So now that this season is about wrapped up, it's about time to start to consider the season that was 2011. I had high hopes going into the season, but those hopes were more or less dashed very early on. Blaine Gabbert was predictably not ready to be a starting quarterback, but everyone knew he needed time to develop. A few weeks ago, I was ready to throw him under the bus, but then, he started showing real progress.
Gabbert gets my "Poised Jaguars Player Of The Year" award. I say that because he's never given up on winning games. How often have we seen a rookie quarterback be awful and pack it in way before the season was over? It's kinda fun to watch a guy like Gabbert slowly developing in front of our eyes. Let's just hope Gene Smith can get him some receivers that can help take the load off of his arm.
Speaking of players that don't give up, how about our favorite little-big-man, Maurice Jones-Drew. Providing Jones-Drew can indeed hang onto his big lead in rushing yards, it'll be a nice validation of his efforts and perseverance. While many analysts may not consider MJD to be the best running back in the league, we all know what a gem Jacksonville has in Jones-Drew. I'm looking forward to seeing him run next season with far more support from the Jaguars' passing attack.
MJD has been Blaine Gabbert's most powerful weapon as Gabbert continues to grow into his role as a starting quarterback. Without Jones-Drew, I'm really not sure that the Jaguars would have average any more than 10 points per game. I really can't understate how impressed I've been with Jones-Drew this season, even as the offense as a whole has been pretty abismal much of the time.
Finally, I want to talk about the Jaguars' defense. I've said before that there's a fine line between being cheap and being smart, and on the defensive side of the ball, no one can accuse the Jaguars of being cheap. Gene Smith went on a mission to improve the Jaguars once feared defense, and he did a great job fortifying the secondary.
While the Jaguars still have a highly ranked defense, they can't defend the pass as well anymore. Really, the Jags are holding on for the end of the season. At that point, they should be able to get healthy again for 2012, and hopefully, another strong season of defensive play.
I've also been very impressed with the development of the defensive line, more specifically Leger Douzable and Jeremy Mincey. Both of those guys have been improving in a big way to fill the holes left by Matt Roth and Aaron Kampman. The Jaguars' defensive line is finally getting consistent pressure game in and game out on the quarterback, and in some cases, they've been bailing out the secondary.
As the season ends, I feel a mixture of annoyance at another disappointing season, but I also feel optimism moving forward. There's no doubt in my mind that the Jaguars are still moving in the right direction, despite this season's multiple steps back. A new owner, a young quarterback, and a new coach bring a sense of new beginnings to Jacksonville. I can't wait to watch it unfold.