I know many of you on Big Cat are not overly concerned with our team as a whole unlike most of Jacksonville. My goal is to convert any nonbelievers and prove that there is nothing to worry about with our team at this point. Nearly every position that struggled on Thursday had players either injured or out for precautionary reasons. After the jump, I will analyze each position, hopefully rather quickly, and try to provide hope for everyone who bleeds teal.
QB- As everyone knows, Gabbert played pretty well for being a rookie with two weeks of camp experience. His stats(9-16 for 85 yards) were average, but taking into account a few dropped balls and a near interception, I would say he played very well for what was expected from him. The near interception by Patrick Chung can be easily corrected as he just let the ball sail on him. Also, I would expect in a real game for Mike Thomas to make that reception and hopefully Miller will continue to shake off the rustiness. One reason the score was so one sided was because our second string QB in the game, Bouman, had not been getting reps at camp compared to Mallett, who had two weeks to prepare. Our inability to score compared to the Patriots ultimately created the large difference on the scoreboard. With Garrard most likely playing on Friday, Gabbert will be our second stringer and we should be able to put some points on the board to make fairweather Jags fans a little more happy. At this point, I have confidence that after three more weeks of preparation and bringing guys back, Gabbert would be able to hold his own against the Titans D if Garrard were to sustain a more severe back injury. That doesn;t mean I would prefer for him to start, however. Garrard should start as long as he does the usual in camp.
RB- I am of the belief that MJD will return this year stronger than ever. There is just something about this year that makes me feel like MJD and Jennings are going to run all over people. After seeing Jennings play well on Thursday, I am confident he can get more carries and be productive. Karim should be a nice third down back getting receptions out of the backfield with Jennings, but the majority of his touches will probably be on kickoffs. He has shown some great productivity receiving kickoffs and he most likely is winning the job over McGee. The RB position doesn't need a lot of analysis considering it is arguably the strongest position on the team.
FB- Having a Pro Bowl quality FB in Greg Jones makes life a lot easier for the QB and RB. He is the best blocking FB in the league and he can potentially get decent yardage if we ever needed him to get more carries. Owens is usually listed as a FB although he is known for his ST ability so I'll jump straight to Bolen. Bolen continues to show how productive he can be when he gets touches in the game. I personally don't think he is needed considering Owens and Jones are solid blockers, but I do think he is a good player. He is just stuck in a bad position being the third FB on the team.
WR- I know this is going to be a big issue for many fans all year who continue to worry about our depth. Hill showed some good flashes on Thursday and Thomas was very so so. I expect Thomas to come back and play well on Friday and I don't see him dropping many passes from here on out since he is a very confident receiver. Many people continue to forget that Cecil Shorts did not play on Thursday. He has arguably had the best camp so far out of any player on the roster and I would expect him to be another target for our QBs. Dillard didn't get many looks, but I would expect him to get 3-5 catches a game if he can stay healthy as a 4th receiver. I personally am not worried about our receivers because we rely a lot on our RB and TEs to catch passes.
TE- Marcedes Lewis looks to be in great shape headed into camp which should help his reception and TD numbers rise even more. He has said he is not necessarily in great football shape, but his body is in excellent shape as a whole. They way I see that is that he is even stronger which means his blocking will be a little better and he should be a little quicker off the line. When he is in football shape, expect some great things from him. Zach Miller continues to show all of the athletic ability he possesses, but has dealt with some drop issues at camp. If he can shake off what we all hope is rustiness, he should get looks during the regular season. Also, health concerns will always continue to be an issue for him. Potter also provides solid depth at the TE position if Del Rio keeps 3 TEs which I would figure would be the case.
OL- I realized that this is already very long so I'll just make the OL one group. According to a quote from JDR, communication was bad on Thursday night since Meester didn't play very much. Brittion did not make the trip so we were without our starting RT and Will Rackley is still learning on the fly. Our OL has a very big question mark next to it because it has potential to be solid, but injuries may really limit the lines ability to get better. Nwaneri, Meester, and Monroe should all continue to be solid. If Spitz or Rackley can play well at LG and if Britton can be average at RT, our line should be solid enough to allow Garrard some time in the pocket to find receivers.
