After the last decade of annually watching the Jaguars trot out an archaic and often stagnant offense, it appears that unlike the proclomations of the previous "New Era", this reincarnation of Jaguars football will actually be able to be more than, "three yards and a cloud of dust".
I made my way out to the inaugural "Mini-Camp Mularkey", and the impressions I came away with were more than I had gone in hoping to see. Especially from the looks of the second-year QB, and national "celebrity".
My observations and some detailed interesting offensive innovations, after the jump.
The WRs didn't have a great day when I was out there yesterday, but for the most part it was good to not leave the practice feeling like you're being punk'd by the GM and coaching staff for once.
Robinson had a couple of drops, but he also had a few nice catches particularly over the middle. I noted that he kind of does everything that Blackmon doesn't. Meaning he creates good separation, is very quick, and most notably, he chews up a lot of yards with his strides. Something we haven't seen here in a while. What he seems to lack, or at least not be as fundamentally sound in are his routes and cuts out of them. Hopefully, this is something Sullivan has been working on him with. Though he'll likely be running a lot of the 7-9 routes, so it may not be a terribly big deal.
In turn, what Robinson doesn't do so well, Blackmon does exceptionally well. I've been to at least a few practices at every camp since '96, and have seen many a rookie WR come through here. I can say with 100 percent certainty, JB is the most polished rookie WR this team has ever had, be it through the draft or UDFA. His route running, when he knows the routes, is crisp and he's got a good first step off the LOS. He also cuts exceptionally well, which is where he gets what separation he is able to create. Blackmon's biggest strength are his hands. The guy quite simply catches anything in his radius. The one glaring negative to his game, is that he looks like me trying to run any deep route. Ideally, you'd like him to be a worrying deep threat that opposing defenses must respect. I don't see that ever being JB's game though. That said, I do think he's the perfect WR for what this offense is going to be, especially early on. He's a prototypical west-coast/spread "Z" WR. He gets where he needs to be for the quick passes, finds an opening, and will make the catch to chew up yardage. Which if you've been to the two practices this week, you know is exactly what they seem to be focusing on.
As for the other receivers, the disappointment in Mike Thomas is carrying over to August for me. He continued to drop easily made throws, with the exception of maybe one or two that were slightly behind him. While he did make a few catches in the practice I viewed, there was also two times I noted where either Blaine or Sullivan got on him about his route on a play. While I don't think he gets released, his spot as the #3 WR will definitely be pressed, as Lee Evans, and yes, Cecil Shorts III have both looked the part more so than Thomas has. Evans and Shorts caught everything thrown their way from what I saw, including Evans making the highlight play of Thursday's practice, catching a Gabbert pass between two defenders, reminiscent of the pass to Thomas early in the Bengals game last season. UDFA Kevin Elliot had some moments, but he was victim to a couple of unexplainable drops, as were several of the remaining WR corps out there practicing. It's worth noting that on I'd say 90% of offensive plays, the team had at least 3 WRs on the field, with the "ones" being Robinson, Blackmon, and Thomas in 11 v 11's.
The tight end group was more impressive overall than the receivers at Thursday's practice. Marcedes caught literally everything thrown at him, and from my perceptive view, looked a little leaner and quicker than he did last season. This is both not really surprising, and a very good thing considering what we all know about his issues on and off the field in '11. Miller and Potter each had their bright spots. particularly Potter, who on one play made a nifty twisting grab on a slightly high Gabbert pass down the seam. Colin Cloherty continues to look like a potential "jar on the shelf" prospect. The other tight end I did notice, mostly because it's hard not to as he's a giant, was Matt Veldman. If I were Matt, let's just say I'd have my agent start making calls around the league in August.
The offensive and defensive lines were obviously pretty much non distinct as they really can't do much other than bag drills or get in the way during team sessions. I will say one note to self I did make, was Andre Branch most definitely looks the part. The guy is simply huge, in a tall wrestler looking way.
Speaking of guys looking like they belong in the WWE, Eugene Monroe looks like he can call Vince McMahon up tonight and be on a flight to Connecticut in the morning for his show schedule. He's as cut as he was last year, when he admittedly showed up too lean, but with more bulk to him, if that makes sense.
As for the defensive guys that can be judged, I thought the secondary as a whole looked pretty on point. Derek Cox looks clearly like the team's best corner, as most believe he will be this season. He consistently gave his man fits in coverage. A pleasant surprise, was Kevin Rutland. Number 22 was all over the field Thursday, and made one particularly nice breakup of a Gabbert pass to Thomas. The team seems to notice Rutland's play, as he was starting opposite Cox with the "ones". Mike Harris also flashed some good coverage ability when out there. The entire group as a whole was consistently making things hard on their WR counterparts, as there were many plays where there was no one open at all, regardless of which team was out there. One thing noted during the practice by myself and a few folks I talked with out there, is this team is going to release a few guys in the secondary that can, if not start, definitely make another team's 53 man roster.
