Jacksonville Jaguars: Five Focal Points before the Regular Season
With organized team activities beginning for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday, it is only fitting to have a checklist of points to focus on before the 2010 regular season starts. There could be at least 20 topics to look for in the coming months. But, I thought five major ones should do. Keep your eyes on all these facets. They could decide whether the Jaguars are a playoff team or just another cellar dweller.
1. Will the revamped defensive line bring prestige back to a team that was once known for its defense?
Fourteen sacks. If you ever need to say why the Jaguars were horrible in 2009, there it is. But, 2010 should be different. Aaron Kampman was brought in to establish more of a pass rush. Reggie Hayward, 31, was re-signed in April even after a horrible broken leg in last year’s opening game. And, we can never forget 2008 first-rounder Derrick Harvey. He is permanently attached to a microscope slide to be overanalyzed. Most importantly, the Jaguars drafted defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith and defensive ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane. General manager Gene Smith placed an emphasis on improving the team’s major weakness – defensive line. The young draftees, who apparently have high motors, will push everyone for starting time. Also, look for Terrance Knighton to slowly become one of the Jaguars’ best interior defensive linemen. The defensive line will get better. Can it be noticeable though?
2. Can someone step up as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver?
At this point, the 25-year-old Mike Sims-Walker is Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver. After 14 starts and seven touchdowns in 2009, Sims-Walker proved he is the best pass-catcher on the Jaguars. His main problem was disappearing after Week 11. Opponents realized he was the go-to man and shut him down. In my opinion, the No. 2 role is now up for grabs between second-year speedster Mike Thomas and down-the-field-burner Troy Williamson. Thomas, who has been compared to Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith, runs the best slant route for Jacksonville. His size – 5-foot-8 and barely 200 pounds – is the biggest concern as a No. 2 receiver. For Williamson, 2010 could be his true break-out year. After signing a one-year deal early in the offseason, this also could be Williamson’s last in Jacksonville. He has only started two games in two years for the Jaguars – compared to Thomas’ four. I give the edge to the younger, hungrier Thomas. He seems more reliable and can open up the offense.
3. Will the changing of the offensive line hurt the Jaguars?
Center Brad Meester establishes a line that consists of second-year starters Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton on the left and right sides, respectively. And, guards Uche Nwaneri and Vince Manuwai, who have swapped positions – Nwaneri is now on the left. The hope is to bring the power running game back into action. Manuwai and Britton will push defenders back to allow star back Maurice Jones-Drew more yards after contact. The biggest key will be keeping David Garrard off his back – sacked 42 times in 2009 – and allowing him to hit his targets. Games are won and lost in the trenches. The successes of Jones-Drew and Garrard hinge on the improvement of the offensive line. Meester is nearing the end of a long and fruitful career. Hopefully, he will go out on top.
4. Can Reggie Nelson be a productive safety?
Nelson is one of a few players that are constantly criticized on Mondays for poor play. He has somehow gradually gotten worse over his three NFL seasons. His poor tackling is a key call-in complaint on sports talk radio shows in town. Besides Nelson, Jacksonville really has nobody to be a playmaking centerfielder. Gerald Alexander, Sean Considine, Courtney Greene and Anthony Smith are all average at best. Safety is a position that needs to be upgraded prior to the regular season. Until new additions are found, Nelson will receive all the blame. Considering he was a first-round selection in 2007, it makes perfect sense. When you don’t live up to expectations and you’re still cashing sizeable paychecks, fans and the media can protest.
5. Does David Garrard have the quarterback position locked up?
I am a Garrard supporter. I believe if he is given weapons he can lead the Jaguars to the playoffs. But, after public call-outs by owner Wayne Weaver and head coach Jack Del Rio, the weight of this team is on Garrard’s 32-year-old shoulders. Typically, the most popular man in any NFL city is the backup quarterback. Remember that surprising announcement on August 31, 2007? Hint: Byron Leftwich’s time was up in Jacksonville. Garrard has the keys now, but backup Luke McCown or someone else could yank them away. This is a storyline that will only grow as the season inches closer. With four difficult games to open the season, many Jaguar fans could be calling for a replacement by Week 5.
Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.
Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville and 103.7 FM at the Jacksonville Beaches at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also hosts Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.
Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.
Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer.