The Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11 record in 2011 was very misleading. The team fielded the 6th best defense in the league despite struggling to keep defenders healthy, especially in the secondary. Yes, the Jaguars had major issues on the offensive side of the ball, but those problems are treatable in the short term.
In 2012, everything will begin and end with Blaine Gabbert. He made slow progress through much of the season, showing measurable progress only in the latter quarter of the season. To his credit, Gabbert was able to show leadership despite a lack of offensive weapons beyond running back Maurice Jones-Drew. That should change in 2012.
Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has said that the Jaguars will be approaching the offense, especially the wide receiver position, in the same way that they approached the defense last season. Aggressively. The Jaguars will likely combine picking up top level talent in free agency with April’s draft to give Blaine Gabbert the offensive weapons he needs to succeed.
New owner Shahid Khan has also been supportive of spending money to win games. He’s shown support to the idea of spending close to the salary cap, so it’s unlikely the Jaguars will continue to be as reserved as they’ve been in the past.
The question in Jacksonville is no longer “if” they’ll spend money. The question has turned to “who” they’ll be spending money on. There are a number of top-tier free agents that they’ll be looking into adding to their roster on both sides of the ball.
One area where the team should not be spending its draft capital, at least not early on, is at running back. This is worth noting in the wake of mock draft season and rumors that the Jaguars should be interested in Trent Richardson. Is he an interesting player? Of course. Might he even be the “best player available” when the Jaguars’ #7 pick comes up? Very possibly. But at some point need – or the complete absence of it, thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashard Jennings – has to dictate draft strategy.
The other issue the Jaguars need to address in the near future is the contract negotiations with kicker Josh Scobee and defensive end Jeremy Mincey. Josh Scobee is coming off of his best season since 2007 and was a pillar of consistency in 2011.
Jeremy Mincey had his best season as a pro, compiling 8 sacks as well as continuing to grow as a run stopper and a pass rusher. He’s grown into a complete defensive end, and he’d be an asset on any team in the league.
The Jaguars have been slowly building their foundation since dismantling the team following the 2008 season. They overachieved in 2009 and 2010, nearly winning the divisional title two seasons ago. 2011 looked like a step back in the eyes of anyone who doesn’t follow the team closely. Yes, their record was ugly, but they’ve made the transition to their quarterback of the future. I get the feeling that the Jaguars are finally at the point of breaking through, provided that Blaine Gabbert develops over the offseason with new weapons to work with. The Jaguars have work to go, but they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.