Every season is a new start, but it especially feels that way for the Jaguars in 2012. There’s a new coach, a new owner, new playmakers at WR, a new locker room at the facility and, come Thursday night, a new chance to show that they can contend in the AFC South.
Many of the headlines in the preseason have been about who hasn’t been in camp. First-round pick Justin Blackmon finally ended his holdout this week, but star RB Maurice Jones-Drew has not. Friday's game against the Giants will be a chance to show who they do have on the field, not who they don’t.
Questions to be answered in exhibition season:
1. How much has the offensive philosophy shifted? Regardless of if, or when, Jones-Drew shows up, the Jaguars want to air it out more in 2012 after finishing last in the NFL in passing in 2011 with a 136.2 yards per game. There are two keys to improving. Second-year QB Blaine Gabbert must prove he can be a reliable NFL starter after a shaky rookie season. Also new WRs Laurent Robinson and Blackmon must become the downfield threats the Jaguars didn’t have in 2011. Blackmon won't play Friday, but he should be up to speed by the second preseason game against the Saints on Aug. 17.
2. Can they rush the passer better? The Jags were No. 25 in the league in sacks in 2011 with 31. They addressed that need by drafting DE Andre Branch (Clemson) in the second round. Reviews of Branch’s first training camp have been positive. He appears to have the inside track to start opposite of DE Jeremy Mincey, especially with veteran DE Austen Lane battling an ankle injury. They’ll need more push from the DTs as well. Tyson Alualu, C.J. Mosley and Terrance Knighton are stout DTs against the run but need to improve on collapsing the pocket to help the DEs and blitzing LBs.
3. Can Jennings shoulder the load if MJD remains out? At least for preseason game No. 1, Rashad Jennings is the man at RB. Even though the team plans to pass more, Jennings needs to prove he can be a No. 1 back in case Jones-Drew misses regular-season time. Jennings missed last season with a knee injury but was a reliable backup in 2010 with close to 700 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. He should have plenty of chances to show what he can do Friday night and possibly beyond.
For more news and analysis of the Jaguars, follow Daniel Lewis @CBSSportsNFLJAC.