Jacksonville Jaguars 2008 Preview Report
By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com
2007 Record: 11-5 (2nd AFC South)
Head Coach: Jack Del Rio (6th year)
Roster Quick View
QB: David Garrard Became far and away the highest-paid Jaguar in history over the offseason. Deserving of the fortune, but what he is, really, is a superstar caretaker.
RB: Fred Taylor Who would have ever believed that “Fragile Freddy” would still be gaining over 1,200 yards well into his thirties?
FB: Greg Jones More athletic than a traditional fullback––which figures considering he was drafted as a tailback.
WR: Jerry Porter** Few realize he’s never had 1,000 yards in a season. That could change this year.
WR: Troy Williamson** If he couldn’t catch in Minnesota, why would he be able to catch here?
TE: Marcedes Lewis Jacksonville overestimated his raw talent when they drafted him in Round One, but he’s still a very solid starter.
LT: Khalif Barnes If football were only about talent, he’d be fine. But football’s also about character, endurance and leadership. That’s why he’s fending off Richard Collier for his job.
LG: Maurice Williams Former OT who is clearly a better fit at G. Must avoid mental letdown after signing a new 4-year contract.
C: Brad Meester Awareness and technique make this aggressive veteran a cog in the middle.
RG: Vince Manuwai Moving over from the left side; the hope is he’ll boost the right side’s run-blocking power.
RT: Tony Pashos Uses size to his advantage, and approaches one-on-one matchups well. Not a standout, but above average.
QB: Cleo Lemon** Great name, so-so game. A mild upgrade over Quinn Gray.
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew A de facto starter. One of the game’s best playmakers. Stubborn on contact and absolutely lethal in the open field.
WR: Dennis Northcutt The football equivalent of a Benihana chef who shows nifty utensil tricks but makes mediocre food.
WR: Matt Jones God gave him great size, great speed and absolutely nothing else.
TE: George Wrighster A receiving TE who caught only 17 passes in 2007 before tearing his ACL in November.
OL: Dennis Norman The consummate utility backup inside. Can start at G or C when needed. Won’t invigorate your front five, but will help keep it functioning.
LDE: Derrick Harvey* They took out a small mortgage to get this guy. Simply put, they need him to record lots of sacks.
DT: John Henderson Playing without sidekick Marcus Stroud won’t be a problem. A dominant run defender at his best.
DT: Rob Meier Starting opportunity came about two years too late. Still, can be effective at the front-end of a rotation.
RDE: Reggie Hayward Faces very long odds at holding onto his starting job in the long haul now that Quentin Groves is behind him.
LOLB: Justin Durant Tremendous athlete who has only okay speed. Football instincts are almost otherworldly; he’ll be a good starter for many years.
MLB: Mike Peterson Elite veteran player when healthy. Closing quickness is superb, and instincts are impressive.
ROLB: Daryl Smith Quintessential role player who can be good at all 3 linebacker spots. Won’t make you win, but you need guys like him in order to win.
CB: Rashean Mathis Take tackling out of the equation and he’s for sure a top-10 CB. He’s probably top-10 anyway. But goodness, he sure is a wuss against the run.
SS: Reggie Nelson Questionable idea to move him from FS to SS, but he can still thrive. Must continue development. Good progress to date, far from done.
FS: Brian Williams Moves from CB to centerfield, where he’s a slightly better fit.
CB: Drayton Florence** Doesn’t get burned all that often but doesn’t discourage quarterbacks from challenging him either.
DL: Quentin Groves* Fast player who was thought to perhaps be a better fit as an OLB in a 3-4. This tells you what kind of pass-rusher he can be.
LB: Clint Ingram Good tackler who could start for a lot of teams––including this one.
NB: Scott Starks The one key defensive contributor who might make Jaguar coaches and fans a little nervous.
QB Todd Bouman (FA)
CB Drayton Florence (SD)
DT Jimmy Kennedy (Chi)
QB Cleo Lemon (Mia)
WR Jerry Porter (Oak)
S Pierson Prioleau (Was)
WR Craphonso Thorpe (Ind)
WR Troy Williamson (Min)
CB Terry Cousin (Cle)
CB Aaron Glenn (NO)
QB Quinn Gray (Hou)
S Sammy Knight (NYG)
DE Bobby McCray (NO)
G Chris Naeole
LB Shantee Orr (Cle)
DT Marcus Stroud (Buf)
S Lamont Thompson
RB LaBrandon Toefield (Car)
WR Earnest Wilford (Mia)
The Jaguars made good use of the $30-plus million they had in cap space. They spent a lot of that money on locking up David Garrard. Then, they bought Garrard some receivers. Porter is an alright addition. His attitude is questionable, but he’s better than anyone they’ve had here since Jimmy Smith. Trading for Williamson shows wishful thinking, though Jacksonville only gave up a sixth-round pick to get him. Lemon is an upgrade over Gray, and Florence is an improvement over Cousin. It was a big move to trade Stroud––symbolic if nothing else. Naeole was let go because of injury. Knight hasn’t slowed down as much as they think, but they can live without him.
