Ahhh hope. The object that fans of struggling teams eternally lust for, and the drug that’s the only cure for their addiction. They need and crave hope, because it’s the only tonic that protects them from the darkness of a prolonged NFL basement residency.
Like any drug, there needs to be a manufacturer that’s perfected the main production principles. And usually, the draft is the NFL’s Walter White, as even now in early August before your team starts to be the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked, there’s already hope out there, and a sun that will rise next April. Let’s explore briefly.
Does your team’s quarterback morph into a tiny turtle at the first sign of pressure in the pocket, and he can’t place a ball within a five-foot radius of a receiver? Don’t worry, Matt Barkley is going to be awesome.
Is it a running back you crave, because the running part of the running back title has become increasingly difficult? Montee Ball is going to be a star, as long as he has personal security guards around him at all times.
But there’s one team that’s attempting to smash this formula with its recent draft picks. I present to you, the 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Maurice Jones-Drew contract standoff isn’t tied to the draft, or youthful potential. But it could easily and quickly drag down the Jags’ two most recent first-round picks as MJD continues to miss vital training camp snaps while a new offense is being installed. And if his rigid stance continues and Jones-Drew misses regular-season games, playing without a running back who accounted for 47.8 percent of Jacksonville’s offense in 2011 between his rushing and receiving yardage will be an experience that’s something less than enjoyable.
Jones-Drew is a significant concern, but he’s arguably a short-term worry. He’s a 27-year-old running back who’s averaged 318 carries per year over the last three seasons, so while any absence this year will be massive, there’s far too much wear on his tires to make him a concern too far beyond about the next three years. His age would be a source of leverage for Jags GM Gene Smith during this contract dispute if there was anything in Jacksonville beyond him to build around. Anything at all.
There’s something in Jacksonville alright, but right now there’s no way to have confidence in whatever that something is, because the tonic for the hope addiction in Jacksonville is quickly failing. The team’s last two first-round draft picks are either disappointing off the field, or on the field.
Firstly, there’s Justin Blackmon, who’s completing Day 7 of his training camp absence because he still hasn’t agreed to a contract. Missing a full week of camp is never ideal for any rookie, but especially not a rookie wide receiver whose primary purpose on Jacksonville’s roster is to save a floundering quarterback. The main hurdle blocking an agreement with Blackmon is likely the Jaguars’ preference to include some kind of language in the contract which insures them against future moronic decisions by their No. 1 wideout which involve brown bottles and vehicles.
As Vito Stellino of the Florida times-Union notes, even if Blackmon signs tonight, the CBA dictates that he can’t take part in a full padded practice until his fourth day in camp, meaning he’ll miss a minimum of 11 days before participating in a true workout. It’ll get worse than that too, because as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports, Blackmon and the Jaguars aren’t even close to a deal, and soon he’ll be in danger of missing his team’s preseason opener on Aug. 10.
Head coach Mike Mularkey told Stellino that the layer of rust will show whenever we finally get a Blackmon sighting.
“He’s going to be behind, and it will probably be pretty noticeable when you watch him on the field when he’s behind.’’
So, there’s one first-round pick on offense–the most recent one–already with a bleak forecast before he’s been on the field for a single training camp snap. What about that other guy? You know, that quarterback who was also a top 10 pick.
Blaine Gabbert is the name, I believe. Do you have anything nice to say after watching him throw during camp workouts, Paul Kuharsky?
There are subtle improvements for sure, some I can see (better footwork) and some I am sure I can’t. But he still throws an occasional ball into the ground well in front of an intended receiver on a play that is basically just given away. You watch it and don’t understand how it still happens. He threw one into the ground in front of Laurent Robinson and another short of Mike Thomas. After the throw to Thomas, Gabbert talked with him, so maybe there was miscommunication about where he should have been. I continue to believe he needs more time and can be effective with these coaches, but I didn’t come away from this morning session feeling like he was much more effective than the last time I saw him.
That’s after an offseason to study a playbook, and work with coaches. The Jags may still be waiting to hit rock bottom, even after a five-win season, and five years without a record above .500.
When they finally reach that rocky destination, the rebound may still be a while coming.