The Jacksonville Jaguars usher in a new era this year. After a disastrous first season as owner of the team, Shad Khan made some big changes, firing both the coach and the general manager while giving the team a new logo and uniforms.
Entering the offseason with one of the worst rosters in the league, the Jaguars will gauge success in the 2013 season differently than most teams. After a 2-14 record in 2012 and an offseason of roster turnover, the Jaguars' focus in 2013 will be on developing young talent and building a roster capable of contending in the AFC South.
Drastic improvement will be needed in a number of critical areas for the Jaguars to make strides in 2013. The building process will take time and won't be easy, but Khan seems to finally have the franchise heading in the right direction.
3 steps to success
1. Improvement at quarterback
Quarterback is the most important position on the field and it just so happens to be the biggest weakness on the Jaguars' roster. General manager Dave Caldwell elected to not address the position in free agency or the draft and instead brought in Arizona's Matt Scott and Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers as undrafted free agents to compete with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.
Gabbert hasn't developed the way Gene Smith expected when he drafted him, and the former GM is unemployed as a result. Meanwhile, Henne is what he is at this point in his career: a mid-level spot starter.
Good news for Gabbert should come from an improved supporting cast. Speed has been added across the board on offense, and first round pick Luke Joeckel should see to it that Gabbert isn't on his back as often as he was in 2012. Even marginal improvement from Gabbert would help the Jaguars.
2. Get after the quarterback
The Jaguars have been trying to improve their pass rush for years, and nothing has worked yet. The combination of a new scheme and development from some of the young talent could help move the needle in 2013. Gus Bradley's defenses in Seattle got after the quarterback largely due to the utilization of a "LEO" linebacker. Can Bradley find his LEO this season? Jason Babin and Andre Branch are the two early candidates, but Bradley is going to have to get creative if he hopes to get to opposing quarterbacks.
3. "Get Better"
It sounds simple, but that's the mantra Bradley has been preaching this offseason. Too often, young teams get ahead of themselves and start thinking about the big picture. That's what doomed the Jaguars a season ago. When things starting going poorly, the team unraveled. If Bradley can get the team to buy into his message and develop the young talent Caldwell has started to accumulate, the Jaguars should take a step forward. There is nowhere to go but up, right?
3 feats toward failure
1. Gabbert stagnates
If we've seen the best we're going to see from Gabbert, the Jaguars are in trouble. However, that may not be such a bad thing. Part of the 2013 season will be figuring out exactly what the Jaguars have in Gabbert so that they can develop a plan at the position moving forward. Khan isn't expecting this thing to be built in a day, so Caldwell will have a bit of leeway. While another terrible season from Gabbert wouldn't help the Jaguars toward success, it would at least give them a bit of closure.
2. Lack of creativity on offense
The Jaguars have been doomed in recent years by a lack of creativity on offense. It became pretty obvious that the team would be running the ball on most first downs and the coaching staff rarely let it all hang out. That didn't do Gabbert any favors in his first two seasons in the league. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch should be a breath of fresh air in that regard. In a season that will be focused more on the development of talent than it will on the wins and losses, Fisch has to give the young players a chance to have some responsibility.
This could be said about every team, but the Jaguars have a few players whose injuries could affect their longevity. Former first-round pick Tyson Alualu has a knee issue that has significantly impacted his game, while Cecil Shorts III dealt with concussions a year ago. Injuries are unavoidable and often the product of luck, but with the lack of talent on Jacksonville's roster, they can't afford any bad mojo in that area.
The Jaguars' rebuilding plan is a multi-year project. Dreams of the playoffs are at least a year away, and the roster still needs a significant amount of talent in order to be competitive. But if the new leadership in place manages to get the team to look beyond the record and starts to develop what talent is on the roster, the Jaguars will have had a successful season.
There is a better chance that the Jaguars will be back picking in the top 10 than there is that they will make the playoffs, but regardless of the results, 2013 can be a positive season for the Jaguars. A bad record is one thing, but to do it in the way the Jaguars have in recent years sets the team back. It's time for the Jaguars to start moving forward.