2008 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Rd Sel # Player Position School
1 8 Derrick Harvey DE Florida
2 52 Quentin Groves DE Auburn
5 155 Thomas Williams LB USC
5 159 Trae Williams CB South Florida
7 213 Chauncey Washington RB USC
Think the Jaguars weren’t bent on improving their pass rush? Harvey was productive in the SEC and, not having played football until his senior year of high school, he’s still very much a work in progress. If he pans out, he’ll be a star. Jacksonville traded a pair of third-rounders and a fifth-rounder just to move up 18 spots to get him. Groves can be a havoc-wreaker. Thomas Williams wasn’t even a starter in college, but he provides special teams help. Trae Williams is a playmaker who gives them depth. Washington could maybe be groomed as Maurice Jones-Drew’s replacement for when Jones-Drew takes over Fred Taylor’s job.
2008 Jacksonville Jaguars Preview Report
The Jacksonville Jaguars are just going to have to win a Super Bowl. That’s the only way they’ll get people to like them. Nothing else seems to be working.
In a sense, there’s a certain pureness to this. Almost like, isn’t this how it should be? Perhaps. But it’s not how it is for the 31 other teams in the NFL. If we are to believe the polls and statistics, all 31 of those teams are more popular than the team from Duval County. Despite having won 31 games since 2005 (tied for fifth most in the NFL), and not having finished below .500 since 2003, Jacksonville has ranked dead-last in size of fan base each of the past three seasons.
The Jaguars themselves have done nothing wrong. Poll Americans to find out which teams are most despised and you wouldn’t see Jacksonville’s name anywhere near the top of the list. But herein lies the problem. There is a cruel sense of apathy toward this team. Almost as if the Jaguars were in the NHL. Or even the WNBA. Rooting for Jacksonville has become like protesting discrimination against women at Augusta National: many appreciate the idea, but whatever.
Some NFL teams have generation-long waiting lists for season tickets; the Jaguars have long had an embarrassingly low season-ticket renewal rate. This season, the team set a record with 84 percent renewals––a respectable number and nine percentage points higher than the previous year. But division rival Indianapolis had a 99.7 percent renewal rate. And Indy’s ticket prices are closely aligned with the league average; Jacksonville’s are about 10 percent below that.
The Colts also have a 20-year stadium naming rights agreement in place with Lucas Oil. The deal pays them $120 million. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have been searching two years for a stadium sponsor.
The small market of Duval County is partly to blame for Jacksonville’s woes. And horror stories from national media outlets and reports just like this one tend to paint a bleaker picture than what reality holds. But the bottom line is, the Jaguars are a good team––a damn fine organization––and still, no one cares.
Well guess what. Neither do the Jaguars.
Owner Wayne Weaver has been smart enough to understand that his on-field product is not the source of his team’s lackluster popularity. Thus, Weaver has wisely refrained from the temptation to stir things up and has instead only solidified his franchise’s core principles. (Think of the Jags as the nice but unnoticed kid in high school who chooses not to chase cheap popularity through hard partying.)
In March, Weaver rewarded quarterback David Garrard with a six-year, $60 million contract, making the 30-year-old by far the highest paid individual in franchise history. Garrard certainly deserved the largesse––his 102.2 passer rating was third best in the NFL last season, and his poise in the playoffs was noble, particularly in the Wild Card win at Pittsburgh. That said, his consistency and character do not outweigh the vanilla style of play that makes him forgettable in the fantasy-loving Madden EA Sports–adoring minds of typical football fans.
But God be with the individual who ever tries to explain this to Weaver. Or head coach Jack Del Rio. The longtime NFL linebacker subscribes to the type of rigid values that embody the idea of doing things your own way. Del Rio doesn’t care what they think. (Who? Anybody.) If he did, he never would have abruptly cut a former No. 7 overall draft pick (Byron Leftwich) after anointing a career-long backup (Garrard) the starter last year.
Del Rio cares only about winning games––and it shows in how he goes about his business. His relationship with Weaver has been rocky at times. And he’s butted heads with VP of player personnel Shack Harris and the front office before. However, hasty firings have been eschewed, and egos have been put aside in Jacksonville.
