The Jacksonville Jaguars need to be successful in 2009. They must be. Attendance is waining. Television blackouts are imminent.
Los Angeles still doesn't have an NFL team and the commissioner is still interested in expansion out of the country. Can you say the London Jaguars? it's more possible than you can imagine!
Certain things have to happen this year for the Jags to get back in the winning business. A few have happened already in the off season.
The last place finish in 2008 has offered up a very agreeable schedule in 2009. That is a huge advantage for a team seeking to regain a winning attitude they just lost last year.
The rookie draft went quite well with many holes being filled. The free agents, though few in number, were both timely and will have a considerable effect on the Jag's near future.
I have narrowed my list to what I consider the ten most important things that must happen for the Jaguars to return to glorious heights. They are in no particular order but ALL will be required. Please feel free to suggest anything I missed in your comments.
Hope you enjoy and here's to a great Jag's season!!!!
The 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars were devastated by injuries. Especially on the offensive line.
Our running game suffered, which put more pressure on our passing game. The combination of back-up linemen, long yards needed for first downs, and a weak receiving group brewed trouble.
It translated to multiple three and outs, turnovers, and lost leads in the fourth quarter.
The Jags, through free agency and the draft, are now flush with offensive linemen, many who are versatile at multiple positions. These positions, barring injuries, are now a source of strength and stability.
A healthy offensive line will give Maurice Jones-Drew confidence. Will return David Garrard to his 2008 performances that were noted for his efficiency and lack of turnovers.
Finally, Jack Del Rio will get to play his clock-killing, smash-mouth style offense that takes the pressure off his defensive squad.
I know what you're saying. Give the kid a break. He's a third rounder. He's from William & Mary. Everything coming from the Jag's staff is a hope that he will be ready for the nickelback position.
But everything must be considered. The kid looks good. Very good. Not one OTA day has passed without Cox making a significant play. One play that makes you go... "Damn, He looks really good!"
What can't be overlooked is that the Jag's gave up next year's second round pick (along with a seventh this year) to select Cox.
Third-round picks are considered projects or hoped potential players. Cox is in effect a second round selection. Second round selections are expected to make immediate contributions.
The Jaguars have a history of doing better with their second round selections than their firsts. Here's hoping that keeps happening. With Cox starting, Brian Williams can move back to the strong safety position.
Think about that defensive backfield. Rashean Mathis and Cox at corner. Williams and Reggie Nelson at safety. That could be one of the strongest defensive backfields in football.
Jimmy Smith. That's it. The only Jacksonville Jaguar in their entire franchise history that scared defensive backs. That is pretty sad for a team nearing it's 15th year in existence.
Others have been brought in. Desmond Howard, Alvis Whitted, Reggie Barlow, and Matt Jones are just a few of the failed experiments.
The Jags don't ever really try the deep ball that much anyway. You just like to have that "Barney Fife bullet" in your breast pocket just in case.
Anybody who knows football can state without any doubt of argument that the lack of a deep threat cost the Jags in the playoffs against New England two years ago.
They had just ran all over Pittsburgh in the playoffs the week previous. New England had no problem putting as many as eight men in the box to stop the running game because they had no fear of getting beaten deep.
It was like being a dog and looking at a squirrel out the window. It was right there but the Jags just didn't have what they needed to get it.
Rookie Mike Thomas is small, quick, and has soft hands. He is a Wes Welker type receiver that can line up in the slot & go deep.
Rookie Jarett Dillard has great hands. A precise route-runner who will get separation with his elusiveness. Some have compared him to Anquan Boldin.
Rookie Tiquan Underwood is young, raw, and has speed to burn. He may not be ready to step up this year, but his quick feet will keep him in consideration if he shows he's ready.
One of these kids need to step up. Unless the unbelievable happens and Troy Williamson decides to play to the potential he showed in college, we will go another year with safeties hedging towards the line without fear of giving up a long one.
No offense in the NFL can be that one-dimensional and succeed.
It was like Jeckle and Hyde. David Garrard fumbled and threw interceptions 20 times in 2008, compared to only six in 2007. He threw 15 touchdowns in 16 games, compared to 20 TD's in only 12 games the year before.
Suddenly both fans and NFL "experts" jumped of the David Garrard bandwagon. People even started questioning whether Byron Leftwich should have been kept as the starting QB.
WHOA!!! Hold on people. You put Manning or Brady behind that make-shift line and they would have struggled also. Consider this.
David Garrard has always been considered one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. After only being sacked 21 times in 2007, he was sacked double that amount (42) in 2008. That is unacceptable by NFL standards.
The Jags improved the offensive line and the wide receivers in the off season so David Garrard must go back to the conservative, take what they give him, mentality that served him well two years ago. He appears to have taken steps to do so.
