Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 NFL Team Preview

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Athlon counts down to the kickoff of the 2012 NFL season with in-depth team previews for all 32 teams.

<p> Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Jacksonville Jaguars check in at No. 32.

Change came swiftly and decisively to Jacksonville in the past six months with a new owner (Shad Khan), a new head coach (Mike Mularkey) and what the Jaguars are hoping is a re-energized team that will look to improve last year’s 5–11 record and emerge as a playoff contender. The energy around the facility is different this year. Players can feel it on and off the field. Khan is improving the team’s facilities, from the practice field to the locker room to the weight room.

Above all, though, there’s a very clear understanding that winning is the only thing that will change the organization.

Offense

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Jaguars’ selection of Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick in the draft, fans erupted into a thunderous cheer at the team-sponsored draft party in Jacksonville. For the first time in years, the team’s first-round pick was met with virtually unanimous approval. In selecting Blackmon, a gifted 6'1", 215-pound wide receiver who caught 232 passes in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State, the Jaguars have given second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert some much-needed help.

The new offensive staff spent much of the offseason analyzing Gabbert, who struggled as a rookie. He completed barely over 50 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Coaches noticed errors in his footwork and saw a pocket presence that needed improvement. They believe that he will take a major step forward after having the benefit of a full offseason to work with his teammates and coaches.

If he doesn’t progress, the Jaguars are better prepared this year than they were in 2011. This year’s backup, Chad Henne, has extensive starting experience with the Miami Dolphins. Henne, a former second-round pick who spent four seasons with the Dolphins, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. His ailment was first called a separated shoulder, but the injury was more severe than originally thought. He’s healthy now and refreshed by his relocation from Miami to Jacksonville.

But last season’s passing offense, which produced 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, was as much about the Jaguars receivers as it was about their quarterback. Jacksonville took a very public stance about needing to upgrade that group, and their 2012 receiving corps will look completely different. Last year’s No. 1 receiver, Mike Thomas, likely will serve as the slot receiver this season. Free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in his only season with the Cowboys, will be the team’s top target, at least at the start. Blackmon will in time be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver, but the team will allow him to adjust to the NFL.

Maurice Jones-Drew, coming off his third straight season with at least 1,300 yards, will once again receive the majority of the carries. Jones-Drew’s 1,606 yards last season were the best single-season total in franchise history, and his average of 4.7 yards per carry was his best since his rookie season.

The changes in the coaching staff are expected to energize the offense as much as the new personnel. The Jaguars hired the formerly retired Jerry Sullivan, a widely respected receivers coach whom Larry Fitzgerald tried to lure to Arizona. Greg Olson will be the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach. Bob Bratkowski is the offensive coordinator. They’ll all work under the direction of the offensive-minded Mularkey. The only holdover from last year’s offensive staff is line coach Andy Heck.

Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Jaguars’ defense underwent a dramatic change from 2010 to ’11. Its task in 2012 is to sustain the excellence it showed last season.

Mularkey retained defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and gave him the title of assistant head coach. Most of Tucker’s staff returned as well, with the exception of defensive backs coaches Thom Kaumeyer and Cory Undlin.

The linebacking group returns intact, with starters Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Session back for their second season together. Session, however, missed seven games last season with a concussion that landed him on IR. He has been cleared to return after seeing a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. Backup Russell Allen signed a three-year deal, and the Jaguars added linebacker Brandon Marshall out of Nevada in the fifth round of the draft.

The defensive backs are a bit of a question mark. Both starting safeties, Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery, return, as does right corner Derek Cox. The Jaguars released nickel back Drew Coleman after only one season with the team. Coleman had a strong 2011 season but became the odd man out when the Jaguars signed Aaron Ross, a starter on the Super Bowl champion Giants. Ross will compete with Rashean Mathis, who is coming off a torn ACL, for the start at left corner. The loser of the competition will be the nickel back.

The Jaguars entered the draft looking to bolster their defensive line, with a specific need of adding a pass-rusher to help out starting end Jeremy Mincey. They added end Andre Branch in the second round and tackle Jeris Pendleton in the seventh. Another question mark is defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. He had eye surgery in early April and is expected to miss all of the offseason.

Specialists

A third-round pick became the subject of ridicule league-wide when the Jaguars took punter Bryan Anger. The jokes don’t bother Anger; he and his brother even shared a laugh over a story in The Onion that mocked the pick. Anger’s leg looked strong during the team’s rookie minicamp, but it’s still a stretch to use a pick that early on a punter.

The Jaguars franchised kicker Josh Scobee after he made 23-of-25 field goals last season, but Scobee did not sign the franchise tender and wants a long-term deal.

The return game wasn’t overly productive in 2011. Thomas will handle punts again after averaging 4.6 yards with a long of 28 yards. DuJuan Harris is the primary kickoff return specialist. He averaged 22.0 yards last season.

#f00">Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC South

The Jaguars season hinges on Gabbert’s development. He has more weapons this season, and he has 14 games of experience as a starter. It’s not quite make-or-break, but there will be pressure on the second-year pro to produce.

Even if Gabbert does take a step forward, the Jags will have a tough time returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The defense is solid and the offense figures to be better, but the Jags look like a team with a ceiling of about eight wins.

Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Jags Navy
New owner Shad Khan’s 223-foot yacht docked on the St. John’s river in downtown Jacksonville for several weeks after he bought the Jaguars. Khan and his family stayed on the yacht, rather than in a hotel. According to its website — yes the yacht has its own site — it has a crew of 17, including three stewardesses, a chef, a sous chef and a masseuse/beauty therapist. The yacht is for sale at an asking price of 85 million euro, or available for rent at $600,000 per week plus expenses.

Going for the Gold
Cornerback Aaron Ross, acquired in the offseason from the Giants, has been given permission by the Jags to miss some of training camp to attend the London Olympics, where his wife, Sanya Richards-Ross, is the favorite to win the 400 meters. Ross was not able to watch her run in the Beijing games in 2008.

Brain Trust
The Jaguars’ staff includes five current or former offensive coordinators: Running backs coach Sylvester Croom, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach Greg Olson, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and head coach Mike Mularkey, who came to Jacksonville after a stint as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

Turning a Corner
The Jaguars made a dramatic improvement in forcing turnovers last season, improving from 31st in the league to seventh in fumble recoveries and 23rd to 13th in interceptions.

MoJo Rising
Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jags’ first ever NFL rushing champion. Before he earned the distinction with 1,606 yards last season, the team hadn’t had a player finish in the top three in rushing.

MASH Unit
The Jaguars had an NFL-leading 25 players on injured reserve at the end of the season. They placed 31 players on the list, but six were released or given injury settlements.

Handy Comparison
Blaine Gabbert’s passer rating of 65.4 was the lowest among the four first-round rookie quarterbacks who played last season — Carolina’s Cam Newton, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder and Tennessee’s Jake Locker, who only played in five games. Both rookie first-round quarterbacks to play in 2010 — Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford — had higher passer ratings than Gabbert in his rookie year. In 2009, all three rookie first-round quarterbacks — Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman — had lower quarterback ratings than Gabbert did last season.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: Fri., July 20

Order your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow
Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

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