The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2012 season with renewed optimism under a new owner and a new head coach.
What resulted was the worst season in franchise history. The Jaguars went 2-14, missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season. That resulted in the firing of general manager Gene Smith.
Coach Mike Mularkey has been retained for now, with his status likely to be determined by Smith’s replacement.
Owner Shad Khan took control of the Jaguars last January, and decided to hold off on major managerial decisions. A year later, Khan is deciding who will run the football operations.
He seems to be leaning toward a young executive who has worked for a successful franchise. The early candidates include Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel David Caldwell, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble and Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel Steve Keim.
But that’s looking forward. For now, let’s look at the Jaguars’ disappointing 2012 season, when they led the league with 22 players on injured reserve.
Not much to talk about here when you consider leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew missed the final 10 games with a foot injury, second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert was placed on injured reserve after suffering a right forearm injury in Week 10, and receiver Laurent Robinson suffered three concussions before landing on IR.
The most positive offensive news was the Jaguars might have developed a pair of talented young receivers. Cecil Shorts III (55 catches, 979 yards, 7 touchdowns in his second season) and rookie Justin Blackmon (64-865-5) made Jacksonville one of six teams with two receivers with at least 865 yards.
Blackmon, the fifth pick overall in April draft, held out during training camp and struggled through the first nine games. He then had at least five catches in six of the last seven games.
Chad Henne excelled for a couple of games as Gabbert’s replacement, but the former Miami Dolphins starter failed to maintain the production. Then again, lack of a running game would challenge most quarterbacks.
The Jaguars finished 29th in overall offense, (21st passing, 30th rushing). Running backs Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings, Montell Owens and Jalen Parmele all started games and all missed time due to injuries. Jones-Drew was the team’s leading rusher (414 yards) despite getting injured on the first play of the sixth game in Oakland. He also had the lone 100-yard rushing performance with 177 yards at Indianapolis.
As mentioned, Gabbert and Henne were saddled with a poor running attack. Still, neither showed they should be the clear-cut choice to be Jacksonville’s starting quarterback next season.
Gabbert and Henne were sacked 50 times, the Jags’ highest total since 2001 and third highest in the league.
The Jaguars were 31st in third-down efficiency (64 for 216, 29.6 percent).
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny led the team with 139 tackles, the fifth year in a row he has made at least 100 tackles.
Outside linebacker Russell Allen was next with 131 tackles.
Cornerback Derek Cox registered four interceptions despite missing four games.
Linebacker Russell Allen stepped in admirably after injuries to Daryl Smith and Clint Session. Safety Chris Prosinski contributed when he started five games for Dwight Lowery.
Jacksonville’s 4-3 defense was 30th in overall defense giving up 38,0.5 yards per game. Like the Jags’ offense, the unit had problems with the run (30th) and was slightly better vs. the pass (22nd).
The rush defense set team marks for futility — surrendering 2,256 yards (surpassing 2,071 in 2002) on 545 attempts (504 in 1995) and giving up 19 touchdowns (tied with 2010).
The Jaguars finished last in the league with 20 sacks, five behind Oakland. They went three straight weeks (Weeks 2-4) without a sack.
The Jaguars were 28th in third-down situations, as opponents converted 89 of 215 (41.4 percent).
Don’t be surprised if Jacksonville goes to a 3-4 next season.
Josh Scobee made 25 of 28 field-goal tries and 18 of 19 point-after attempts.
Punter Bryan Anger’s 47.8-yard gross average was sixth overall and his 40.8 net average was seventh.
The coverage and return teams were brutal. Jacksonville finished 28th in both punt/kickoff coverage, 29th in punt returns and 27th in kickoff returns.
Blackmon (1st round), Anger (3rd) and Mike Harris (6th) all made major contributions.
Former GM Smith was criticized for selecting a punter in the third round, but at least Anger proved he was the real deal. Besides setting NFL rookie records for gross average yards per punt and net average yards per punt, Anger finished sixth in the league with 31 punts inside the 20.
Harris started at cornerback in six of the final seven games after injuries affected the secondary. He also performed on special teams, with a blocked a punt that he returned for a touchdown.
Unrestricted Free Agents: OT Eben Britton, CB Derek Cox, RB Rashad Jennings, FB Greg Jones, DL Terrance Knighton, CB Rashean Mathis, C Brad Meester, CB William Middleton, CB Antwaun Molden, QB Jordan Palmer, RB Jalen Parmele, LB Daryl Smith, G Steve Vallos.
Restricted Free Agents: FB Brock Bolen, LB Kyle Bosworth,C John Estes, TE Zach Potter, DL George Selvie.
Knighton is among the best run-stoppers in the league. Smith had a solid 2011 at outside linebacker, but was hampered by a groin injury this season. Cox has allowed completions against him less than 50 percent of the time.
Only four teams have a longer playoff drought — Buffalo (13 years), Oakland (10), Cleveland (10) and St. Louis (8). Tampa Bay joins Jacksonville in missing the playoffs the past five years.
The new general manager will have plenty of work to do in a relatively short time. He must decide on Mularkey’s future, oversee draft preparation, and look to acquire players through trade and free agency.
Recent rumors of Tim Tebow heading to Jacksonville seemed to make sense for both sides, but the new GM must decide if Tebow’s presence would enhance the team or be more of a publicity stunt. They certainly don’t need the latter.
Khan has the money and desire to make Jacksonville a winner. We’ll see if his GM selection proves to be a smart one.