With less than two weeks remaining until the Jaguars kickoff their 2013 regular season with a Week 1 home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, here are nine questions to help preview what to look for this year:
Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
For me, it's unquestionably Cecil Shorts III. Maybe it's that he's a Division III player, maybe it's that he's smaller than your average receiver, or maybe it's because he manages to make the most exciting plays possible. In two of the first three games of the 2012 season, Shorts scored long, go-ahead touchdowns with less than a minute remaining.
If he can remain healthy in 2013, he's an exciting player that could become the first Jaguars receiver in eight years to finish a season with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
Why not the Kansas City Chiefs? Sure, there's not much history between the two teams, if any, but it marks the beginning of a significantly new era for the Jaguars. It will be the first game with new uniforms, new helmets, a new head coach and a new general manager. It's essentially the debut of a new Jaguars franchise altogether.
*cough cough go to section 124 cough
Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?
The Jaguars really have plenty of room to work with when it comes to the salary cap, so trying to really crunch numbers isn't going to be necessary. That said, teams are always willing to get rid of someone if they feel they can find a similar level of play from someone that makes five times fewer.
Dave Caldwell already cleaned out some of the bad contracts on the team leaving essential players as the highest-paid guys on the team, but if anyone could see the end of their time on the team soon, it's Jeremy Mincey. One of 14 players counting more than $3 million against the salary cap in 2013, Mincey simply isn't the best fit on the new-look defensive scheme of the Jaguars and would likely play in a rotational role only.
Which second-year player is going to make the biggest leap?
Justin Blackmon wasn't bad as a rookie, but he was far from dominant. His 236-yard explosion against the Houston Texans was the only game where he cracked 100 yards and it took until November for him to score his first NFL touchdown.
While he'll miss the first four games of the season due to an impending suspension, Blackmon has looked like a leaner, quicker, stronger and simply better version of his 2012 self in preseason. If that same level of contribution comes in the regular season, he'll likely make a much bigger impact than he did as a rookie.
What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
Saying zero is a little extreme considering the unpredictability of the NFL, but really...it's zero. Mike Mularkey made it just one year, but he was tied to a general manager on his way out. Gus Bradley has a team that will take time to build and there's no reason to think Shad Khan won't be patient with that.
What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
Nothing really. With such a young team, most of the Jaguars franchise records are really out of reach for such young contributors and Maurice Jones-Drew already owns just about all the records right now, anyway. The only thing he hasn't surpassed Fred Taylor in is rushing yardage and he'll need about four more years to have a shot at that.
The franchise passing touchdown record of 23 is embarrassingly low considering at least 10 NFL quarterbacks break that every season, but that would be an impressive number for Blaine Gabbert who has 21 career touchdowns in two seasons.
Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
Is 'all of them' an acceptable answer? Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz will all be starters from day one and Ace Sanders has a chance to be the guy that fills in at receiver while Blackmon is serving suspension. Beyond that, Denard Robinson, Josh Evans and even LaRoy Reynolds have a chance to see plenty of time on a rebuilding team.
Predict the order of finish in your division.
Predicting the same order as 2012 would've felt boring, so the only switch is that the Jaguars finish one spot ahead of the Titans. While I certainly can't say that I'm sold that Blaine Gabbert will lead the Jaguars to the promised land, I have more faith in his ability to turn the corner and realize his potential than I do Jake Locker.
The Texans and Colts would both have to take a step backwards for the Jaguars to have a chance at catching their coat-tails.
What do you expect your season-end record will be?
Alfie Crow chimes in for this one:
5-11. The Jaguars gutted a lot of their roster and improved in some areas, but big question marks at the quarterback position and at pass rusher on defense is going to have an impact on how they fare during the season. The team was close to winning five games last season and with an improved offensive line and playmakers they should be able to get there this go-round.
More from Big Cat Country:
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