There's no delicate way to put it: the Jacksonville Jaguars were a horrid football team in 2012. Their offense was on of four in the NFL that didn't even put up 300 yards per game. Their defense was worse, ranking 30th in the league and surrendering almost four touchdowns per game. The question is, are they going to be any better in 2013?
To answer that, we must first answer four questions that will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Jaguars can be competitive in a very tough AFC South.
1. Wither Maurice Jones-Drew? The diminutive dynamo that drives the Jags' offense played just enough to beat the Colts once in 2012 when he reeled off almost half his season rushing yardage in the Jags' last second victory in Indy. A foot injury in Oakland three weeks later ended Jones' Drew's season.
MJD says he'll be ready for training camp, but he didn't participate in OTA's or mini-camp, still recovering from foot surgery in December. Complicating the matter is an off-field incident in which Jones-Drew was allegedly involved in a bar fight in St. Augustine, FL over Memorial Day weekend. With that in mind, Commissioner Roger Goodell could have more to say about when Jones-Drew returns to the field than the health of his foot.
If MJD can't go or is suspended for any length of time, Justin Forsett is behind him. That's an upgrade from what the Jags had last year, but I wouldn't be drafting Forsett for my fantasy team.
2. Will the fog of London be too much of a distraction? The Jags are headed to jolly old England to take on the San Francisco 49'ers at the end of October. This is nothing new for the NFL as they've been sending two teams over for a regular season game for awhile now.
The Jaguars, however, have signed on to play a game in England in each of the next four years. That sounds like an audition to me. Owner Shad Khan insists he's keeping the team in Jacksonville and the city just ponied up for significant stadium renovations. That said, Goodell is keen on seeing the NFL expand internationally AND to Los Angeles, and he wants it done without adding a team to the league. It's hard to see Jacksonville surviving both of those efforts.
If a young Jaguars' player, like Blaine Gabbert or Luke Joeckel, their past two first round picks, we would recommend renting in Jacksonville. That lack of stability in a franchise isn't good (see Baltimore Colts circa early 1980s).
3. Who will start at quarterback? Speaking of Gabbert, will new head coach Gus Bradley be forced to play the well-paid, but underperforming first round pick? Or will he be allowed to go with Chad Henne who has clearly outplayed Gabbert and gives the Jags a better chance to win?
Henne's no Peyton Manning, but Gabbert is nowhere near Andrew Luck either. Henne has completed around 60 per cent of his passes for his career. He's more of a turnover risk than Gabbert, but that's mainly because his passes end up somewhere in the vicinity of a receiver.
Gabbert has had two seasons at the helm of the Jags' offense and hasn't shown any signs that he's ready to be anything more than a clipboard carrier in the NFL.
4. Can Gus Bradley make a difference in the Jaguars' culture? Gus Bradley brings a hard-nosed, defensive mind-set to his first head coaching gig. He transformed the Seattle defense into one of the league's best.
Jacksonville had that mindset before in Jack Del Rio and were a perennial playoff contender. Eventually Del Rio couldn't get it done with a roster poorly managed by a cap-blind front office and got the axe. Mike Mularkey got a year, but when former Colts player and scout David Caldwell took over as general manager, Mularkey and his staff got the boot.
Bradley has an up-hill climb to re-energize this moribund franchise. Will Khan give him and Caldwell the necessary support to get things turned around? Time will tell.
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