Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:
One thing I'm certain of: Mike Mularkey and his staff will provide more consistent leadership than Jack Del Rio and his staff did -- especially at the end. While Del Rio liked to ride waves, Mularkey will be level and measured in a way that lines up with general manager Gene Smith better. Del Rio had people who everyone regarded as his guys -- in the locker room and even in the staff.
Mularkey is far more likely to not play favorites, to reward production and to privately reprimand guys who may not be doing things the way he wants them done. I think players will be more likely to rally around this coach as they see him avoiding the types of things that were sometimes interpreted as JDR throwing people under the bus.
One thing that might happen: Maurice Jones-Drew could be ready for a prolonged holdout. That’s what his old backfield mate, Fred Taylor, has predicted. Mularkey said this week he doesn’t know whether the Jaguars’ star player and the NFL’s leading rusher from 2011 will show up for camp.
Though he has two years left on his current deal, he feels his production last season warrants more. I can understand his position, because when he finishes this contract the team will be much more wary of his age and wear and tear. But the team is not unreasonable to steer clear of setting such a precedent, and running backs aren’t so valuable these days. Jacksonville was 5-11 with him, and I’d expect it could do the same without him. Hopefully things are resolved quickly. In the meantime we’ll get a better sense of backup Rashad Jennings, who missed last year due to injuries. I think he can run effectively.
One thing we won't see: Chad Henne in line to start at quarterback. Maybe they end up there at some point. But the Jaguars are taking the long view with Blaine Gabbert, and one season in which the team was sold, the coach was fired, the receivers were terrible and the protection was sometimes shaky was hardly enough to make a judgment on the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft.
The Jaguars feel Henne gives them a better backup situation. But they don’t head into camp with a sense that Henne will wind up running the huddle. It’s Gabbert’s job. Mularkey, coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterback coach Greg Olson were hired to effectively build Gabbert into the quarterback the team envisioned when it drafted him. Their offense and teaching methods will be geared at maximizing his chances at success.