After working under a fairly non-committal contract for the better part of six years, Del Rio accepted a five-year extension from Weaver this past the offseason. It’s a testament to Del Rio that, prior to the security of an extension, he had been willing to surround himself with creative and experienced assistant coaches. Gregg Williams is the latest example. Once presumed to be the next head coach in Washington, owner Dan Snyder instead fired Williams out of fear that the defensive guru’s presence could jeopardize the authority of Jim Zorn. Del Rio, himself a defensive expert, quickly brought Williams to Jacksonville.
Last season Del Rio hired his buddy Mike Tice, the former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He also added prominent ex-college head coaches Dirk Koetter (offensive coordinator) and Mike Shula (quarterbacks).
A lot of the assistant coaches have changed in recent years, but Jacksonville’s style of play has not. Conservative and smash-mouth––it’s what’s worked for them. It’s boring. Even when it’s exciting, it’s boring. The Jaguars don’t care.
And because they don’t care, they now find themselves in legitimate contention for a Super Bowl run in 2008. Is Jacksonville the leading contender in the top-heavy AFC? No. But this is a team that went 11-5 a year ago, and got better over the offseason. In Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves they added the potentially dynamic pass-rushers that their stellar but never sexy defense has long been missing. In Jerry Porter they brought in a talented veteran receiver to fill the enormous void still remaining from Jimmy Smith’s retirement.
Should none of these additions work out, the Jaguars will simply be left with the same young team that a year ago ranked sixth in offense and tenth in defense (in terms of scoring). This team is rock-solid. Not that anybody really cares.
David Garrard is The Man in Jacksonville, but the fulcrum of the offense is the rushing attack. It ranked second in the league last season thanks to its star tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both players are thrilling home run threats who thrive on speed and elusiveness. Taylor, once bestowed with the dubious moniker Fragile Freddy, has produced the most unlikely of late-career surges. At 32, he heads into his 11th season fluid and healthy. He averaged a career-high 5.4 yards per carry last season, due in part to his league-leading four runs over 50 yards. He makes up for the half-second he’s lost in speed with outstanding vision and an innate understanding of how to use his blocks.
Taylor receives approximately two-thirds of the carries, though that number could decrease as the Jags focus on getting the rock more in the hands of the 23-year-old Jones-Drew. An ’06 second-round pick from UCLA, Jones-Drew is already one of the elite playmakers in the NFL. At 5’7”, 212, he’s a bowling ball between the tackles. His reliability in the passing game (40 receptions a year ago) makes him the optimum third-down back. Jacksonville, of course, uses him on all four downs.
The health of both Taylor and Jones-Drew is crucial to the team’s success. The only other running back on the roster is seventh-round pick Chauncey Washington. Fullback Greg Jones carried the ball at Florida State, but he has evolved into a genuine lead-blocker since turning pro.
A dominant ground game is what allows a second-tier star like Garrard to excel. Also, not to be overlooked is the value that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has brought to the table. The man originally behind the high-flying offensive movement at Boise State arrived last season with a playbook rich in creativity (compared to what this organization had grown familiar with, anyway). Koetter’s relationship with Garrard is fantastic––especially now that they’ve had a true full offseason to work together.
Garrard does not boast amazing raw tools. He’s mobile, sure, but his arm strength shows its limitations when defenders get in his face. Last season, the quarterback threw for a modest 2,509 yards. His rating was escalated with 18 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Such statistics are the sign of a conservative passing attack.
Indeed, Koetter’s not stupid; he knows his personnel. For years, the Jaguars have lacked quality wide receivers like Evander Holyfield has lacked quality financial advisors. Former first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones have been busts (Williams on a moderate scale; Jones on an overwhelming one). Both are on the cusp of losing a roster spot in 2008. If not for health issues surrounding last year’s third-round pick Mike Walker (knee), or the shilly-shallying by the coaching staff in trusting seventh-rounder of a year ago John Broussard, Williams and Jones would be gone already.
You can’t help but chuckle when realizing that needing to replace their underachievers, Jacksonville went out and acquired Troy Williamson and Jerry Porter, two poster children for the underachievement movement.
Minnesota drafted Williamson seventh-overall in 2005, hoping he’d be a replacement for Randy Moss. Sadly, the speedy ex-Gamecock forgot how to catch. (Imbalanced eye strength, it was determined by vision specialists at Nike, could be partly to blame.) Tight end coach Mike Tice, who was Williamson’s first head coach in Minnesota, vouched for the receiver to come to Jacksonville.