A brief note on the running backs, if I were MJD, I'd tell my agent to sit down and show up in July for camp. Granted this is all unpadded and little if any contact, but there is talent waiting in the wings be it Jennings, Harris, Murphy, and even Jalen Parmalee, who flashed quick twitch ability several times, particularly on kick returns. I have a feeling the Jags are quite comfortable with what they have, for at least the pre-season, should Mo decide to drag this deep into the Summer.
Now onto the quarterbacks. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I've been pretty hard on Gabbert, particularly about his well noted flaws, (footwork/poise/looking like my 5 year old/etc.). I have been cautiously pessimistic when hearing reports of the new staff essentially, "flipping the house from Project X", that was our starting QB last year. I'm here to tell you now, however, that at least in the setting I viewed, this QB is almost night and day better compared to when we last saw him on New Year's Day.
The elongated plant foot on the drop....gone.
The dipping of the right shoulder on the above mentioned drop....gone.
The uncertain QB who struggled with accuracy on even the shortest of throws...fanute.
I don't know what type of money Shad Khan has, but it appears he has enough to have engineered a machine similar to the one that Steve Urkel used to turn himself into "Stephon Urkel", and used this contraption on Blaine Gabbert. (If you don't get that reference, ask a friend who grew up in the late 80's-90's)
Gabbert opened the 11 v 11 drill in a simulated no-huddle offense, in which to put it as best I can, he looked like a psuedo Peyton Manning at the LOS. He was controlled, confident, and commanding in the way he led the drill. At one point, he called what I had as three different audibles from the LOS, on one play...three. With the back and receivers shifting to a different alignment with each call. I detailed the best I can the alignments below here..
Twins on either side. Robinson and Blackmon outside on either side. Thomas and Lewis in the slots. Jennings lone back next to Gabbert in shotgun.
Trips to the right. Robinson the lone receiver to the left. Jennings lined up as single back behind Gabbert, now under center.
Twins on each side. Robinson and Blackmon outside either side. Thomas aligned directly behind Robinson. Lewis in slot on opposite side. Jennings in the tight end/"H" back slot. Blaine in shotgun.
Twins on each side. Robinson and Blackmon outside either side, Thomas & Lewis in respective slots, Jennings in the tight end/"H" back slot. Blaine under center.
Gabbert orchestrated this with the savy of a 5 year vet. His accuracy was noticeably improved as ,with the exception of two to three throws, he did not throw a ball that wasn't catchable. Perhaps the most noticeable thing with Blaine, from the practice I viewed and the comments of those who witnessed Wednesday's, is how much this offense of quick passing and quicker tempo really seems to be in his wheelhouse. This really didn't particularly strike me, until I watched Henne go and try to run the same offense.
Henne, in my opinion, will be a signifigant gain in talent at the backup QB spot over Luke McCown. That said, it appeared to me that this offense being installed simply doesn't fit the game Chad is suited for. As I noted on Twitter, to me Henne would've been a great Dirk Koetter QB. He's a sit in the pocket, chuck it deep 8-10 times a game and work the play action guy. What he isn't, and it's really noticeable, is a no-huddle/spread, high tempo ,quick short to intermediate passer. There were several times where Henne appeared hesistant and simply ran out of the pocket when things broke down. On two plays I noted, he was a detriment to the worm community at Florida Blue fields, as he Tebow'd two passes into the grass like a kid skipping rocks. (Or Gabbert trying to throw a screen last season)
The arm difference between the two QBs was also distinct. During an individual WR drill at Thursday's practice, at which a decent wind had developed, Henne struggled to get the ball to the intended receiver with much velocity on several deep out passes. On the other hand, Blaine showed the arm talent we all have known him to have, despite his flaws, hitting the receivers with effortless velocity on similar throws.
As Alfie noted from my tweet, I had Gabbert at 20/27 for Thursday, but as I said several incompletions were more receiver error than poor throw. I did have Henne down for 23/28, but I'll note that Henne did throw signifigantly more "dump passes", than Gabbert did. One thing to note, is that neither QB threw an interception during the practice I viewed. The closest pick came on a pass intended for Miller down the seam that Daryl Smith made a fantastic play on, but hit off his outstretched hands. Finally with regards to the QBs, you can turn the game off come August, if/when Jordan Palmer enters it. The guy could lose a throwing competition to Kellen Moore.
All in all, I truly liked what I saw from my first "Camp Mularkey" experience, and it has gotten me excited again for the start of training camp after what has been several weeks it seems of buzzkilling news. If this Gabbert, and in turn this offense, shows up when the pads and lights go on, we're in for an unexpectedly fun season this year.
NOTE*- After viewing footage of a portion of the described Gabbert no-huddle drill, I realized it was Lewis and not Evans. Article has been edited to read as such.