2013 Jacksonville Jaguars position battles
JUL 17, 2013 10:56a ET
That being said, battles in training camp for starting jobs on a team which won only two games a year ago won't be widespread. The uncertainty over the health of running back Maurice Jones-Drew and the unavailability of wide receiver Justin Blackmon for the first four regular-season games have added a level of intrigue, but for the most part, the drama will likely be kept to a minimum.
Still, the competition is expected to be keenest at the position that matters most of all.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne
Bradley, Caldwell and new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch need to figure out before the season opens Sept. 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs whether Gabbert, a 2011 first-round pick by former general manager Gene Smith, fits in the Jaguars' long-range plans.
How comfortable is he going to be in offense based around a quarterback's ability to change plays at the line? And how much more accurate can he expect to be on the move coming off a season where he ranked only 30th among players at his position before suffering an injury to his non-passing shoulder?
Gabbert's athleticism has seldom been questioned. It's his poise and toughness, or lack thereof, that have made him a target for pass rushers and critics alike. An offensive line which has largely been patchwork in nature hasn't helped his cause, but the addition of tackle Luke Joeckel with the second pick in the draft ought to reduce the number of poundings taken by Gabbert.
The decision by the Jaguars not to pursue Alex Smith or any number of former starting quarterbacks on the market during the offseason could be viewed as a vote of confidence in Henne as much as one in Gabbert. Former coach Mike Mularkey came out last month and said if given the choice, he would start Henne. As of now, that opinion carries no weight with Bradley, who appears at ease deferring to Fisch on most quarterback matters.
The Jaguars added Mike Kafka, recently a member of the New England Patriots, to their roster toward the end of minicamp. Kafka and rookie free agents Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers give them more depth at the position than might be necessary.
"Leo" defensive end
Jason Babin vs. Andre Branch
The defense brought over by Bradley from his years with the Seattle Seahawks includes a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker whose primary role is to rush the passer. That could be the most significant change to a defense that ranked last in the NFL in sacks in 2012.
The 33-year-old Babin made the Pro Bowl while with the Philadelphia Eagles in a similar fashion. Branch, 23, was a second-round pick a year ago out of Clemson, which also often lined him up wide with his hand to the ground. It's unclear why Branch's production as a rookie was negligible, so a change in coaches on the defensive side could be just the kick in the pants he needs.
While much has been made of the shifting of 2010 first-rounder Tyson Alualu from tackle to end, this is not the position where he'll be competing for a starting role. He is being entrusted with stopping the run.
Russell Allen vs. Julian Stanford
Veteran Paul Posluszny is a lock to start in the middle, and free agent pickup Geno Hayes is the clear leader at the strong side. That leaves Allen and Stanford to fight it out for the remaining spot in the 4-3 alignment.
Allen started all 16 games last season and has yet to miss a game in four seasons with the Jaguars. Stanford went undrafted, like Allen, but overcame that to create an impact on both defense and special teams. He made six starts and remains very much a part of the team's plans moving forward.
Stanford has more speed than Allen and could even push Hayes for a starting role. But Hayes played for new defensive coordinator Bob Babich in Chicago last season and was with Tampa Bay when Bradley served as the Bucs' linebackers coach, so he is a known quantity with them.
Alan Ball vs. Mike Harris
It will most likely come down to one of these two veterans starting opposite a rookie, third-round draft pick Dwayne Gratz.
Ball, 28, spent last season with the Houston Texans and is the type of physical cornerback the Jaguars need in Bradley's emphasis on press coverage. He's hardly the sort of high-profile pickup the Bucs made with Darrelle Revis, however, and that's reflected in his modest career interception totals.
Injuries to Derek Cox and Aaron Ross, both of whom are no longer with the Jaguars, opened the way last season for Harris, a sixth-round selection out of Florida State. If he doesn't beat out Ball, it's not hard to imagine Harris being used in nickel situations.
You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at email@example.com.
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