Postcard from camp: Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert is improving, with the new staff working on fixing his mechanics
Jags are happy enough with Rashad Jennings not to cave to Maurice Jones-Drew
Big-money WR Laurent Robinson hasn't been as impressive as the Jaguars hoped
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Jaguars camp in Jacksonville, Fla., which he visited on Aug. 3. Read all of our postcards here.
At a nighttime scrimmage at the Jags' stadium, now called EverBank Field. A gathering of maybe 12,000 (the Jags estimated 15,000, but it looked thinner than that) were on hand to see if Blaine Gabbert provides this team hope that it has found a long-term quarterback.
1. Blaine Gabbert has miles to go, but the first step on the journey is a good one. Everyone in the organization has a reason why Gabbert struggled so mightily last year -- he was last in the league in passer rating, below Tim Tebow and Curtis Painter -- but coach Mike Mularkey didn't come here to care about the excuses of last year.
What Mularkey did, along with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterback coach Greg Olson, is work with Gabbert to smooth his mechanics in and out of the pocket, get him to read his progressions more consistently and have the confidence to know when to fit the ball in small spaces and when to throw the check-down.
"The biggest thing is the coaching, coming off the lockout last year,'' said Gabbert. "That's been important in my progress this offseason." Gabbert was 10 of 13 in the scrimmage for 91 yards, throwing two balls on a line and accurately in traffic, and connecting on a cross with Laurent Robinson, the expensive free agent wideout.
2. I don't see the Jags buckling to Maurice Jones-Drew. Listening to the coaches and locals talk about backup running back Rashad Jennings, a fourth-year man from Liberty, you'd think he was the starter and Jones-Drew the backup. Jones-Drew is getting older, and he doesn't hit the holes like he used to, etc. Well, the man did win the rushing title by two-and-a-half football fields last year. And he is only 27. But the Jaguars give off the strong impression that if Jones-Drew won't play for at least one of the last two years on his contract (he has salaries of $4.5 million and $4.95 million left), they're going to let him sit and let Jennings carry the majority of the rushing load.
3. What a good locker room of smart players this team has. I don't get to Jacksonville much, and I was pleasantly surprised at the cooperation, intelligence and thoughtfulness of a bunch of these players -- guard Uche Nwaneri, corners Rashean Mathis and Ashton Youboty, linebacker Paul Posluszny, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, quarterbacks Gabbert and Jordan Palmer. Good roster -- at least for media types.
Cecil Shorts, receiver/returner. The second-year player from Mount Union (alma mater of Pierre Garcon) is in line to either provide quality depth behind Justin Blackmon and Robinson or push one of them for an early-season starting job. He's already passed former star-in-the-making Mike Thomas on the depth chart. He has the speed and quickness to compete with NFL corners. Now he just has to get on the same page with Gabbert -- as all the wideouts do.
Laurent Robinson, receiver. Before free agency began, the Jags keyed in on two wideouts to fill a major need: Robinson and Pierre Garcon. (Wouldn't that have been amazing -- two Mount Union wideouts on the same NFL roster, playing at the same time in some formations?) Garcon decided to go to Washington, and Robinson signed for $7 million a year with Jacksonville. The Jags preferred Robinson's proven ability in the red zone, especially after he made so many big catches for Tony Romo and Dallas in and near the goal line last year. He looked good in the scrimmage Friday night -- but hasn't flashed daily at practice the way the Jags hoped he'd be doing.
Nice food; improved, in my memory, from my last visit. Had the grilled breast of chicken with the wild rice, with a small green salad (romaine, cherry tomato, cukes) with balsamic. Not a lot of ways you can screw up the grilled chicken unless you over- or under-cook it, but this one was just right. The wild rice complemented it nicely. Grade: B.
Get ready for some pressure early, Blaine Gabbert. Minnesota on the road and Houston at home lead off the season, followed by a Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis sandwich the next week at Indy. Gabbert also will have, on the road, Richard Seymour, Clay Matthews, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake. Yikes. He'd better handle crowd noise well.