With the Jacksonville Jaguars committing to play a regular season game in the UK for four years from 2013-2016, British fans will certainly have one eye on Mike Mularkey’s men during the 2012 campaign.
And here are 10 Jaguars worth monitoring as the coming season unfolds and they look to build on their five wins from a year ago...
Blaine Gabbert – Quarterback – 2nd season
The second-year passer is impressive to look at when he stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 233 pounds. He also possesses a cannon for an arm. That’s the good news. The bad news is that no quarterback looked more skittish and unable to handle pressure than Gabbert in 2011. With much-improved targets around him and a strong preseason under his belt, the Jags are expecting their sophomore passer to take significant leaps forward in 2012.
Maurice Jones-Drew – Running Back – 7th season
The Pro Bowl rusher is currently embroiled in a contract row with the Jaguars but he remains vital to the club’s success this season. Faced with eight or nine defenders regularly keying on him in 2011, the super-tough Jones-Drew still managed to pound his way to a league-leading 1,606 yards. The number of true franchise running backs in the NFL is in decline but MJD is still very much one of a dying breed and the focal point of the Jacksonville attack.
Laurent Robinson – Wide Receiver – 6th season
Robinson will be called upon to ignite a passing game that was the league’s worst in 2011. He comes to Jacksonville with pressure to produce after signing a $32.5 million contract following an outstanding year with the Dallas Cowboys. Robinson caught 11 touchdown passes in Texas last term and is a dangerous weapon when healthy. Of course, health is an issue given that he has missed 27 games over the past four years.
Justin Blackmon – Wide Receiver – Rookie
Needing to add some punch to their passing attack, the Jaguars were aggressive in April’s NFL Draft, moving up to grab Blackmon with the fifth overall pick. Despite spending some of the off-season in Mularkey’s doghouse, the rookie is an exciting prospect with a world of Pro Bowl potential. Physical enough to get off the line of scrimmage and fast enough to leave defenders trailing in his wake, Blackmon could be just what Gabbert needs in the passing game.
Marcedes Lewis – Tight End – 7th season
After scoring 10 touchdowns in 2010, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Lewis failed to find the end zone last season. He has all the talent in the world but did have a case of the dropsies last year. If motivated and part of an improved attack, look for Lewis to re-establish himself as one of the better tight ends in the league. The physical tools are there if the consistency can be found.
Jeremy Mincey – Defensive End – 6th season
Mincey may not be known too widely outside of Jacksonville but he could be on the verge of a breakout season. The workhorse defensive lineman played on 94% of snaps for the Jaguars last year (according to ProFootballFocus.com) and recorded 8 sacks. Explosive and relentless in the passing game, Mincey has also proven himself to be a stout defender against the run.
Tyson Alualu – Defensive Tackle – 3rd season
Injuries have hampered the progress of Jacksonville’s first round draft pick from the 2010 season but he has been speaking confidently about a breakout season in 2012. Alualu underwent a knee operation in the off-season and enters 2012 with a clean bill of health. He made a promising start to his NFL career and will hope to get back on track when the new campaign begins in September.
Daryl Smith – Outside Linebacker – 9th season
While he may be under-rated when looked at in wider league terms, Smith is a star in Jacksonville and a mainstay of a pretty decent defensive unit. Smith recorded 166 tackles in 2011 and, once again, proved he can be strong against the run while also remaining reliable in pass coverage. He can also blitz effectively when called upon to do so and is a steadying presence for the Jags.
Paul Posluszny - Middle Linebacker – 6th season
After moving over from Buffalo ahead of the 2011 campaign, Posluszny made an instant impact in Jacksonville as he led the team with 192 tackles. Posluszny has been outstanding when healthy and that has been the issue during his career. He missed some time in Buffalo and also sat out the season finale in Jacksonville last term with a shoulder injury that required an operation. The undisputed leader of the defense.
Josh Scobee – Kicker – 9th season
The Jaguars showed how much they value their strong-legged kicker when they slapped the franchise tag on him during the off-season before committing to a new $14 million contract. Scobee was as accurate as they came during the 2011 campaign as he successfully converted 23 of 25 field goal attempts.