COMMENTARY | It's that time of the year again.
This is the time of the year when people start to realize the football season is upon us, while having an optimistic outlook for their respective teams. This is the time of the year where pundits break down and analyze every team, while concocting predictions that will please some and anger most. Some of the predictions people make are obvious, while some raise some eyebrows.
Here's an eyebrow-raiser for you: The Jacksonville Jaguars will be better than most people expect in 2013.
Many predict doom and gloom for the "lowly" Jaguars this year. But let's be honest -- many predict that every year. Many predicted that back in 2007 before they made the playoffs, went into the Pittsburgh cold and beat the Steelers. The Jaguars are a team people expect to do bad every year.
As of late, these predictions hold water. The team has not been relevant in terms of winning games in years. The team went through a rebuilding phase in 2008, only to lose more games, fire its coach and GM, and begin another rebuilding phase in 2013. It has been a rough last few years for Jaguars fans.
So why would anybody in their right mind think the Jaguars can actually win a handful of games this year? It is a legitimate question.
For one, you have to look at what they have done this offseason. As mentioned, the Gene Smith/Mike Mularkey era failed miserably. In turn, owner Shahid Khan hired young Dave Caldwell as the team's new general manager after seeing how Caldwell helped lift the Atlanta Falcons from the bottom of the league to one of the elite. Khan also hired Gus Bradley as the team's new head coach after seeing Bradley help turn Seattle's defense into one of the most feared in the league. This is a move that will pay dividends.
Bradley is the type of coach that truly loves what he does and players love playing for him -- including a player the team has recently released. Bradley is a guy that naturally has a fiery mentality. He is a great motivational speaker who can make anybody want to get up off the coach and go run a mile. He also has a history of getting the most out of his young players. He helped groom guys like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman into the players they are today.
By season's end, Bradley may very well be the face of this franchise, which is not a jab at the Jaguars' roster.
To say the Jaguars are a young team would be an understatement; they are a very young team. However, the Indianapolis Colts were a young team last year. The Miami Dolphins were a young team in 2008. Both of those teams made the playoffs, with the latter team lacking a franchise quarterback.
The NFL is a very unpredictable league. Every year, there are a couple of teams that shock the world and improve dramatically. The Jaguars could very well be that team this year.
Let's be clear, though: "Improve dramatically" does not necessarily mean "make the playoffs." Odds are the Jaguars probably won't do that this year. But coming off a two-win season, the worst season in franchise history, many are expecting the Jaguars to bottom out and garner the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft.
Let us take a moment and look at the Jaguars' roster.
On offense, the Jaguars have some pieces, led by running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a player who has made a handful of Pro Bowl appearances and is just two years removed from a rushing title. When healthy, which he now is, he is one of the most feared backs in the league.
At receiver, the Jaguars are set. Cecil Shorts III had a breakout season last year, hauling in nearly 1,000 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon also had a big year, arguably the best rookie receiver in the league last year. They also drafted shifty receiver Ace Sanders out of South Carolina to be the slot guy of the future, along with holding down punt return responsibilities.
Let's not forget "Offensive Weapon" Denard Robinson, who was big time in college. He is the epitome of the word "playmaker" and is bound to make a few eye-popping plays throughout the season, at multiple different positions. You cannot teach the pure talent that this kid possesses.
The Jaguars also have arguably the best pair of offensive tackles in the league (though you could make a case for Kansas City and St. Louis here) in Eugene Monroe and prized rookie Luke Joeckel who will man the left and right side of the line, respectively.
So, on paper, the Jaguars' offense is actually not bad at all -- maybe even underrated. Regardless of who the quarterback may be, the offense will make some plays this season.
On defense, the team is even younger. However, with Gus Bradley ultimately being the one who overlooks the defense, he will expect plays to be made, regardless of experience. Bradley is incorporating a similar defense in Jacksonville that he ran in Seattle, notably including a position called the "LEO," which is essentially an extra standing rusher on the outside, typically lining up at the 7-technique or the 9-technique. Jason Babin has been dubbed the team's LEO, though they may have another one in second-year player Andre Branch, who is a gifted rusher when used properly.
The team has talent on the defensive side, albeit raw talent. Given Bradley's history of blossoming young defensive players into studs, people should not worry too much about their youth.
Overall, the Jaguars do not have the worst roster in the league, contrary to what most talking heads want you to believe. After the season they had last year, expect this young defense to be marginally better than the atrocity that was the 2012 Jaguars defense, and the healthy offense to rank in the top half of the league, statistically. This is a team that will play every down of every game with everything it has; Bradley will be sure of it. It would not be surprising to see this team win anywhere from 6-8 games this season, putting it in the middle of the pack in terms of NFL teams, which is a dramatic improvement from last year.
Jaguars fans should have reason to be optimistic. The team is in good hands and can only get better from here. Do not write this team off in 2013. Any given Sunday.
Matt Gonzales is a Jacksonville native who has been following the Jaguars for the last decade. He graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in Journalism and is a contributing freelance writer for both Yahoo! Sports and Cover32.com.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattgonzales25.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Gus Bradley