Know Your Opponent: With @BlackandTeal
Patrick D. Starr
We mark the second installment of Know Your Opponent by continuing our focus on the Texans' rival for the coming Sunday. This week, we enlist the help of Luke Sims with Black & Teal to aid our understanding on a variety of topics from what to expect from Blaine Gabbert week 2 to the MJD holdout, as well as the new vibe in Jax with the Khan ownership and Mularkey coaching takeover.
As an added feature, for the first time, Know Your Opponent took questions from the Twitter crew to ensure the questions YOU want answered are addressed. You can ask your questions for future weeks with the hashtag #KnowYourOpponent, addressed to @TheClaireBear23. We will select the best 3 questions week to week.
@dsgruntled_goat: Now that (RB) Maurice Jones-Drew is back, do you think bad blood will persist throughout the season between him and ownership?
I don't think it's bad blood necessarily. They all realize it was a business decision (as most things in the NFL are) and because Shahid Khan and Maurice Jones-Drew didn't have a relationship before the holdout (and subsequent comments) I don't think there will be bad blood. Was it the best first impression? No. But it is definitely recoverable.
@TXBobbumman: How confident are you (TE) Marcedes (Lewis) will return to 2010 form, and are there backups ready to step in?
Personally, I'm not optimistic or confident that Lewis will return to 2010 form. He's a big-bodied tight end who is more physical than those trying to cover him and does a good job at blocking as well. However, I just didn't see motivation and determination from him last year. Maybe it was because the offense was so horrendous or maybe he just stopped caring, I don't know. There were some catches that high-level players simply do not drop. If 2010 was his breakout year then we should have been getting more results (or at least similar results). Instead we got a mediocre player. I don't have confidence, but that could change. I'm not all knowing after all.
In regard to backups, the Jags have Zach Potter and Colin Cloherty. Potter is almost entirely a blocking tight end, and a good one. He is a liability in the passing game and indicates to opponents that the team will be running every time he steps on the field. If he gets better at receiving he could be a factor but it doesn't appear he made strides in that regard this offseason. Cloherty is much more of an all-around tight end who could get some good looks in the passing game. He was a fan favorite this offseason and looked like he came to play whenever he stepped on the field. There's a lot of potential there, but I don't think he'd be ready to replace Lewis if called upon this season, we'll have to see if his development continues.
@texantakeover: What improvements have you seen in (QB) Blaine Gabbert from last season to this season?
The biggest differences are easily command of the offense and footwork. I was tempted to say pocket presence, but there were some moments where I saw the old Blaine reappear and that wasn't confidence-instilling. He is moving much more smoothly in his drops and you can tell that knowing what his feet are doing is just becoming second nature. Rather than worrying about dropping back and adjusting his footwork for a throw, he can now continue to look downfield at his targets.
As regards command of the offense, last season center Brad Meester was identifying coverages and schemes. Now it's all Blaine. He's impressed MJD with his knowledge when trying to help him learn the offense and he really understands what's going on around him - who needs to be where and when and how they should be getting there. It's night and day really. He looked very confused for the most part in 2011. The coaches could be rewarded very well for sticking by him even though they didn't draft him and he had a disastrous first season.
What changes have been made in the Jaguars offensive line to give Gabbert a better opportunity to get the ball out to his receivers?
There have already been some injuries to the O-line that has caused some shifting of personnel. Fortunately, it created a very strong offensive line. Eugene Monroe is phenomenal at left tackle, Eben Britton has been moved from right tackle to left guard, Will Rackley is playing backup for the interior line, Meester is a superb center, Uche Nwaneri is easily the toughest man on the line, and Cameron Bradfield has made a huge jump and should be starting at right tackle. This lineup was unanticipated but is very good. The players understand each other and appear to gel well. It's looking far more solid than I anticipated and should give Gabbert considerably more time to get the ball out to his receivers. Maybe they'll help limit the 40 sacks he received his rookie season too.
Speaking of the receiving corps, fans have been curious about the upgrades there. What impact could this have on Gabbert's and the Jaguars' success?
It will be a huge change from 2011. Before, we had receivers that didn't really know what they were doing. It looked like they didn't know that it was their job to catch balls. Now we have a receiver in Laurent Robinson who has some big play potential. We also return our true slot receiver, Mike Thomas, back to where he belongs: the slot. Not to mention Justin Blackmon who has already proved that he has the best hands on the team. He attacks the ball and can beat corners/safeties with his body to get many more yards after the catch. He will be impressive to watch.
Which rookies do Jaguars fans have the highest expectations for this season and how will they contribute in week 2?
Blackmon has the most potential for a big impact in 2012 and should contribute well week to week. He is a bully of a wide receiver. It is rare to see someone outmuscle the opposition on every play, but that's what he does. There are also high expectations for Bryan Anger due to his high draft status and his attitude. He expects perfection and you can see the frustration and concern on his face then a punt isn't what he wanted - which is rare. DE Andre Branch's expectations are growing the more he plays. Initially there was concern over his run stopping ability but he's showing to be better at that than anticipated. I think that Branch should get up to NFL-speed pretty rapidly and could have a lot of impacts in the early weeks, maybe a couple of sacks.
What have changes in the ownership and coaching staff done for the Jaguars team culture?
It has done wonders. The Weavers were very good owners with great patience and commitment to the community and team. However, Khan is coming in and bringing an excitement that seemed to be lacking as of late. It's very nice to have what appears to be a snowballing amount of enthusiasm. Not only that, but Khan wants (and expects) the Jaguars to win. Khan is not in the business of losing, it's not in his nature.
Mike Mularkey and his coaching staff are a departure from Jack Del Rio and his. Mularkey has approached everything the right way. He assessed the situation in the organization and kept the pieces he thought were positive and cut the rest. He then filled things in as needed with very high quality staff. It's very nice to know that Mularkey has the respect of high quality coaches who want to come in and work for him. Further, the ability to explain what is going on and why is really getting the team to buy into his philosophies and systems. We've transitioned from a coordinator running the team to a manager who knows how to delegate. Mularkey could call offensive plays and implement his playbook, but instead he trusts his coaching staff and will be managing more than coordinating during games. That gives confidence to your coaches and builds a culture of input and collaboration.
Who are some unknown-to-the-casual-fan players on offense and defense for whom the Texans need to watch?
I think that Cloherty could be one of those guys on offense if he gets a few looks. The NFL is rapidly becoming a QB/TE league, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him get into the rotation a bit more. Another person that will get noticed is backup linebacker Russell Allen. He played a lot of snaps last year and has outplayed Clint Session consistently. Allen has been great depth for years but could really be an impact player and will definitely get attention when he's on the field. The Jags are really waiting to see if WRs Cecil Shorts III and Kevin Elliott can have an impact on the offense as well, so in multiple receiver sets, be looking to see how they do and who they're matched up against.