Following their disastrous 2008 season in which the offensive line was among the biggest under-performers, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expecting a free-for-all offensive tackle position battle during training camp.
Those three will be battling returning right tackle Tony Pashos for starting spots this time around with what the Jaguars are hoping will be substantial improvement. The inconsistency of line play was one of the reasons quarterback David Garrard’s rating dropped from 102.2 in 2007 to 81.7 last year.
Eugene Monroe, from the University of Virginia, was the team’s first selection in the draft. This was the first time they have picked a tackle No. 1 since Tony Boselli got the call in their first draft in 1995.
That pick was followed in round two by Arizona tackle Eben Britton. The team is counting on him to push Pashos, who started all 16 games last year but was beset by holding calls, especially late in the season.
Starting left tackle Khalif Barnes was an unhappy free agent the team declined to re-sign. He now is in Oakland.
“We expect them to become our bookends at some point,’’ coach Jack Del Rio said of the newcomers. “They will offer us a lot of options.’’
Thomas was signed well before the draft and may wind up becoming a mentor to Monroe. It’s a role he has said he’ll take on—if asked. The team has put Monroe’s locker next to his.
“If they want to pay me to mentor someone, I’m OK with that,’’ Thomas said. “But right now we’re not in a battle for a job, I’m in a battle for my job.’’
Thomas admits he needs work on his run blocking for a team that is known as being run-oriented and just re-signed running back Maurice Jones-Drew to a five-year contract worth about $31 million with $17.5 million in guarantees.
In addition to being able to play tackle, Britton can move to guard. The team will, however, have both of last year’s projected starting guards, Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams, back this season after both were injured in the team’s opener at Tennessee. They both spent the season on injured reserve.
“It’s easier to move inside (to guard) than outside,’’ Del Rio said, “and we’re happy to have that flexibility available.’’
While the offensive line will be one area of focus, William and Mary’s Derek Cox should make things worth watching in the secondary.
The team gave New England next year’s second-round pick to take the unheralded Cox in the third round this year.
With Rashean Mathis set at one corner position, Cox is expected to take on Brian Williams for the other starting job. Should he win, the team could move Williams to safety as it tried last year in an ill-fated experiment.
That switch failed because free agent signing of Drayton Florence flopped. He was cut after the season.
The Jaguars realize picking Cox put them under watchful eyes but are holding fast.
“We really like him,’’ general manager Gene Smith said. “If he isn’t starting in two years, then we made a mistake.’’