The one thing I love about being a sports writer is the chance to voice my opinion.
And as some of you know, that opinion can stir the pot a bit at times. When it comes to the Jaguars, I try to be as fair as possible.
Sometimes, that is not easily done.
After watching weeks of practice and listening to Gus Bradley and coach speak and hearing local and national pundits, I have come to the conclusion that this could be a decent team that has a few more wins than last season, but because of a brutal schedule to start the year and a trip to London that could make or break this team’s success, there could also be little to cheer about.
The second half of the season will tell us a lot more than the first. As long as the players who make the 53-man roster “do their job,” I think we will like the production on the field, if not the score at the end of each game. For me, that is a tough pill to swallow.
But this blog is not about things that shall go wrong for this team, rather about what shall go right. If the Kansas City Chiefs can have five Pro Bowl players on a team that won two games last year than the Jaguars have the chance to be just as successful this season. I will stand by a thought of six wins this year, and along with it some bold predictions for personal achievement.
Eugene Monroe makes the Pro Bowl
He was the first draft pick of the ill-fated Gene Smith era and right now, he is the best selection of the lot. Monroe has grown and developed into one of the better tackles in this game. In his final year of his contract, Monroe will finally be recognized for his play. The fact he has a rookie stud on the other side who may eventually take his job might be all the motivation he needs.
Note to Dave Caldwell: sign this kid to a long-term deal.
Cecil Shorts - Big on talent
Shorts will again be the instrumental leader of the receiving corps. With Justin Blackmon out the first quarter of the season, look for shorts to catch everything thrown his way. I don’t think it is unthinkable for the Mount Union product to have 30 catches by the time Blackmon returns. It also would not surprise me for Shorts to have 90 catches and 1,300 yards receiving this season. Blackmon may score more touchdowns, but Shorts will be the more dependable pass catcher.
Sen’Derrick Marks makes his mark in Jacksonville
I always liked his play, even in college. Marks has been a great find for this team from the Titans in the offseason and his efforts should continue throughout the season. His ability and speed through the middle of the line will be the best the team has had since the days of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. This will also allow defensive ends like Jeremy Mincey and Tyson Alualu to play at their full potential.
Best rookie class in football
The team will start its first three draft picks on opening day. Luke Joeckel will be at right tackle. Jonathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz will hold fort in the secondary. We will see plenty of Ace Sanders in the slot and on kick returns.
Denard Robinson will spell MJD and provide a change of pace in the backfield. To say the rookies won’t make an impact on this team this season would be a lie. And in their own way, each (if all eight are kept on the roster) will have their own blueprint on this team. That will be great moving forward in three seasons, but there will be some growing pains, nonetheless.
Gabbert may not start the season behind center, but…
He will finish it and hopefully finish strong. There is a maturity about Gabbert I see this year over last. Some quarterbacks take longer to develop than others. Gabbert knows his time is “NOW” and he must produce.
Last season he did not have the talent around him. This year, he does. If Gabbert cannot get it done with MJD back in tow, two good receivers, two rookies with speed and a tight end who wants the ball in the red zone, then this might be his last hurrah.
I am predicting 3,800 yards, 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for the season from the third-year pro.