Jacksonville Jaguars 2010 Season Preview
By Michael Rushton, NFL Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Here's hoping Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard get used to the scorching weather during the dog days of August.
After all, the duo is likely to find themselves on the hot seat all season long.
Patience with Del Rio could be starting to wear thin with Jacksonville's front office. The sideline general has been to the postseason just twice in his seven previous seasons with the Jaguars, and has won only one playoff game.
Only one person is under the microscope more than Del Rio and that is Garrard. Despite making the Pro Bowl in 2009, the 32-year-old starter had just an 83.5 QB rating and a host of Sunshine State natives were lobbying for the Jags to grab Florida product Tim Tebow in the first round of the draft.
Both owner Wayne Weaver and Del Rio have said Garrard needs to improve, a challenge the quarterback has accepted.
"I want to be able to lead this team to a championship, which I know we can do that, but we have to have everybody bought in," said Garrard. "It can't just be me turning a new leaf and changing some of my ways. It has to be everybody because if I'm out there doing things all by myself that's not going to get us to a championship."
Maurice Jones-Drew found the end zone a total of 16 times in his first season not sharing carries with Fred Taylor.
One area that also needs to improve is Jacksonville's pass rush, and general manager Gene Smith made it a top priority this past offseason.
While Smith used his first two draft picks in 2009 to upgrade Jacksonville's offensive line, his initial four selections at the 2010 draft were spent on upgrading the pass rush, which managed an NFL-low 14 sacks last year and allowed 235.9 passing yards per game. Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu was nabbed 10th overall out of California, while fellow tackle D'Anthony Smith joined the club in the third round (the Jags were without a second pick).
After shipping a fourth-round selection to Oakland for linebacker Kirk Morrison, Smith snagged a pair of defensive ends from smaller conferences in the fifth round, grabbing Larry Hart and Austen Lane. All this came after Jacksonville inked former Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman to a contract.
"I think we've got youth and athleticism in the trenches where a couple years back we probably had become a little long in the tooth and our team got old in the trenches there," said Del Rio. "And I think we've been able to rebuild and restock our offensive and defensive lines over the last couple of offseasons."
With Garrard getting sacked 42 times a season ago, Del Rio better hope his young offensive line can improve as well, especially since the Jags didn't add a suitable No. 2 receiver to line up opposite Mike Sims-Walker. That puts a lot of pressure on Garrard, who won't have veterans Reggie Hayward and John Henderson to help out in the locker room this year following the release of both defensive lineman.
Hopefully the rest of Garrard's teammates, and specifically his offensive and defensive lines, can lend him a hand in shouldering the load in helping the Jaguars avoid a third straight last-place finish.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Jacksonville Jaguars, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 7-9 (4th, AFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2007, lost to New England, 31-20, in AFC Divisional Playoff
COACH (RECORD): Jack Del Rio (57-55 in seven seasons with Jaguars, 57-55 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dirk Koetter
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mel Tucker
OFFENSIVE STAR: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (1391 rushing yards, 53 receptions, 16 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Aaron Kampman, DE (42 tackles, 3.5 sacks with Green Bay)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 10th rushing, 19th passing, 24th scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 19th rushing, 27th passing, 24th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Kassim Osgood (from Chargers), G Justin Smiley (from Dolphins), DE Aaron Kampman (from Packers), DT Tyson Alualu (1st Round, California), DT D'Anthony Smith (3rd Round, Louisiana Tech), LB Freddie Keiaho (from Colts), LB Kirk Morrison (from Raiders)
KEY DEPARTURES: WR Torry Holt (to Patriots), T Tra Thomas (to Chargers), LB Clint Ingram (to Saints), DE Quentin Groves (to Raiders), DE Reggie Hayward (released), DE Rob Meier (released), DT John Henderson (to Raiders), DT Montavious Stanley (released), LB Brian Iwuh (to Bears)
QB: Yes, Garrard has thrown for over 7,000 yards with 30 touchdown passes in his last two seasons, but the Jaguars are just 12-20 in that span and he hasn't come close to matching the 102.2 QB rating from his breakout 2007 season. Giving Garrard more time to throw would be ideal, but the East Carolina product needs to start making better decisions as well. He has posted 23 interceptions in the last two seasons after having just three in his 12 starts in '07. Jacksonville's train remains firmly hitched to Garrard, as reserve Luke McCown is nothing more than a backup. Should Garrard falter in 2010, Jacksonville will be looking to make a switch under center next season.
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew posted 1,391 rushing yards on 312 carries a season ago, not bad for a 5-foot-7, 208-pouind running back. A fantasy player's dream, Jones-Drew also lent Garrard a hand by making 53 catches for another 374 yards while finding the end zone a total of 16 times in his first season not sharing carries with Fred Taylor. Three hundred-plus carries are a lot for someone Jones-Drew's size, but he didn't miss a game. That doesn't mean that the Jags won't try to lighten his load this year by giving second-year back Rashad Jennings some more carries. The Liberty product, a seventh-round pick, carried the ball just 39 times last year. Deji Karim (Southern Illinois), drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, will get a chance at being the third-down back. Greg Jones serves as the fullback, though he is capable of picking up yards on the ground as well. Still, he has battled ankle problems in each of the last two seasons.
