Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jaguars’ singular offensive weapon a season ago.
Opponents dared QB Blaine Gabbert to throw — and why wouldn’t they? — by loading up the box, and Jones-Drew still won the NFL rushing title, producing the best season by a back in franchise history.
A lot of good it did; the Jaguars won five games and fired their head coach during the season.
As one longtime Jags beat reporter recently told PFW: “If (backup RB Rashad) Jennings can gain 1,000 yards and Gabbert can throw for an extra 600 yards, you’ve accounted for Mojo’s production.”
In other words, is a five-win team from 2011 going to be that much worse without him? Unlikely.
Jennings (career average of 5.4 yards per carry) has been a bright spot all offseason. He is hungry — first and foremost he is entering a contract year, but Jennings also has a chip on his shoulder after being prematurely put on I.R. with a knee injury that didn’t require surgery a season ago. He is a bruising runner with big-play ability and terrific receiving skills.
Jennings is not Jones-Drew. But you will be surprised what a good imitation he can do this season. (Did you catch that, fantasy players?)
Gabbert has quickly become a whipping boy around the league for his struggles as a rookie. I’m not going to pile on; last season was last season and the horrendous coaching and lack of weapons around him have been well documented.
I’m in the minority that thinks Gabbert will be a good NFL QB. As difficult as he was to watch last season, not once was his confidence shaken. Not once did he pass the buck when it would have been easy to do so. GM Gene Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey assembled a talented support group for Gabbert this offseason, one that didn’t exist for him as a rookie.
Back to Jones-Drew, whose rugged, fearless style of play is what makes him so effective, and is also the reason he is so intent on maximizing his value. But his current deal — which has two years remaining — is fair; not that far off the contracts Arian Foster and Ray Rice just received, but not as inflated as the deals given to Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, both of which the Titans and Vikings likely regret.
The fact remains that the Jaguars extended Mojo when he was still under contract in 2009, taking a leap of faith on a player who had never been a full-time starter. Jones-Drew has been terrific — and then some — but no one held a gun to his head. He opted for a front-loaded deal and more immediate security, and his agent didn’t demand escalator clauses on the back end. How is that the team’s fault?
The Jaguars have been ripped consistently this offseason, from drafting a punter in Round Three, to their top pick getting a DUI weeks after the draft, to the (absurd) speculation that Gabbert won’t improve because the offense has started slowly in training camp.
Well, on this issue, the Jaguars should be commended. With a new owner and head coach ushering in a new era, the organization is sending a strong (and correct) message: It won’t be pushed around, nor will it cave to unreasonable demands from its players — even if they’re the most talented and recognizable on the team.