Busy Off Season Will Make For a Very Interesting Jags Training Camp
A new season, a new look team, a new attitude will hopefully spell better results this season for the Jaguars. The Jags made some significant free agent signings as well as draft picks and releases that are worth a closer look. Going into the 2009 NFL campaign here is a breakdown of how the Jags stack up and what impact the newcomers will have and where they all stand.
The first significant move GM Gene Smith did was choosing to release long time running back Fred Taylor who was due for a significant pay raise. His release puts the pressure on Maurice Jones-Drew to carry the load this season. However Jones-Drew is likely their most explosive kick returner also and will definitely see some touches on special teams as well. For that reason Del Rio may very well try and utilize two or three running backs throughout the season. The most obvious choice to help carry the load with Jones Drew is fullback Greg Jones who has shown when healthy that he can be a handful for opposing defences and he can be counted upon in short down situations. The Jags currently have nine backs in training camp and there are a few that may see more playing time than expected. Alvin Pearman who resigned with the team last season could add some speed and flash to a running game that mainly features a power up the middle running game. Seventh round pick Rashad Jennings may get serious consideration this season and he has been very impressive in training camp showing surprising speed and great pass catching ability which is rare for 6" 230 pound backs. Chauncey has shown some promise but is likely to be nothing more than a backup this season. Don't be surprised to see Montell Owens with the offence a little bit though he will be more heavily involved in the special teams side of things.
Perhaps the biggest question mark going into training camp was the offensive linemen in Jacksonville. It's a position that really decimated the Jags in 08 but it is an area that is critical to the Jaguars success on offence. Vince Manuwai is back after his season ending injury but will be pushed by Uche Nwaneri who played all 16 at guard in his place last season. The most significant off-season move they made at lineman was the signing of veteran tackle William "Tra" Thomas, a three time pro bowler with the Eagles who will be counted upon significantly to protect Garrard and open holes for the run game. Brad Meester appears to safe at Centre but the recent singing of Cecil Newton could be a message to Meester that he's not as safe as he thinks. Alot of expectation will be placed on young tackle Eugene Monroe who was taken eighth in the 09 draft by the Jaguars. He will be competing with the Jags second round pick Eben Britton who was a model of consistency at the University of Arizona. Jordan Black and Drew Miller will get their opportunities but will have to seriously impress to have any shot of making the team and will not see significant action. It will be interesting to see how all the new faces mesh together this season in Jacksonville as they are critical to this team, if they want to improve over last season.
At receiver their are alot of holes facing this Jaguars team that is virtually brand new this season. Reggie Williams and Matt Jones are gone which helped the team free up some cap space to sign veteran Torrey Holt who brings explosive speed and valuable experience to a relatively young receiving group. Dennis Northcutt was perhaps the teams best receiver last season as he saw much more playing time and impressed making 364 receptions and scoring 17 touchdowns last season. Troy Williamson is one of the few other Jag receivers with NFL experience as he did an admirable job last season catching 84 passes for 1,097 yards. Holt and Northcutt are a lock to make the team but finding a third and fourth receiver will be the question in training camp. Williamson is the only other receiver with significant experience but he will be pushed by many of the rookies for a spot come September. Mike Walker will be one of them who saw limited action last season in catching just over 200 yards receiving. Jags fourth round pick Mike Thomas is one of three receivers the Jaguars drafted in this years NFL Draft and could easily come in a fill a role as fourth receiver if need be. Tiquan Underwood, the teams 7th round pick has surprised so far at training camp and some good pre-season games may earn him a spot on the team. Jarett Dillard may sneak in for a spot on the team this season, but the teams 5th round pick in 09 will likely see more time on the bench this year and perhaps a little on special teams. Undrafted Jason English and Nate Hughes will need to make significant growth but will nonetheless be given a chance to make the team.
Defensively the front four of Jacksonville is solid even without Paul Spicer, expect Quentin Groves,Rob Meier, John Henderson and Reggie Hayward to be a real handful for opposing linemen. At linebacker despite losing Mike Peterson, they still have enough experience and talent with Daryl Smith, Justin Durant, and Clint Ingram anchoring the ship. The secondary will need to step up it's game as they were picked apart last season. Corner-back Rashean Mathis and free safety Reggie Nelson will be looked upon to improve a secondary that was a dismal 24th in pass defence last season. The biggest question mark will be at strong safety with the likes of former Eagle Sean Considine and and rookies Chad Nkang and and Mesphin Forrester, this is a big area of weakness that Mel Tucker in company will have to be very aware of as opposing defences are likely to go after the Jags secondary alot this season. This years third round pick Derek Cox could find himself a home at corner-back with the Jaguars this season as he has been razor sharp so far at camp.
Tight end there should be no surprises with Mercedes Lewis getting the bulk of the load along with Richard Angulo, but Greg Estandia has also shown to be a very capable blocker and receiver. On special teams Josh Scobee and Adam Podlesh will handle the kicking and punting duties repectively and should be rock solid as they've allways been. Returning kicks should not be a big issue either with Northcutt and Jones-Drew very effective and explosive in the return game.
At quarterback David Garrard is the unquestioned leader and starter for the Jags. However since the departure of promising backup Quinn Gray a couple years ago the backup position is very much up for grabs. Should anything happen to Garrard this season you have to be concerned with the three backups that are competing for the backup and third string jobs. Veteran Todd Bouman is in his third tour of duty in Jacksonville and has more game experience than any of the others competing for a spot, but since coming into the league undrafted in 97 has been bounced around the NFL having been apart of six different NFL teams. His touchdown to interception ratio will need to be improved if he wants a spot on the Jags team. Paul Smith who is currently on the practice squad may not get as good a look as he hopes, but at his age there is plenty of room to grow and he has shown in college than he can play well in the big stage, case in point he was named the Liberty Bowl MVP for Tulsa in 2005. Lastly the most likely choice as backup is Cleo Lemon. He was limited in terms of game play last season but has shown in the past that he an play well, as he did in 07 with a decimated Dolphins team earning AFC offensive player of the week honours in week 15 of the 07 season. Lemon also still has a couple years left on a three year deal worth just under 9 million dollars.
The most glaring weakness' for the Jaguars is their lack of experience on the O line and at receiver. With so many rookies and little to no regular season experience the offensive line will be severely challenged this season. A virtually brand new O line will be thrown in the fire all season as they will be the key to a Jaguars team that prides themselves on a solid and explosive smash mouth running style. The edition of Torrey Holt should help the passing game despite losing Matt Jones and Reggie Williams. Besides the O line the Jaguars do have a very solid all around team but with a new defensive coordinator you have to wonder how quickly the players will take to adapt to new defensive approach like more focused or aggressive pass defense. All in all the Jaguars team will need to get back to what made them so successful in 07, a fantastic run game and a stingy and aggressive defence that made you earn every yard you got.
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