Q: Media people have been floating the idea that MJD’s hold-out helped Jacksonville because with him gone it allowed Blaine Gabbert to become the true leader of the team. What’s your feeling about that idea and do you think Gabbert can take the next step this year?
A: I think that Gabbert made that jump on his own and would have whether MJD was there or not. It appears that Jones-Drew is learning the offense now and Gabbert is helping him with that. MJD seems to be impressed by his development, and I think we all have been thus far. If we’re measuring Gabbert this year I think the most obvious growth will come from his control over the offense and he has displayed that through the preseason. He looks ready to compete and far less lost than he did last year.
Q: Justin Blackmon. How did he look in preseason and do you think he can live up to his draft position?
A: Justin Blackmon is a star. Hands down the best receiver on the team and possibly one of the best in the AFC. He’ll take some time to adjust so don’t expect Megatron numbers in his rookie season, but the guy snatches the ball out of the air, outmuscles defenders, and he makes plays after the ball is in his hands. After the second preseason game it became obvious that Gabbert likes to target him, expect big things – he was well worth trading up for.
Q: The Jags quietly had a very strong defense last year. How do you think they’ll do this year?
A: I think the Jags defense will be more mediocre than last year. The secondary needs to get healthy and the linebackers need to cover better. There has been an almost fanatical focus on improving the pass rush the last few years and I fear that things may have been overlooked in that search. If CB Derek Cox gets back from his hamstring injury things may come back together, but we need to see that first. It’ll be a slow start for the D, but maybe that improved pass rush will do more work than anticipated. It all starts with our rookie DE Andre Branch up against first rounder Matt Kalil.
Q: What do you think about Mike Mularkey so far. He’s made some waves with some of his moves, like donating money every time a player doesn’t celebrate.
A: When Mularkey was hired it was the quiet hiring that didn’t stoke too much fire. Some in the media wanted a big splash, someone like Jim Harbaugh. The Jags went with Mularkey and ever since camp started the positive talk from players and the atmosphere around the organization has changed. His biggest thing (I think) is explaining to players his rationale for what he’s doing and making sure they understand it. It’s a big departure from the Jack Del Rio era. He respects players, expects respect, and he expects professionalism. I’m a big fan.
Q: What are your expectations for 2012. Can this team improve after a rough season or are they in for another sub-.500 campaign?
A: I think that reaching .500 isn’t impossible for the Jags. Drawing the NFC North and the AFC East is tough, but I think there are a few winnable games. I think the Colts are overestimated by a lot of team (Andrew Luck doesn’t guarantee a winning season) and I think the Jags will be more competitive in the division. 7-9 seems to be realistic optimism, but we’ll see.