JACKSONVILLE (CBSMiami) – The Jacksonville Jaguars pretty much have only one way to go after another disappointing season last year. The Jags missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and 10th out of the last 12 years, and had a quarterback who looked scared throughout the season.
Last year, Jacksonville cut its starting quarterback just five days before the first game of the regular season. Then the team fired head coach Jack del Rio after a 3-8 start and on the same day, the team was sold to billionaire Shad Khan. All of it led to Jacksonville finishing with a 5-11 record.
During the offseason, the team brought in a coach to instill some discipline and order on the squad and rebuild an offense that was the worst in the league last year. New coach Mike Mularkey said it all starts with quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert’s rookie season saw him start 14 games and he played quite bad many times. He was scared in the pocket and misfired more than he connected. His quarterback rating was the worst in the league, even below Tim Tebow, while throwing for 2,214 yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and he was sacked 40 times.
Mularkey, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson spent the offseason breaking down every aspect of Gabbert’s game, tweaking his footwork, honing his mechanics and getting him more confident with the pass rush.
“We’re seeing quite a bit of improvement on a day-to-day basis with Blaine,” Bratkowski said. “Blaine is the most improved player that I see out here on offense.”
It helps that he has more talent around him.
The Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract in March and then selected fellow receiver Justin Blackmon with the fifth overall pick in April’s NFL draft.
The team also is counting on tight end Marcedes Lewis, who signed a $35 million contract after a breakout season in 2010, to return to form. Lewis had 39 receptions for 460 yards and no touchdowns last year, admittedly distracted by his child-custody case going on across the country in Los Angeles.
The offense probably would be even better if and when Jones-Drew returns.
Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards last season, but has stayed away from the team while seeking a new contract. The Jaguars insist they’re not going to renegotiate with a player who has two years remaining on a lucrative contract. The 27-year-old back already collected nearly $22 million in the first three years of his deal.
With Jones-Drew holding out, Rashad Jennings has looked every bit like a capable starter.
“From what I’ve seen on tape before I got here and what I’ve seen in person, I’d say we’ll be OK,” Mularkey said.
Jacksonville should be OK on defense, too.
The Jags return 10 of 11 starters on a unit that ranked sixth in the league in total defense. Second-round pick Andre Branch is expected to bolster a pass rush that tallied just 31 sacks in 2011, and former New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross should play a pivotal role in the secondary.
Mularkey will keep a watchful eye on all of them, as well as those seemingly minute details that could pay dividends.
“We want to look like a team that would like to win a championship,” Mularkey said. “And the way you do that is you do little things. Whether it’s stretch, line up your helmets right, doing jumping jacks together as a team, everything’s got to be (perfect).
“There’s 11 guys on that row. Why one helmet out of whack? You can’t have one out of sync anytime when you have 11 guys together.”