In The Trenches: Linemen Roster Battles in Jacksonville
You would like most of your starters to already be in place going into camp and most of the competition to be battles at the backup positions, but this is not the case in Jacksonville this season.
After a disappointing 2008 season, the Jaguars had one of the biggest roster overhauls in the NFL, as 11 players who started at least one game for the Jaguars last year have either been released or simply not re-signed and are no longer on the team.
Whether it was because of disappointing production, locker room cancers, or off-the-field problems, new GM Gene Smith has cleaned up this roster and there will be some major competition for roster positions in Jacksonville, including quite a few starting jobs.
These battles will continue through training camp as the starting lineups will start to take shape and then through the preseason games as the backups will be fighting for the final positions on the depth chart.
The most intense roster battles might be on the Jaguars' offensive live. This is a unit that was decimated by injuries in 2008 and as those players return from injury, they will be fighting both veteran and rookies to regain there starting positions.
The Jaguars landed 11-year veteran OT Tra Thomas (Eagles) in free agency who looks to have an edge over the young rookies, at least for now. Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, only allowed two sacks last year in 16 starts with the Eagles. Only two players who started all 16 games allowed less sacks.
However, Thomas will have to fight off rookie Eugene Monroe (Virginia), who was selected No. 8 overall in the draft to be the LT of the future for the Jags. Monroe is an extremely athletic prospect who possesses excellent technique, footwork, and awareness, and has all the tools to be an elite LT in the NFL.
When it is all said and done, Tra Thomas should win this job. He just has too much experience and has proved that he can play the position at a high level. However, it would not be a shock at all to see Monroe take over by midseason, as his potential is limitless.
With Tra Thomas winning the LT position, that puts Eugene Monroe in a fierce battle for the RT position with incumbent RT Tony Pashos and rookie Eben Britton (Arizona). Pashos is a tough, hard-nosed lineman who dominates in the running game, but really struggled is pass protection at times last year. He gave up 5.5 sacks and led the league with seven holding penalties.
Pashos is not ready to give up his position without a fight though.
"Each and every year I fight to make the team regardless of the scenario who is there and everything," he said. I'm confident in my abilities. I work my tail off and I listen to my coaches.”
Rookie OT Eben Britton seems ready for the challenge as well.
"Every team that passed on me is gonna regret it for the rest of the history of that franchise," he said after being drafted in the second round.
“I'm angry and the chip on my shoulder just got a little deeper. I'm gonna work my [tail] off for the Jacksonville Jaguars and people are gonna regret it. I've got my own agenda and that's first and foremost to take the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Super Bowl. Secondly, I'm gonna be the greatest offensive tackle to ever play this game."
Well, those are some pretty impressive statements from both players, Eugene Monroe should win this job. He will play RT for a year before taking over for Thomas at LT next year, leaving the RT job for Britton. The Jaguars will finally have their bookend offensive tackles in place.
Not a lot of competition here. Brad Miller, Uche Nwaneri, and Dennis Norman will be in the mix, but they all have an uphill battle and little chance to unseat C Brad Meester, who just signed a four year contract extension. Meester is a 10-year veteran who, after missing six games following bicep surgery last year, came back and only allowed .25 of a sack in the final 10 games of the season.
This job is Vince Manuwai’s to lose. He could have some competition from Eugene Monroe, should the Jaguars want to keep him on the left side of the line to prepare him for his transition to LT, but it is more likely that Monroe will win the RT job.
Manuwai is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn ACL that happened in last year’s season opener versus the Titans.
When I asked how he was progressing, he responded with, “very good. Running 100 percent straight-line right now and about 70 percent on my cuts...I will be ready by training camp.”
This is very encouraging news and Manuwai should be ready to take back his job at the start of training camp after being 10 months removed from the surgery.
This position battle might be the most intense. Last year starter Mo Williams was also knocked out for the season in the opener although his injury, a ruptured bicep was a little less serious. Williams is 100 percent recovered and participated in full in last week’s minicamp.
Although Williams, a former RT, played well at his new position in 2007, he will have an uphill battle to retain his job this year in camp. Assuming Thomas and Monroe win the starting LT and RT spots, that leaves Williams, Pashos, and Britton all in a battle for the RG position.
When it’s all said and done, Williams might be the odd man out here as a starter, as Pashos and Britton, two of the Jaguars' most intense linemen, will fight this one out.
Britton will compete for the RT position, but he has no problem moving inside either. "I'll do whatever they want me to do," he said. "If it means playing guard, I'll play guard."
This one is too close to call.
The Jaguars have turned last year’s weakness into a strength and might just have one of the deepest offensive lines in the league. Almost all of the Jaguars' offensive linemen can play multiple positions.
When asked about the competition, new Jag Tra Thomas responded. "You can never have too much protection. That's the best way to look at it."
Final O-Line Depth Chart Prediction:
LT: Tra Thomas, Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton
LG: Vince Manuwai, Uche Nwaneri, Eben Britton
C: Brad Meester, Denis Norman
RG: Tony Pashos, Mo Williams, Eben Britton
RT: Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton
In the past and under the old management regime in Jacksonville, the higher drafted players seemed to have an edge in camp. This mentality of "if you were drafted high, you will start" is no longer the case under Gene Smith.
Jack Del Rio and Smith will open this training camp with all 53 positions up for grabs. Competition is back here in Jacksonville. Expect a tough intense, training camp come July and may the best men win.
Photo from nfl.com
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