keys to the offense and struggled badly, as the Jaguars finished with the NFL's worst offence.
Important Additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.
Important Losses: DE Aaron Kampman, DE Matt Roth, CB Drew Coleman.
Reasons To Believe
1. Mularkey's Arrival - Hired in large part because of his past success as an offensive coordinator along with his track-record of developing quarterbacks, the Jaguars are counting on Mularkey to turn their 2011 first round investment into a reliable starter. Despite possessing a top-ten defence statistically, the Jaguars realize their long-term franchise success is tied to Gabbert's growth into a successful NFL quarterback. Based on last year's results, Mularkey, and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski have nowhere to go but up.
|How much will a lengthy holdout affect RB Maurice Jones-Drew's production if/when he does return to the Jags?.
2. MoJo Rising? - One of the NFL's best at his position, Jones-Drew had his best season in 2011, rushing for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns, despite facing frequent eight and nine man fronts due to the Jaguars' anemic passing game. Entering his seventh NFL season, the diminutive back has missed just three games in his NFL career, but his training camp holdout is a cause for concern.
3. Silent But Deadly - The Jaguars defence quietly established themselves as one of the NFL's better units, ranking in the top-10 in yards allowed versus both the run and the pass. Led by unheralded players such as linebackers Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith, cornerback Derek Cox and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, the Jags defence was the primary reason the team won four games in which the offense scored 19 points or less. If the Jaguars are to improve on their five wins, it will be with a low scoring, grind-it-out style that will rely heavily on their underrated D.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Falling Down - Most rookie quarterbacks not named Cam Newton tend to go through some struggles in their rookie campaigns, but Gabbert's play last season raised some red flags. With the exception of one contest, Gabbert failed to lead the Jaguars' offence to more than 19 points in any of the 15 games he appeared in. The accuracy and decision making questions that dogged him coming out of Missouri, were apparent throughout his rookie season. Mularkey has dealt with many young quarterbacks in the past, but this will test his coaching acumen.
2. What's The Catch? - The Jaguars did their best to add some weapons to the offense to give their young QB some help, but questions remain. Free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson put up big numbers last year, but is on his fourth team in six years. Tight end Mercedes Lewis had a breakout 2010 with 700 receiving yards and 10 TD's, but last season he regressed and failed to find the end zone. Blackmon left a poor initial impression getting arrested for DUI and then becoming the last first round pick to sign a contract.
3. Pass Rush Problems - The Jaguars defence was productive last season despite getting little pressure on opposing passers. Besides DE Jeremy Mincey's eight sacks, no other Jaguar had more than four. Without generating any pressure, the defence will be hard-pressed to duplicate its 2011 performance and that could spell disaster.
What To Expect
Based on what Gabbert displayed last season, it's hard to imagine the Jaguars competing for a playoff spot in the AFC. While he has shown flashes this pre-season, he has a long way to go. The defense is solid, but it will be in tough to make up for the teams' offensive inefficiencies. Unlike last season, the Jags have given Gabbert some options on offense, and he should show some improvement under Mularkey, but they were the third worst squad in the AFC last season, so to expect an improvement of five or more wins may be unrealistic.