Few head coaches would ever vouch for the puerile Porter. But with as much speed and body control as the 6’2”, 220-pounder has, a poor reputation was not enough to prevent Shack Harris from guaranteeing him $10 million in a six-year, $30 million contract. If Porter can fulfill his potential––and in a new environment that is almost as far away from Oakland as possible, it’s probable that he can––then Garrard will have his first true go-to receiver.
Porter’s arrival moves Dennis Northcutt to the slot, a role the shifty ninth-year veteran is better suited for. It also opens things up for tight end Marcedes Lewis. Jacksonville’s late-first-round pick from three years ago has progressed decently thus far. While a somewhat maladroit runner, Lewis (6’6”, 265) shows extremely soft hands, making him viable as a short-to medium-range receiver. His blocking is up to par, though the Jags will need him to continue to improve, as backup tight end George Wrighster is more of a pass catcher and back-end reserves Greg Estandia and Richard Angulo are too restricted athletically.
Jacksonville’s offensive line is without a standout blocker. But collectively, this unit is big, gritty and consistent. Center Brad Meester anchors the middle and does a spectacular job with the line calls. He shows the kind of consistency that Jaguar coaches fear will vanish from Maurice Williams now that the tackle-turned-guard has signed a new four-year, $16 million contract. Williams showed a less than enthralling output during the OTAs. Coaches actually toyed with the idea of benching him for Uche Nwaneri or Dennis Norman.
Williams will play the left side which means guard Vince Manuwai moves to the right. Manuwai’s short-area power should be more effective next to solid right tackle Tony Pashos. At the almighty left tackle position, talented but immature Khalif Barnes fell into a job competition with 358-pound Richard Collier, a Valdosta State product who the team has spent the past two years polishing for what they hope can be a shiny debut. Whether that debut comes in earnest this season remains to be seen. Collier is far from a golden child; like Barnes, he was once reprimanded by the team for a DUI arrest.
Longtime defensive coordinator Mike Smith left for the head coaching position in Atlanta (by the way, have fun with that, Mike), allowing for the arrival of heralded defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams has a unique ability to customize his approach to fit the taste of his boss––in this case, Jack Del Rio––and the skills of his personnel. When given his druthers, Williams employs a blitz-happy scheme insured by stellar secondary play.
Though Williams focuses on winning in the offensive and defensive backfields, his strategy actually hinges on the performance of the linebackers. The Jaguars have four good ones: Mike Peterson, Darryl Smith, Justin Durant and Clint Ingram.
When healthy, Peterson is among the best Mike backers in football. He has outstanding speed and instincts, and he shows a jarring ferocity at the point of attack. Of course, as the “when healthy” qualifier implies, injuries have been an issue. In 2006, Peterson missed 11 games with a torn pectoral muscle. Last season, he sat out half of November and most of December with a broken hand. At 32, the next significant injury could undermine his career.
When Peterson is out, Darryl Smith moves from the outside to the middle. His contributions are like a mid-length skirt: observers are appreciative but not awe-struck. Smith’s versatility and acumen in pass defense––not to mention his consistency––secure his starting spot. With Peterson healthy, this leaves Durant and Ingram vying for the final position. Durant was a second-round pick from Hampton last season. Assumed to be athletic but raw, he instead showed remarkable instincts and intelligence, starting eight games (including the final six). His speed is ordinary, but the rest of his natural attributes earn high marks. Ingram shows superior quickness, however, he occasionally struggles to get off blocks. And he’s not great in coverage.
More evidence of Jacksonville’s unwavering commitment to ignoring popular opinion came when they axed half of their esteemed defensive tackle tandem by trading the oft-injured and ostensibly distracting Marcus Stroud (they got Buffalo’s third-round pick in the deal). The move leaves Big John Henderson in a solitary star role, something he got accustom to during Stroud’s absence last season. Henderson will be fine without Stroud. Yes, more double teams will find him, but at 6’7”, 325, his strength in run defense has always overridden two blockers.
Ninth-year veteran Rob Meier has long been a consummate professional and impactful interior presence. Many feel that he’s more than capable of starting. He is, but you still want him working in a rotation. Meier excels in the three-technique as long as he doesn’t have to first untangle from blocks.
Depth is an issue at defensive tackle. Derek Landri is a second-year pro from Notre Dame who could change that. Armed with a quick first step and, when properly positioned, an even better second and third step, Landri has the potential to flourish as an interior pass-rusher. But with the only other defensive tackles being little-used Tony McDaniel and serial underachiever Jimmy Kennedy, the Jaguars may want to consider sliding veteran Paul Spicer inside.