WR/TE: After being limited by injury in the two previous seasons, a healthy Sims-Walker burst onto the scene last year with 63 catches, 869 yards and seven touchdown receptions. Quick and accurate with his routes, the 26-year- old enters this season atop Jacksonville's depth chart, but there are questions as to who will be the No. 2. Veteran Torry Holt is gone after just one season, leaving Troy Williamson, Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Kassim Osgood to battle for depth chart superiority. Thomas made 48 catches for 453 yards in 14 games as a rookie last year and could be a long-term solution, while the speedy Williamson is running out of chances after missing all but two games last year due to a shoulder injury. Dillard was also a 2009 draft pick of the Jaguars, but he played in just seven games due to a broken ankle. Time could also be working against 26-year-old TE Marcedes Lewis, who has yet to make an impact in the passing game that was expected when he was selected 28th overall in the 2006 draft. He caught 32 passes last year for a career-high 518 yards, and is solid in run blocking. Ernest Wilford (wide receiver) and Zach aMiller (quarterback) have both been converted into tight ends and will back up.
OL: The focus of GM Smith last year, both Eugene Monroe (1st round) and Eben Britton (2nd round) became starters in 2010, with Britton starting at right tackle and Monroe, who dropped some weight this offseason, locking down the left spot. Those two figure to be the cornerstones of Jacksonville' offensive line for years to come and should only be better with a year of experience under their belts. Center Brad Meester has also shed some pounds in the hope of being more effective, while Vincent Manuwai will battle with Justin Smiley, Uche Nwaneri (who could also push Meester at center) and Kynan Forney for starting guard spots. Jordan Black backs up Jacksonville's young tackles. Jacksonville ranked 10th in the run last year, but Monroe, Britton and company need to make sure Jones-Drew has room to maneuver in the backfield.
DL: Mission accomplished for Smith in his effort to upgrade the defensive line, especially the pass-rushing aspect. Kampman owns 54 career sacks, with 37 of those coming between 2006-08, but the 30-year-old's signing wasn't without risk as he is coming off a torn ACL and played in just nine games a season ago. Opposite Kampman will be Derrick Harvey, who managed just two sacks in 16 games last season, his second since being picked eighth overall by Jacksonville in 2008. Harvey will be looking to fend off both Hart and Lane following Hayward's release. Jacksonville's decision to cut ties with Henderson opens a starting spot for Alualu, who many felt was a reach at the 10th spot in the draft. Second-year Temple product Terrance Knighton (45 tackles, 1.5 sacks) started all 16 games as a rookie after being drafted in the third round and will line up next to Alualu. The Jags did suffer a blown when D'Anthony Smith suffered a right Achilles' tendon tear that will end his season, leaving Atiyyah Ellison and Walter Curry as the likely backups at tackle.
LB: With the acquisition of Morrison, 2009 starting middle linebacker Justin Durant will slide over to the weak side, while Daryl Smith retains his starting spot on the left. Morrison has excellent ball awareness and has posted 268 tackles over the past two seasons. With his ability to chase down ball carriers, Smith should be free to work on increasing his 14.5 career sack total. The new duo also features durability, as Smith has missed just three games in the last five seasons, while Morrison has appeared in 16 games each season since being drafted by Oakland in 2005. Durant also brings speed to the group after posting a career-best 98 tackles last year. Depth could be an issue for this group, even with the offseason signing of former Colt Freddie Keiaho. Jacksonville parted ways with both Clint Ingram and Brian Iwuh this past summer, leaving Russell Allen to push Durant for a starting spot.
DB: It's a tale of two cities for the Jaguars in the secondary. On one hand, the club believes it has two high-end starters in Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox at the corners, while the two safety spots could end up being a weak point. Mathis is the franchise's all-time leader with 28 career interceptions and has made 100 starts since being nabbed in the second round of the 2003 draft, but he missed six games due to injury last year and also ended the 2008 season hurt. Cox, meanwhile, joined Knighton as a 16-game rookie starter and led the club with four interceptions. Don Carey, acquired off waivers from Cleveland, and Scott Starks figure to be the reserve corners with William Middleton likely to earn a roster spot as well. Jacksonville thought it had its free safety spot locked up for the time being after drafting Reggie Nelson in the first round of the 2007 draft, but his play has continued to decline and he lost his starting spot late last year. Nelson, who has said he will not play corner or nickel this year, must battle Anthony Smith to get his job back Meanwhile, Gerald Alexander (55 tackles, 2 INT) and Sean Considine (35 tackles, 1 INT) will square off for the strong safety spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Josh Scobee returns for his second year as the place kicker after going 18-for-28 on field goal tries last year. While 10 misses are concerning, half of those came from outside 50 yards. Punter Adam Podlesh averaged 41.9 net yards per punt in 2009 and pinned 23 of them inside the 20, nearly matching his total from the two previous seasons. Jeremy Cain, meanwhile, returns as the long snapper after beating out veteran Joe Zelenka for the job a season ago. Thomas averaged 24.8 yards on 26 kick off returns last year and will receive help from Karim, while 2010 sixth-round draft pick Scotty McGee out of James Madison was taken to return punts. He had six career return touchdowns in his college career.
PROGNOSIS: The Jaguars are one more under-performing season away from blowing things up. Another playoff miss will certainly spell the end for Del Rio and Garrard, but there is some hope for the duo. The Jags managed a 7-9 record a season ago despite an awful pass rush, which has nowhere to go but up this year. That's good considering the Jags play the Colts and Texans twice as well as the Chargers, Eagles and Cowboys once each. That being said, the Jags aren't devoid of playmakers. Jones-Drew is one of the more electric backs in the game and Jacksonville will make sure to keep him fresh throughout the year. Sims-Walker also flashed signs of being a top receiver and let's not forget Garrard's 2007 season. It's playoffs or bust for the Jags, who should be good enough to fight for a wild card spot.