By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) When I think about Shahid Khan’s path to becoming an owner of an NFL franchise, I can’t help but think of an episode of the Simpsons.
Homer lands a cushy new job at Globex, develops a trusting rapport with an easy-going boss, and reveals that his lifelong dream is to own the Dallas Cowboys. Some twists to the plot ensue and once normalcy is returned, Homer gets a telegram thanking him for his loyalty, and is rewarded with his lifelong dream. Sort of. Instead of finding the Cowboys on his front lawn, Homer is disappointed to see the Denver Broncos.
Khan’s bid in 2010 to own the St. Louis Rams was rebuffed when Stan Kroenke matched it and retained 60 percent ownership. In 2011, Khan’s persistence paid off and his dream of owning an NFL franchise was realized. Sort of. I picture Khan having a reaction similar to that of Homer’s: “Aw, the Jacksonville Jaguars?!”
Instead of wiping the slate clean, Khan opted to retain general manager Gene Smith. On the day Smith was promoted to general manager in 2009, he said he had a “base-hit” approach to drafting. Given the fact that the Jaguars have drafted in the top 10 every year Smith has been in charge, I’m not sure how many men they have on base. Top-to-bottom, the Jaguars have one of the least talented rosters in the NFL.
Smith went on to hire Mike Mularkey as the head coach, who won’t excite Jaguars fans the way Tom Coughlin did at the franchise’s inception. Mularkey’s previous head coaching experience in Buffalo ended abruptly with a resignation citing “philosophical differences” with the front office.
Mularkey went on to coordinate offenses in Miami and Atlanta. During his most recent run in Atlanta, he helped develop Matt Ryan, which is certainly what the Jaguars are hoping he can do with their franchise quarterback.
In 2011, the Jaguars drafted quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall selection. Seeing the success that quarterbacks taken after Gabbert – Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton – have had, this is trending towards yet another missed picked by Smith. Gabbert’s rookie season was nothing short of atrocious. Yes, he was operating behind a leaky offensive line and throwing to a bunch of nobodies, but he showed poor mechanics, slow feet, and no poise in the pocket.
This offseason, the Jaguars made a concerted effort to improve the talent level at wide receiver. They spent their first-round pick on Justin Blackmon, an uber-talented yet mercurial wide receiver from Oklahoma State, and signed (and overpaid) free-agent Laurent Robinson, who has suffered three concussions since training camp.
If Gabbert is in fact the future of the franchise, he needs a go-to guy, so drafting Blackmon was a no brainer. Blackmon has an exceptional speed to size ratio, so if he learns the nuances of the NFL, he could become a coverage-dictating receiver.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski likes to run option routes with his receivers to adjust to coverage. At times, the Jaguars seem to be trying to force feed Blackmon the ball, but it’s not working, as he’s caught only 10 passes for 79 yards despite being targeted 25 times.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s protracted contract holdout dominated the headlines in Jacksonville. It ended exactly as expected with Jones-Drew reporting 38 days late and playing under the same contract. Kudos to the the Jaguars for not caving in this situation, as Jones-Drew had no leverage and in the end he lost $800K. Even though Jones-Drew may not be business savvy off the field, he is a dynamic playmaker on the field, and remains the centerpiece of the Jaguars attack.
The Jaguars issues start up front. Other than Eugene Monroe – eighth overall selection in 2009 – the line has been a turnstyle. Eben Britton was selected in the 2nd round of 2009, but has been a colossal bust. Britton was kicked inside to guard, where he is still overmatched, and was benched at halftime last weekend against the Bengals.
Tackle Cameron Bradfield returned from injury, but provided no relief, as Gabbert was sacked six times on Sunday. Shuffling a deck of non-face cards heading into a matchup with the Bears relentless pass rush is a recipe for disaster.
The Jaguars simply don’t have the talent on offense to compete. What’s especially troubling is the same questions the Jaguars faced when Smith took over in 2009 remain unanswered. The passing attack is still anemic, ranking 31st in the league, and Jones-Drew faces constant eight-man fronts as a result.
Defensively, the Jaguars have taken a step back in 2012. Prior to the 2011 season, Smith made a few under-the-radar moves that paid off, vaulting the Jaguars from 28th to 6th in total defense. However, in 2012, the Jaguars are back to 26th, giving up a whopping 150 rushing yards per game.
They returned 10 starters as well as defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (the 2011 interim head coach), who is running the same scheme. Injuries to key members of their back seven – particularly linebacker Daryl Smith – are certainly factoring in to the slide.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is one of the Jaguars few bright spots. His name may ring a bell to Bears fans, as he turned down a contract offer from the Bears this past offseason to remain a Jaguar. Might you want to have that decision back, Jeremy? Mincey was solid in 2011, registering eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Through four games in 2012, the Jaguars have a mere two sacks, so the defensive line isn’t getting the job done.
The Jaguars have some talent at the second level of their defense. Middle linebacker Paul Pozluszny was a high-priced free agent addition last season and hasn’t disappointed. With starters Daryl Smith (groin) and Clint Session (concussions) out, the Jaguars have turned to Russell Allen and Kyle Bosworth. Allen in particular has made the most of his opportunity, leading the AFC with 30 solo tackles.
Derek Cox has returned from his hamstring injury and is the starter at right cornerback. At left cornerback, Rashean Mathis is recovered from a knee injury, but clearly isn’t what he used to be. Aaron Ross was brought over from the Giants this past offseason. Surely the Jaguars were hoping for more from Ross, as at the moment, he’s a $10M nickelback on a mediocre at best secondary.
Khan has committed to bringing a Super Bowl to Jacksonville, which is a lofty goal for a team with so many holes. The Jaguars have only won six of their last 23 games, and there’s no immediate end in sight to their losing ways. If they tank again this season, Smith will certainly be out as general manager, making Khan’s decision on the successor even more crucial.
In the meantime, Mr. Khan, enjoy realizing your lifelong dream. Sort of.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.