First and foremost, Garrard has lost nearly 15 pounds in the offseason, to aid him in his scrambling and tackle-alluding abilities.
It is also being said that Garrard has worked extra time with Jaguar's offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to improve his formation and transition recognition.
Hopefully the running game will return in 2009, leaving Garrard to return to the game that suits him best. Passing to compliment the running game, not to win the football game.
Jack Del Rio was brought to Jacksonville originally because during his interview with owner Wayne Weaver he spoke of bringing a new attitude to the Jags. Smash mouth, in your face, bloody football. Take no prisoners.
The Jaguars defenses under Del Rio have been formidable, with a couple top 10 finishes in the league. It is also starting to look like the more Tom Coughlin drafted players leave, the worse our defense is getting.
The departures of Marcus Stroud and Donovan Darius showed how much they brought to the squad. The underwhelming play of John Henderson and Rob Meier helped teams run us over. The departure of Mike Peterson will be felt this year also.
What can be done to repair this issue? Pass rush. Plain and simple. Last year's draft was supposed to supply the cure to our pass rush issues. It didn't.
Derrick Harvey was drafted in the first round and did what no player should ever do. He held out longer than any other player in the draft and was never able to catch up. A wasted year.
The good news is that he closed the season last year with his best performance of the year. Seven tackles, along with two sacks, showed some of the promise you expect from a first round pick.
Quentin Groves was selected in the second round when the Jags traded multiple picks to move up. The pressure was high on him also and it showed. Groves played like a wild man, at times out of control. No discipline. Multiple offsides penalties and missed tackles.
Here is hoping that a second year will bring more confidence and control to his game.
The most important player in my opinion will be Reggie Hayward. He needs to have a good year. A great one actually. He came here though free agency four years ago. He was young, healthy, and had been very successful at Denver.
He was one of the few "sexy" free agents the Jags have signed. But after a good first year, the remaining have been marked with injuries and underwhelming performances.
This could be Heyward's chance to not only mentor the young guns but help the team with his own success. I feel Heyward has at least one more good year in him. Let's make it 2009!
Greg Jones. Rashad Jennings. Chauncey Washington. One of you guys need to get it together and quick.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a freak of nature. Five foot and nothing. Barely over two hundred pounds. Thighs like Herschel Walker's midget cousin. An awesome athlete and deserving of all the success he has had.
Now let's get realistic. Mo-Jo doesn't have the build of a "carry every play" back. That guy doesn't exist anymore anyway. Mo-Jo is where he is because of Fred Taylor. Don't forget that Fred got more carries most games.
I need one of these fine running backs to carry the ball once for every three by Mo-Jo. That's not much to ask. Which one will?
Greg Jones was a halfback in college and has played well when asked upon. He has had some injury issues. He is very valuable at the fullback position, which could potentially take him out of consideration.
Chauncey Washington is only in his second year and has appeared to just be "a warm body" to me. If the Jags success somehow falls upon Washington being "the man", then I will be concerned.
Rashad Jennings is a very intriguing prospect. Great build. Very successful in college. Lasted until the seventh round so he is hungry and has something to prove.
Sounds damn familiar to our starter. Jennings is the engine that I'm going to be caboosing on all year.
John Henderson is making people angry. Jack Del Rio is angry. The fans are angry. His agent must be REALLY angry.
Henderson has been an under performer for the last three years. Many will argue that point. Let me help you understand.
Henderson's first four year averages: Tackles - 63.5 per season
Sacks - 4.6 per season
Passes defended - 6 per season
Henderson's last three year averages: Tackles - 44.3 per season
Sacks - 2.5 per season
Passes defended - 3.7 per season
Combine that with three games missed, an ejection from a game for fighting, and poor conditioning to boot. Something is amiss here and I'm not sure what it is.
Henderson has always been respected. He is one of the few multiple Pro-Bowl selected players in Jags history. I see many "Henderson" jerseys on game day in the stands. He gets on highlights all the time with his face-slapping ritual.
You want to discount the possibility, but it must be stated. John Henderson signed a lucrative contract extension prior to the 2006 season. His numbers have been declining since. Is that a coincidence?
Jack Del Rio called out Henderson this week to the press about being soft and needing to get back on the field for conditioning. It was reported that on the first day of OTA's, Henderson had to seek relief from the sun less than ten minutes into his workout.
I think things will be coming to a head soon. I just hope "Big John" gets his head out of his very large behind soon because the Jags really need him.
The Jaguars backup quarterback is Cleo Lemon. It has been reported that even now, in his second year with the Jags, he still hasn't fully grasped the Jaguar's playbook. That doesn't inspire much confidence.
I watched Lemon play hard for a poor Miami Dolphin team that only won one game two years ago. I was excited when I heard we had signed him as a free agent. Then he put on a uniform and all those good feelings have washed away.
