Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Jaguars in 2012.
Dream scenario (10-6): Mike Mularkey’s offensive scheme does for Blaine Gabbert what it did early on for Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Gabbert silences his stable of critics, playing with newfound poise and confidence and finding himself in situations in which he’s comfortable and can show off the arm that was a big reason he was a top 10 pick.
The second-year quarterback is well-protected as he works his way through progressions and spreads the ball around to a much-improved receiving corps headed by Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon. With the passing offense faring far better, Maurice Jones-Drew's hammer hits even harder because his carries are less predictable.
Defensively, the team is healthy all season long in karmic payback for last year’s slew of injuries.
Defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton put it all together, with middle linebacker Paul Posluszny playing great behind them, and no one can even ponder running up the middle against the Jaguars. Rookie second-rounder Andre Branch provides a serious boost to the pass rush, and the linebackers get involved in pressuring the quarterback. When they don’t get a sufficient push, the coverage holds up.
And rookie punter Bryan Anger regularly hits bombs and pins teams deep, semi-justifying his third-round draft status.
Mularkey wins coach of the year as the Jaguars qualify for the playoffs.
Nightmare scenario (4-12): New coaches, a new system and new receivers don’t make for a new Gabbert, and he struggles in his second season much as he did as a rookie. A rough start means the fan base calls for backup Chad Henne, and Mularkey finds himself in a tough spot with a quick quarterback controversy.
Henne eventually gets the call but doesn’t play much better, so the team is over-reliant on the run game. The defense, meanwhile, can’t overcome the lack of a pass rush. It gives up too many passing yards and too many big plays because quarterbacks have time to wait for targets to break open. Then the Jaguars begin to blitz more to amp things up but pay a price by giving up big plays out of high-risk, high-reward situations.
Owner Shahid Khan, used to life as a businessman who wins, says or does something controversial that makes things even messier. The Jaguars actually finish a game worse than they did in Jack Del Rio’s final season, leaving Denver’s defensive coordinator shrugging and people removing some responsibility for 2011 from him.