DL- Our DL on Thursday was fairly bad quite frankly. We got little pressure on the QB and were unable to shed blocks. Luckily, we were missing three starters or else we would really have something to worry about. When Knighton returns, he will command two blockers like usual or else he will provide consistent pressure on the QB. Knighton, along with Alualu, should be a force in the middle for us. Smith and Douzable will provide decent depth and hopefully we can get them more reps this year to keep Alualu and Knighton fresh.With Knighton and Alualu requiring 3 blockers to keep them from getting in the backfield, Kampman, Roth and Co. will have plenty of 1 on 1 matchups. Kampman should be able to get decent pressure as long as he is completely back and Roth will be expected to have a high motor. Between these four starters, I would expect somewhere around 3 sacks a game. Between Mincey, Lane, and Morgan, I would like to see two of them really step up this year and get consistent pressure when they are in. Two of them should have around 4-5 sacks when the year is over.
LB- Our starters did not play particularly bad or good on Thursday, but they showed flashes of being a great group. Session is going to be a hard hitter and bring some competitive violence to our team which we have been lacking. I have heard that Pos wasn't good in coverage, but as a MLB, I expect him to be a run stopper and get a large number of tackles this year. I think everyone knows what Darryl Smith brings us game in and game out. Cutrera and Bosworth should provide decent depth at the position and should be serviceable at best.
CB- This is another position that was missing a starter. Mathis played well considering his counterpart was David Jones. Cox stayed in Jacksonville and will hopefully heal soon. I expect Drew Coleman to provide pressure on blitzes from the nickelback position and he should be average in coverage. I do like the fact that Issac likes to hit people and hit hard. He may not be great this year, but I see potential in him and his crazy hits. He should be a solid tackler which is all I want as a rookie corner who is still developing.
S- The S play on Thursday was just average, but do not worry. They played average, which is already better than last year, and they did it without a pass rush. Since the pass rush was completely nonexistent, I would expect Landry and Greene to look better as Knighton and Kampman return to the game. Also, Prosinski was not playing in the game due to injury as far as I know which took away some depth on Thursday night.
As you can see, I am fairly optimistic about our team and how we have played so far. Many of the team's "issues" will or should be fixed when guys return from injuries. I also saw some guys step up who absolutely had to on Thursday and showed that they can be relied upon later in the year(Hill and Jennings). The defense will also continue to look underwhelming until the defensive line returns all of their pass rushers. I would hold out your judgement on that group until the first game of the season when Knighton, Roth, and Kampman are ready to play.
Now that FA is over any we can actually look at the team as a whole, I would say our biggest needs in order of importance are DE, WR, OL, S, and CB. The reason why I have DE first is because Roth only signed a one year deal and he will be looking for a bigger contract next year if he plays well. Also, if Kampman stays healthy all year then the importance of a DE goes down some, but at this point it's hard to tell if he will be reliable for years to come. I like our young WRs and I am contempt with them for this year, however, I would like to see the team get a taller WR that can provide a more vertical threat to opposing defenses. I think with the release of Manuwai and Britton still dealing with injuries, that we could use another G/T. Also, Meester probably has one more year left and then I see Spitz taking over at C. I hope that next year between Prosinski, Greene, and Landry we won't need to address S, but it may still be an issue. IF Prosinski develops into a solid FS, then we won't need to address it. With Mathis' impending FA on the horizon next year, he may be leaving our team depending on the contract he wants. He is getting older and even though we just drafted Isaac, I don't know if he has lock-down corner ability. He is very physical, but he projects to be a nickel or depth CB. Some guys I am looking at in next years draft are:
Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama
Stephon Gilmore CB South Carolina
Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma State
Ryan Broyles WR Oklahoma
Brandon Jenkins DE FSU
Andre Branch DE Clemson
There are also a lot of good LBs in next year's draft so we could always address that position as well.
Let me know your thoughts and sorry if it was too long.