The offense has been the epicenter for most of the retooling effort this year for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gene Smith has orchestrated departure of two starting offensive linemen, three receivers, and one of the greatest Jaguars in franchise history at running back. The purge was significant, and it was needed coming off a season in which the team's offense ranked in the bottom third of the league in most major categories.
The one area where the team floated the notion of possible upgrade possibilities was at quarterback. The Jaguars sent scouts to look at Mark Sanchez and Matt Stafford and appeared to be zeroing in on the USC quarterback if he was available when they picked eighth in the draft.
Coming off a year in which David Garrard set career milestones for attempts, completions, yards per game, and total yardage in a single season, it would be difficult to give the impression that he had actually regressed from his performance in 2007. But, that is precisely what happened.
Most attributed his struggles to a problematic offensive line riddled by injuries so severe that 80 percent of the starting unit missed at least some playing time during the course of the season. Two starters wound up on the Injured Reserve list with a third missing half the season because of a ruptured biceps tendon.
Others linked David's struggles to a receiving corps that was prone to drop balls as often as they would catch them. The receivers struggled to gain separation or stretch the field enough to force teams to defend against the pass.
In the end, it was a group effort that saw the offense take such a significant step back as a unit last season. The problems with the line and receiving corps were valid, but David was also at least partially to blame for the regression.
Garrard signed a contract extension making him the highest paid Jaguar in franchise history prior to the start of the 2008 season. That deal put higher expectations on him to at least match his performance in 2007, when he was one of the higher rated quarterbacks in the league.
While it was probably unfair to link his performance expectations to the contract that he had signed, there was no reason to think that he could not meet these demands when the season began. In fact, the team came into the 2008 season with high hopes for going deeper into the playoffs, possibly contending for the first Super Bowl berth in franchise history.
There was trouble with Garrard's performance last season that actually started to percolate late in the 2007 season. Teams had started to figure out that David did not have the aptitude for solid down field vision, and that he preferred to keep the passing attack more limited to slants and dump offs, opting for the check down more often than the deeper option.
As opposing teams adjusted to his style of play, Garrard began to struggle.
That carried over to last season where the memory of his amazing 15 touchdown, three interception performance was still fresh. He was able to match his career high for touchdowns by posting 15 scores again last season through 16 games. Unfortunately, he also tossed 13 picks in the process, seemingly coming back down to earth in the process.
There were times where his decision making seemed to be out of sync with what was happening on the field. He forced passes, and relied more heavily on the outlet receivers instead of allowing plays to develop.
Obviously, that was at least partially due to the fact that there were breakdowns along the offensive line. However, there were also times when David simply allowed the clock in his head to dictate when it was time to get rid of the ball even if the pressure was not immediately upon him.
Garrard had opportunities to extend plays by simply stepping up in the pocket. In many instances he took the second option, dropping the pass off to a running back or tight end. At other times, he would run out of the pocket, and rather than throw the ball away he would run it out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. This happened so often that it earned the tag "self sack" any time David kept the ball instead of throwing it away after leaving the pocket.
The Jaguars have spent a great deal of energy to fix the passing game over the past several years, but never as much as they have this time around.
Whether Torry Holt can prove to be capable of being a true number one receiver at this point in his career or not remains to be seen. The hope is that he has enough in the tank and that his knees will hold up to the rigors of starting in the NFL so that he can become that reliable outlet for David to target.
The offensive line has been retooled to bring in new tackles to help protect David so that he has the time and level of comfort required to stay in the pocket to let plays develop.
The crop of receivers competing for roster spots is a skilled group of players with the ability to shake coverage and stretch the field. The team will no longer rely on larger, lumbering receivers who do not possess the speed to take a play vertical, or the route running skills and technique to shed coverage and gain separation.
It all falls upon David Garrard this year and how he reacts to the changes taking place around him.
The team gave him a tacit vote of confidence by refraining from pursuing a quarterback in free agency or through the draft. There were discussions prior to the draft regarding a possibilities, but in the end the Jaguars made the decision to continue with their current commitment.
For now, this is David Garrard's team.
If he should stumble again this year, the blame is going to have to fall more squarely on him. The team will be forced to contemplate their long term options at the position. David is now well into his thirties. Hoping that he will make continuous strides to improve will start to become unrealistic if things go badly this year.
2009 is a make or break season for David Garrard. The spotlight will be smoking hot and aimed in his direction.