Spicer was the team’s leading sacker last season (7.5). But with the drafting of Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second, not to mention the pass-rushing prowess of specialist Brent Hawkins, Spicer’s role on the team is destined to shrink. He knows this and doesn’t like it. Angling for a new contract (he’s currently in the final year of his deal), Spicer joined veteran Reggie Hayward, another disgruntled starter on the verge of losing his job, in boycotting the OTAs during the offseason. It’s unlikely that the pass-rushing rookies will both be equipped to immediately handle the run defense rigors of the NFL. Spicer, an excellent run-stopper, is therefore a very valuable piece to this puzzle. (For this year, anyway.)
Whether Jacksonville’s secondary can meet Gregg Williams’s demands hinges on how well newly acquired Drayton Florence performs as the No. 2 cornerback. Playing across from upper echelon cover corner Rashean Mathis, Florence will undoubtedly carry a similar target on his back to the one he had in San Diego. He does not surrender a lot of big plays, but he is susceptible to giving up completions in bunches.
Mathis is chomping at the bit to elevate his interception total. After registering 13 picks from ’05-’06, he had just one interception last season. Though quarterbacks may shy away from him, Mathis’s risk-taking style of play draws a fair number of balls to his side of the field. Generally, he comes out the winner at the end of the day. However, penalties have been an issue at times, as has the occasional long reception.
Brian Williams is too good to be a nickel back, which is why he’s moving to starting free safety. His presence in centerfield shifts second-year stud Reggie Nelson into Sammy Knight’s vacant strong safety position. Both Williams and Nelson can handle their new jobs, though both might be playing a hair out of position. Nelson is a good tackler but meek hitter, and his enticing range in coverage will be mitigated on the strong side.
Depth at cornerback is suspect. Scott Starks has never dazzled, and rookie Trae Williams is a project. Nelson, however, could play corner in a bind. Experienced safety Gerald Sensabaugh (a likely starter before tearing labrums in both shoulders last year) and Gregg Williams favorite Pierson Prioleau (who was with the coach in Buffalo and followed him to Washington) are both capable of dime duties.
Not a lot of kickers have injury-plagued seasons, but Josh Scobey (hamstring) did in 2007. He was 12/13 on field goals. Scobey is 100 percent heading into this season. Punter Adam Podlesh is decent, but esteemed special teams coach Joe DeCamillis wouldn’t mind having his punting unit face returns on only 40 to 45 percent of Podlesh’s boots, rather than the 52 percent of last year. (It’s the little things, you know?)
Dennis Northcutt remains a capable punt returner. Teams kickoff to Maurice Jones-Drew at their own risk.
It’s undeniable that this team is better than it was a year ago. The offense is poor in style but rich in substance, thanks to the rushing attack. The defense will hit you in the mouth (and, if Jacksonville’s young players progress as hoped, you’ll bleed when it happens). Perhaps best of all, Del Rio benefits from having some of the finest assistants in the business. People may soon have to care about the Jaguars.
John Henderson’s success is a product of playing alongside Marcus Stroud
It’s hard to fault people for this belief. After all, Stroud was a three-time Pro Bowler who could destroy the run or pressure the passer. He constantly attracted double teams, and Henderson constantly reaped the benefits.
However, the monster-sized Henderson thrived without his longtime running mate for most of last season. When energized––which has been more often in recent years––Henderson is an elite force. His powerful yet agile game enables him to make plays against the run even when there are multiple blockers hanging onto him. And his first punch in the pass rush––not to mention his long arms––makes him a significant factor on third downs.
Henderson’s life may have been easier with Stroud next to him, but his impact on Jacksonville’s defense is unchanged.
It’s remarkable the Jaguars have been able to survive the color teal like they have. Besides a tie, name one item of men’s clothing that looks tasteful in teal. You know teal is not a respected color––that’s why it gets mistaken for so many other colors (aqua, turquoise, cyan…“blue-green” for those with limited vocabulary).
What’s funny is that most would agree teal is a nice looking color. Yet, for some reason, it’s not good when featured alone. It’s like the friend you only enjoy hanging out with in a group.
Somehow, the Jaguars have sported teal jerseys for more than 10 years and have looked good doing it. Having black to accentuate it has helped. (Imagine if the team’s helmets were teal.) The Jags recognize the value of black––it’s practically the color of their road uniforms. And, twice a year––usually on nationally televised games––they’ll wear black jerseys.
| Jacksonville Jaguars 2008 Preview Report