“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
A quick word about the staff, for those who wouldn't know otherwise - or want to gear up for training camp.
Starting in 2013, former Miami Hurricane Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fisch will be calling the offensive plays. Fisch will put a heavy emphasis on balance, considering we now have more than one weapon on offense. We have Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, and UDFA Matt Scott manning the helm as the listed quarterbacks of 2013. Gabbert in 2011 was pretty bad, but a rookie, so he got a pass from a large majority. In 2012, Gabbert started out well in Minnesota, then stalled until Oakland, in which he got a slight streak going before injury. He had 100 yards in one quarter in Oakland, also throwing a 42 yard touchdown. He then had his best statistical game as a pro in Green Bay, throwing for 303 yards. Then, he was knocked out in Houston - which led to the meteoric rise of Chad Henne. Then, by the third quarter of the Houston game, Henne was back to Earth atmosphere. There is a reason we went 2-14.
Now, to the promising. In 2011, Cecil Shorts III looked like a punt pass and kick local child who couldn’t catch the football if he was being paid to. However, in 2012, he was one of the NFL’s most improved players going from 30 yards and 2 catches to 55 catches and 979 yards and 7 touchdowns in 14 games. Then, debuting in 2012, was fifth overall pick Justin Blackmon. He started out the season slow, unaware, but came into his own after a monster game in Houston and ended with 64 receptions for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns - but, he has to be more consistent. Coming in at a small, timid 6’6” 275, tight end Marcedes Lewis has had recent down years after his pro bowl 2010, but he has the talent to come back to that form. Rounding out the receiving corp are shifty fourth round rookie Ace Sanders, slot receiver Jordan Shipley, “Not Brian Robiskie” Mohommed Massaquoi, and don’t be surprised to see undrafted rookie Tobias Palmer make the roster, as he has been a pleasant surprise in OTAs and Minicamps so far. But, you want to read about the one, the only, star running back, fantasy angel Justin Forsett. Justin Forsett was signed to spell Maurice Jones-Drew to keep his legs fresher, and provide a backing running game that was lacking in 2012, after Jones-Drew went down and left Gabbert to stall, creating an ugly mess. Drafted in the fifth round was Michigan golden boy Denard Robinson, drafted to be not just a running back - but an offensive weapon. Officially. It’s on the roster. Really, go look. That’s all you really need to know about Denard. He’s fast, doesn’t tie his shoes, and he will play 10-15 snaps a game, and true to his title, he is an offensive weapon. Jedd Fisch is going to have so much fun.
Defensive Coordinator Bob Babich was hired by the Jaguars this past offseason. A 10 year NFL coaching veteran, he spent the previous 9 years coaching for the Chicago Bears. While with the Bears, he spent 2007-2009 as defensive coordinator, and most recently has been the linebackers coach. Prior to the NFL, Babich spent 6 years as the head coach at North Dakota State, where he compiled a 46-22 record. It was at North Dakota State that he developed his relationship with current Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, where Bradley served in a variety of assistant coach roles. During his tenure as defensive coordinator, the Bears were an underwhelming 23-25. His defenses routinely ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in most categories, but tended to be strong against the rush. Both with the Bears and the Jaguars, the head coach has been a defensive minded coach who installed (Lovie Smith) or is expected to install (Bradley) his own defense.
In Jacksonville, Babich will be calling the plays on defense. While many of the specifics of the defense are still under wraps, it will be modeled after the defense Bradley used in Seattle: a variation of the 4-3 with a pass rushing DE (currently expected to be Jason Babin) referred to as a ‘Leo.’ The defensive scheme emphasizes “athleticism, speed, press, man-to-man coverage from the corners and extensive ‘single-high’ safety play” instead of focusing on a blitz-heavy scheme. Not only will the defensive scheme be different this year, but the players on the field will offer a significantly different and younger look. At least seven of the eleven positions should see a new starter to begin the season. Gone is the clear best defensive player, Daryl Smith (injured for the 2012 season), as well as DT Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton and most of the secondary. Notable returning players include late season waiver wire addition Babin, expected to be in the Leo slot, as mentioned above, fan favorite Paul Posluszny anchoring the linebacker corps, veteran safety Dwight Lowery and former first round pick Tyson Alualu making the shift from DT to DE in hopes of proving his status as a non-bust. Free agent acquisitions Roy Miller, Kyle Love and Sen’Derrick Marks should improve a struggling interior D-line, and cornerback Marcus Trufant should see plenty of time on the field as well. The secondary was a focus in the draft, with 2nd round safety Johnathan Cyprien and third round cornerback Dwayne Gratz expected to start. 6th round safety Josh Evans is also expected to compete for time. In the linebacker corps, free agent acquisition Geno Hayes is expected to start at OLB alongside veterans Posluszny and Russell Allen. Whether this ‘new look,’ younger defense will be considered a strong defense remains to be seen. While I personally expect a significant improvement (at least up to 'mediocre' or perhaps even 'decent'), what we do know is that it certainly can’t be much worse than last year.
The Jags special teams should be a source of excitement this season. Veteran kicker Josh Scobee has as long a range as anyone, and if the offense is able to move the ball better than last year, should see more field goal opportunities. Endless debate surrounding spending a third round pick on Brian Anger aside, the 2nd year punter will be one of the better punters in the league – though hopefully with fewer punting opportunities. Elsewhere, the departure of 2x Pro Bowler Montell Owens leaves a large gap on special teams that will need to be filled. Still, the arrival of speedster Ace Sanders in the return game should spice up what was a woeful performance last season, and fans and coaches alike are already excited at his explosive big play ability.
But you want to read about the man himself, don't you?
As with any new top to bottom coaching staff, no one truly knows what to expect from Gus and his focused, aggressive team. Former of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a linebacker coach, but most recently Gus Bradley has come from the Seattle Seahawks as their defensive coordinator, with most of his success coming particularly from 2011 and 2012. Including 2012 being the year that the Seahawks were fourth in the league in defensive yards, and number one in points per game. Now, what makes Gus Bradley such a good coach if he has all of these great players, and a successful offense to back him up? How can he replicate this success on a team with significantly less talent for the second time? The key word that anyone mentions when speaking of Bradley is ENERGY, and that’s key. The passion for football that Gus Bradley radiates is amazing, and his commanding tone and knowledge of the game is overwhelming. Pound for pound, Gus Bradley is a leader of men, which will come in handy when leading the Jacksonville Jaguars down the path to success for years to come, but at this point, his style is only an enigma in relation to his coaching results.
Honestly, as a fan, you can't help but be excited - all brand new everything; players, coaches, uniforms, logos. The beauty is personified into being able to stick with the team through the rough patches. Many people believe that we are delusional, we are fans that expect a winning season every year, and while we may expect improvement we are not expecting playoff wins within a few years. How good will we be? Nobody knows, and nobody knows how bad we will be either. All we know is that it's time to grow as a team, a fan base, and as Jaguars.