|Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press|
|Despite an NFL-leading rushing season from Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars still finished a meager 5-11.|
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said that he told holdout running back Maurice Jones-Drew during the offseason that he'd like to have him with the team. However, once the Jaguars got into training camp, further conversations with the NFL's leading rusher probably wouldn't influence Jones-Drew's contract negotiations, so communication stopped.
"We're locked in with the guys that we have and there has been zero distraction," Mularkey told NFL.com in a phone interview this weekend. "There are choices and consequences. This is his choice. There is nothing I can do that could persuade him to do anything different."
Jones-Drew is holding out in order to get the Jaguars to re-work the final two years and $9.4 million of his contract into a more lucrative pact. Management and ownership have said they have no plans to adjust the terms, prompting the stalemate. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan recently told Yahoo! Sports: "Believe me, on a zero-to-10 level of stress, this doesn't even move the needle," in regards to Jones-Drew's holdout.
A source close to the holdout running back told NFL.com weeks ago that Jones-Drew, who could face fines of $30,000 per day for holding out, is girded to hold his ground for the long haul.
Mularkey said his role is not to work with contracts -- that's management's job -- but to improve a team that won just five games last season with Jones-Drew rushing for an NFL-best 1,606 yards. By staying out of talks, Mularkey said he's actually grown and learned from missteps he made when he coached the Buffalo Bills from 2004 to 2006.
"This is one of the things that is different from Buffalo," said Mularkey, who admits he's changed a lot since that two-year stint, which ended with him resigning. "Things like this used to suck the energy out of me. Players here are getting every bit of me."
Mularkey also said maligned, second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has shown vast improvement over last season -- Gabbert has been solid in two preseason games (18 of 26, 174 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions). Mularkey also said Gabbert is tougher physically and mentally than anybody gives him credit for, and that if anyone attacks his quarterback on those grounds, they'll have to deal with him.
"Never challenge his toughness," Mularkey said of Gabbert. "I will fight for that."
He went on: "This guy, he's been ridiculed from head to toe. These preseason games, somebody's always on him. He's never acted any differently. It's not affected his play, his body language. I've not seen one ounce of negative criticism from the outside influence him and that's a huge credit to him. This guy is extremely tough."
"You can tell he studied while he was gone," Mularkey said. "He played fast. There was not a lot of thinking going on and he made some great plays. We've got to get the ball in his hands. That will go a long way for his confidence and Blaine's confidence in him."
Mularkey added that the Jaguars' preseason schedule should have the team prepared for the regular season. Not only have they already faced two playoff teams -- the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints -- but they still have to play two others, the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons. He said playing in New Orleans in the Saints' first home game after an offseason of bad news provided the rough road trip he wanted Gabbert and other players to experience.
The Jaguars turn around quickly to play the all-important third preseason game at Baltimore, which poses a multitude of threats that will give Mularkey a good gauge of the preparedness and wherewithal of his team, the coach said. The Jaguars have adjusted their practice schedule as they would for a short week in the regular season, which will be commonplace around the NFL this week. Several coaches and GMs said they plan to get their teams on a regular-season practice schedule because the third preseason game (the Saints and Arizona Cardinals will be playing their fourth) is when starters play through the first half.
Note: Mularkey said that starting offensive tackle Eugene Monroe was waiting to be cleared from concussion tests and would not put a timeframe on his return.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.