Every season for every team there are players that step up their game and have breakout seasons. For the Jaguars in 2011, it was players like Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Mincey and John Chick. Each exceeded the expectations of most and each played at a high level that certainly helped the team.
The Jaguars have spent much of the last few years acquiring developmental players with the hope that they'll start clicking on all cylinders, or "jars on the shelf," as Vic Ketchman called them. The Jaguars roster is now full of these jars on the shelf as well as players that were highly invested in and disappointed early in their careers.
Entering the 2012 season there are several players that appear primed for a breakout. While they almost certainly wont all exceed expectations, it's hard to imagine that none will.
Of course Gabbert has to lead the list. The 10th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft had a terrible rookie season, finishing 31st in completion percentage and last in the NFL in quarterback rating. The youngest QB to ever to start 14 games in a season, Gabbert now has a re-tooled wide receiver corps with Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon, as well as a year of experience to go with his first ever actual NFL offseason. Regression from Gabbert in 2012 would be shocking and is somewhat unimaginable.
The first of the two 4th round picks for the Jaguars in the 2011 NFL Draft, Shorts caught just two passes last season for 30 yards. The lack of production was surprising considering how strong Shorts looked in training camp and the preseason with strong routes that allowed for good separation. However, a tough immediate transition to the NFL is certainly understandable for a player coming from Division III.
I'm sure that hoping for a breakout year in his fourth season isn't what Jaguars fans had in mind when Britton was selected with the 39th overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Britton was lauded for a decent rookie season, but that was more of a case of him not looking terrible like most rookie offensive tackles rather than actually looking good. Two seasons later, Britton has only tallied 10 starts, some of which were at guard, due to shoulder and back injuries. A fully healthy Britton could finally make for a strong contributor on the offensive line.
The third round pick of the Jaguars in the 2011 NFL Draft, Rackley struggled as a full time starter at guard. While three of the offensive lineman for the Jaguars had relatively strong seasons, a tremendous amount of pressure on Gabbert was allowed by Rackley and right tackle Guy Whimper. But like Shorts, Rackley was making a transition from a small school (Lehigh) and often times, if not most of the time, that takes a while.
Defensive line coach Joe Cullen has already pegged Lane, the Jaguars' 5th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, as a player he expects to take a "major step forward" in 2012. With one career sack there is certainly nowhere for Lane to go but forward. Lane looked very good in the 2011 training camp, but couldn't parlay that into sacks in the regular season, although a torn labrum suffered before the season began could've been the cause of that.
After signing as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 NFL Draft, Morgan made the final roster. While a hamstring injury slowed most of his rookie season he came back even better for the 2011 training camp before a shoulder injury that required surgery sent him to injured reserve. Now entering his third season Morgan has become a forgotten player on the roster by fans although he really hasn't suffered an injury that would be any reason to slow him down. He's bulked up, more experienced and certainly a player that could make an impact in a John Chick-type role.
As a player that has started every one of the 32 games the Jaguars have played since drafting him 10th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, it might seem weird to put Alualu on this list. But with a knee injury that Alualu played on for two years before actually having surgery to fix, I'm confident that we still haven't seen all that he has to offer. With six career sacks, Alualu has been a strong player for the Jaguars on the interior but has yet to play up to the expectations of a top ten draft pick. Fully healthy entering the 2012 season, we might finally see that level of play.