He has looked downright lost in preseason games. Mostly playing against scrubs that aren't NFL-caliber players. Hell...He was outplayed by Todd Bouman last preseason.
Early indications are that his throwing hasn't improved in the off season. Of the reports coming out of the OTA's, his throws have been erratic and off-the-mark. Once again...That doesn't give me much confidence.
Last year proved something very clearly. A successful NFL team must have a good backup QB, not just a capable one.
Tom Brady goes down, Matt Cassel almost takes them to the playoffs. Tarvaris Jackson struggles, Gus Frerotte takes them to the division title. Vince Young quits, (and that is what you did, Vincent!), grizzled, old Kerry Collins took the Titans to the best record in the NFL.
If Garrard goes down, I don't see Lemon being the guy to save us. I hope I'm wrong, but if you will indulge me I have just a couple more things to say.
Gus Frerotte is still available and would probably come cheap. He has played for seven teams in his career, so I don't think he'll have any problems learning the playbook.
Finally...The Kansas City Chiefs cut one of their backups during the offseason and I think he could come right in and be ready to start in an emergency. His name is Quinn Gray. I know his name, but I just can't remember from where?!?
I'm writing this as reports are all over of Jack Del Rio's tirade over John Henderson's unwillingness to practice with an injury. Terms like "Back when I played" and "Lombardi would be rolling" were also used.
I understand where he was going with this, but it needs to stop. Jack Del Rio was brought here because of his fiery, not long from playing the damn game intensity and it has served the team well. When everyone is healthy and on the same page, this team plays as well as any in the league.
Del Rio needs to check himself & his ego sometimes though. He tries to play mind games with his players. A lot of them have ended in failures, some in dangerous fashion.
Del Rio's first year was remembered not for his record, but because he put a huge tree trunk in the locker room with an axe. It was supposed to be symbolic to his creed that you gotta just keep chopping away. It all ended with the Jags punter almost cutting his leg off with the axe.
Del Rio has closed training camp to take the team to see movies like "300", hoping it would bond the team and inspire them to defeat the Persians I supposed. Most of the players appeared to be more thankful to be out of the Florida sun than wanting to yell "SPARTANS!!!"
It all came to a head last year when Del Rio was displeased with team chemistry. He decided to shake things up by having locker room attendants move players lockers one week during the season without discussing it first with the players.
This doesn't seem that big of a deal but apparently it was. The players felt disrespected. And if you know anything about sports, being disrespected is just below murder and only a little worse then insulting a player's mother.
This caused the players to have bad feelings towards Del Rio and probably led to the Mike Peterson blow-up that sent the season to complete ruins. This was a prime example of Del Rio's ego hurting the team.
I think Jack Del Rio is an excellent coach and I would love to see him remain with the Jags for many more seasons.
I would just remind him that when the Jags are playing at their best, the only thing we talk about him for is his snazzy suits he wears for some games and how much he looks like the "American Dad" cartoon character.
You tried Phil Jackson mind games and Bill Parcells blow-ups last year. You had your worse season since the first one. This year, let's treat the players like men and hope they will "man-up."
This is a tough, tough subject. I have no room to talk. I have three kids and have been out of work for a couple of months. And I am not alone. This economy SUCKS and how you spend your money is your business.
But please know this. When a NFL team has blackouts, it is demoralizing for the team, the players, and the city. It is the kind of thing that can cause a team and the NFL to look for better pastures.
Has the team management done all they can to sell the team to the city? Maybe. There has always been a wall between the team and it's fans. Not a big wall. Just enough to make it hard to embrace.
Jaguar fans have always been told we're "privileged" to have the Jaguars, when in fact they are the lucky ones to have us fans. Without the fans there is no team.
The truth is we are a small market team with a big ass stadium. It requires one of each 16 people in the city to buy a ticket to sell it out. That is very hard to do.
The team has also done a terrible job at marketing the team to surrounding cities in Florida and Georgia. There should be buses of Jaguar fans coming from Orlando and Savannah each Sunday if someone would just sell the team better.
When I was a kid growing up in Savannah, GA, my team was the Falcons. Not because I was a Steve Bartkowski fan, (I was) but because they were the closest NFL team to where I lived. Why can't the Jags figure this out.
I don't know how to answer this one other than to BEG people who can afford to go to the games to please purchase tickets. Give game tickets to friends and family as gifts. Pick this year to take your child to their first game.
Who knows. Maybe the team will see the effort and sacrifices being made by the fans. Maybe they will stop being money-obsessed selfish prima donnas and give us an effort that makes us proud to be Jaguar Fans. I truly hope so.
Thanks for reading my article & let me know if I missed anything. GO JAGS!!!!!