Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Up To Speed- Jacksonville Jaguars

The last time the Jags met the Colts, the great white whale they've been chasing for what seems like time immemorial now in the AFC South, was in Week 14 of last season. In that meeting, the Jags absolutely eviscerated the Colts 44-17, rolling up over 300 rushing yards and seemingly declaring there was a new sheriff in town in the division.

So, of course, the Jags then dropped 3 in a row immediately following that game to miss the playoffs, and the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl. As Yakov Smirnoff would say, what a country.

The most glaring reason the Jaguars went from 12-4 in 2005, to 8-8 and out of the playoffs in 06, was dismal quarterback play. Byron Leftwich and David Garrard were both subpar, and Garrard was awful in a huge late season loss to the Titans in which the Jags lost despite allowing only 5 first downs the entire game.

The ills of the passing game were definitely due in part to the failure of Leftwich and Garrard, but also due to the team's dearth of anybody capable of being a #1 wideout. Second year receiver Matt Jones led the team with a paltry 643 yards receiving.

The team's inability to generate any type of offense thru the air ended up sinking a season in which the running game, behind veteran Fred Taylor and electrifying rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, ranked third in the league, and the defense, led by DT John Henderson, CB Rashean Mathis (21 PD's, 8 INT's), and surprising DE Bobby McCray (10 sacks), ranked second overall in the league.

What you saw last year is pretty much what you'll get this year as far as personnel goes. A couple of changes have been made though. OT Tony Pashos was signed from the Ravens, and will be given an opportunity to start for Jacksonville. Safety Donovan Darius was allowed to go be a Raider, and the Jags are excited about the added athleticism first round pick Reggie Nelson should bring as his replacement.

The bigger story is what hasn't been upgraded. The lackluster receiving and quarterback ensemble returns intact, and that's probably not a good thing. In theory, Jones, Reggie Williams, and Ernest Wilford are all young and supposedly improving, but none of them has really given reason to expect a breakthru season, especially not with Leftwich and Garrard still errantly chucking the ball at them. There've been discussions about the Jags bringing in Daunte Culpepper to compete for the quarterback job, but that's hardly a great solution to that problem even in the unlikely event he signs with the Jags.

The Jags showed a lot of faith in their young players this offseason. Rather than bringing in free agents or using high draft picks to shore up the offense, they elected to stick with what they have. In theory, another year of experience should make this group better, but if that were true, then you wouldn't have expected this team to close out the year with three straight losses like they did last year. If Leftwich and the young wideouts can get it together, this team is a darkhorse Super Bowl contender. If not, they'll again struggle on the fringes of the wildcard race. It could go either way. Now you're up to speed on the Jaguars.

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