Jacksonville Jaguars 2013 Preseason Guide

by RICHARD DAVID SMITH III // photos by fran ruchalski
It all starts at the top for NFL teams, and there is no doubt as to who runs the show in Jacksonville: The Stache. As the first minority owner in NFL history, Shahid Khan has already raised the bar on cool as far as owners go, and his purchase of the team from Wayne Weaver two seasons ago gave the Jaguars instant international street cred…and what other owner can say he has multiple parody Twitter accounts dedicated to his facial hair?
In the off season, some fans got nervous when Khan announced his purchase of the Fulham Football Club of the English Premier League, fearing that this may relate somehow to the rumors that the Jaguars could ultimately move across the pond. It is true Khan has said publicly that he wants to play a “major role” in growing the NFL brand in London–with the Jaguars agreeing to play one game a year there starting with this year’s game vs. the San Francisco 49ers–but this could be a positive for the Jaguars going forward from a merchandise selling/fan base expanding/international branding point of view. In fact, in expanding the Jaguars brand beyond just Northeast Florida, Khan may have actually found a creative way around the many obstacles and disadvantages that this city presents vis a vis a viable NFL city to assure that the Jaguars do remain in Jacksonville (Khan is no business dummy). For what it’s worth, Khan himself has reiterated that he has no intentions of moving the Jaguars to another city and has expressed a full commitment to Jacksonville and its fans…but, of course, what else is he really going to say to his customers?

With free agent players and their skyrocketing salaries gravitating towards the larger markets such as New York and Dallas, those familiar with Moneyball know that the General Manager can be the great equalizer for smaller market teams like Jacksonville. In this respect, Khan struck gold when he landed GM David Caldwell. As opposed to an incessantly meddling owner like Jerry Jones, Khan seems to be doing what most successful modern day NFL owners do, which is hire a shrewd General Manager and then get the hell out of the way. The Jaguars front office should be in capable hands for years to come with Caldwell, who was an Area Scout during the Indianapolis Colts’ successful decade plus run and was the Director of College Scouting for the successfully-drafted current Atlanta Falcons team. Caldwell’s skills were in full effect in the 2013 draft, a draft that many sports publications consider one of the Jaguars’ best in the last decade. Caldwell seemed to be a thoughtful, well-researched hire.
For many fans, however, Caldwell’s defining moment in Jacksonville will always be when, in his opening press conference, he stated that the Jaguars would not sign Tim Tebow, “even if he’s released”—a phrase that would later adorn the t-shirts and bumper stickers of the fierce anti-Tebow crowd. There was even a website created based on this message (www.evenifhesreleased.com) where fans can go and click to add to an “endorsement from real Jaguars fans who don’t need Tim Tebow.” There are now over a half-million “endorsements.” The website briefly made ESPN headlines and was created by a local group of fans that calls themselves the Bold City Brigade, which has the following mission statement: “to engage and unite Jaguars followers from all walks of life.” Unless you’re a fan of Tebow, I guess.

Head Coach
The bad news: the Jaguars allowed a whopping 380.5 yards per game last season (to put that in perspective, 1st ranked Steelers allowed over 100 yards less per game at 275.8) and haven’t really added much, personnel-wise, that would indicate a rapid improvement in that area. Only an offense that plays its games in New Orleans inside of a dome and is quarterbacked by Drew Brees can hope to offset that sort of defensive ineptitude.
The good news: last year’s placeholder of a coach, Mike Mularkey (who brought his boring, early 1990s era playbook to Jacksonville last season) will not be around this year. Taking over the Jaguars this season is a young and fiery first year head coach, Gus Bradley, who had an upbeat coaching style as Defensive Coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks that led to them ranking 4th in the NFL in yards per game at 306.2 (not too shabby). In an age where fear of concussion is leading more and more to a league where physical, hard-hitting defense is becoming a penalty/lawsuit-laden afterthought, it is the defensive scheme that often becomes more important than physical play. Motivation and scheme are apparently where Bradley shines, and that is encouraging news for a defense that may have lost its confidence in recent years.

Quarterback Position Battle
With the possible exception of NHL goalie, NFL quarterback is the most important position of any sport; so not being completely settled on one going into the season isn’t an ideal place to be. This will be the third season for first round pick Blaine Gabbert, and he is quickly running out of time to prove himself. Gone are the days when quarterbacks had the luxury of a couple of seasons on the bench behind a veteran followed by a couple of seasons to grow into the role (which is probably the proper way to groom a QB, see: Aaron Rodgers). No, today’s NFL teams want instant results and–with the exorbitant amounts of money they pay rookies combined with a pass happy league that tailors just about every rule around protecting and making the game easier for QBs–you can hardly blame them. Rookie quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton dominating the league right out of the gate isn’t helping the case of the likes of Gabbert, either. In other words, you can now toss Gabbert’s highly praised Wonderlic test score into the trash, this is a make or break year for Gabbert, and failure to produce will most likely result in the Jaguars going in a different direction at QB in 2014. Gabbert has never had the look of an NFL QB. His arm strength is unquestioned, but he seems to play scared and lets happy feet get the best of him when he is under duress in the pocket, and that never allows him to position himself correctly in order to make consistently accurate throws. This is reflected in his poor, Tebow-like 53.8% completion percentage, 17 interceptions, and 62 sacks in 25 career games. Those kinds of numbers don’t even come close to getting it done. If he fails this year, I’m not gonna say that he won’t remain in Jacksonville…but it may be as starting QB of the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League rather than the Jaguars.
Chad “less bad” Henne stars in the role of Gabbert’s backup QB, but could possibly usurp Gabbert with a less bad preseason. He shined in his first few games when he took over for an injured Gabbert in 2012, but then fluttered down the stretch. As a classic literature fan, I wouldn’t mind seeing third-stringer and Andy Reid project Mike Kafka grab the starting job, if for no other reason than it would allow me to utilize the word “Kafkaesque” (from Metamorphosis author, Franz Kafka, meaning: marked by senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity) in my column.
Other Player News and Notes:
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has returned from the season-ending injury he sustained last season and expects to be at 100% when the preseason starts…Backup RB Justin Forsett was acquired in the offseason and, while not very physical, he can turn a few heads if he gets into the open field…Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (gotta love a fellow 3rd) looks to improve on what was a fine season last year where, in 14 games (nine starts), he had 55 reception for 979 yards and seven touchdowns after having only two catches as a rookie…Star WR/troublemaker Justin Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season due to his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and is also recovering from offseason groin surgery (ouch)…Versatile 2013 draft pick Denard Robinson is officially listed on the roster as an “OW” (offensive weapon) and is one of the most fascinating players on the team. The converted quarterback could show up in just about any offensive skill position this season, including QB, on this team…Rookie WR/kick-returner Ace Sanders is a fun, electric player and is quickly becoming a fan favorite in training camp. He could be a game-changer type player on special teams…Rookie Safety Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring injury), who will most likely make the starting lineup in game one, and veteran Defensive End Jason Babin (groin injury) are limited in practice, but neither injury is considered serious and the Jaguars will need to squeeze all they can get out of those two in order to improve upon last year’s porous defense.

The Jaguars unveiled new uniforms this offseason, and the jury still seems to be out on them. They are slightly arena-like and a little busy, and the black to gold, front to back color transition of the helmet has the spirit of a mullet: business up front, party in the back. That look usually doesn’t work out well as a haircut (as you see from time to time around Jacksonville), but we’ll see how it works out as a helmet once they are thrust into real game action. For some strange reason that cannot yet be determined by science, it is winning, of all things, that seems to make new team uniforms look a whole hell of a lot nicer in the eyes of fans.

#Jaguars on Twitter
Here are a few Jaguars Twitter accounts worth following, and why:
Most Likely to Keep The Teal Real: @Jones_Drew32 (The biggest star on the team, surprisingly, doesn’t hold back and tells it like it is, sometimes to his own detriment. #MJD)
Most Likely to Block You: @BlaineGabbert (He’s blocked so many, there is even a #BlockedByBlaine hash tag that trended for awhile in Jacksonville. I bet he wished his O-line blocked that well.)
Most Likely to Respond to You: @AceSanders1 (He has no problem goofing around with you if you are creative enough to get his attention. #AceReturn)
Most Likely to ReTweet Sean Hannity: @JasonBabin93 (Let’s put it this way, he really doesn’t like #Obamacare.)
Most Likely to Find Me, #RDS3: @RDS3andShethy (This is where you can find my live gameday tweets. Tweet me. We’ll have some fun this season. Go Jaguars!)
Game Day
Considering their putrid record and relatively small market, the Jaguars did very well last year to avoid television blackouts in all home games (where they went an abysmal 1-7). That’s because real fans know that it’s not whether you win or lose–but how much fun you have at the game! Here are some of the “haps” in and around the stadium on game day this season…
• Fans will again be allowed to enter the stadium for 1 pm games at 11 am.
• The always-popular Jaguars drum-line, which gives the game a fun, high school feel, returns again this season.
• Expanded interactive Family Fun Zone—this year complete with inflatables—will be at the south end of the stadium for all those kids not happy enough with the Jaguars ticket you just bought them.
• More Cool Zones (especially important for those brutally hot early season games) below the north and south end zones and throughout the stadium.
• Food will continue to be allowed into the stadium inside of a basic Ziploc freezer bag, but this year, for safety reasons, the league has issued a clear bag policy. In order to expedite the security lines, they will no longer allow people to bring big bags, backpacks, etc, into the stadium.
• There will be even more of the increasingly popular area food trucks (about 10 to 12) on hand at the stadium this season, offering a wider variety of delicious food-on-wheels for the fans to select from. These are usually parked on Adams Street on the south end of the stadium near Gate 1.
• The colossal new scoreboard—with controversial funding in tow—will not be in place at EverBank until 2014.

Shuttle Transportation
Taking a shuttle to the games does not only help you save on gas, parking fees, and hassle, but riding to the game with a large group of slightly inebriated fellow Jaguars fans can be a fun part of the game day experience in and of itself. JTA offers a Stadium Shuttle Service with free parking on game day, with buses running to and from the stadium from several downtown and suburban locations. A new addition for this season is the Orange Park shuttle. Fans who ride from the Kings Avenue and Prime Osborne receive a coupon for a free concession at the stadium. For more info on shuttle services, call JTA at (904) 630-3100 or go to their website at www.jtafla.com.