The quarterback position has been one of the most scrutinized spots for the Jacksonville Jaguars going back to the days of Mark Brunell, when he was still in his prime.
This is not an unusual topic for NFL fans of any team lacking a legitimate elite signal caller.
It matters very little whose name is inserted into the discussion.
David Garrard enters his third season as the unchallenged starter at quarterback for the Jaguars. It is a position that took the veteran six years to achieve, as he waited patiently behind two separate starters hoping for his shot at the brass ring.
When the team released Byron Leftwich prior to the start of the 2007 season, Garrard finally reached his goal of starting in the league. He responded positively to the challenge, posting one of the most efficient efforts of any starting quarterback in the league with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
His quarterback rating for the 2007 season was among the best in the NFL, placing him in the top 10 for the season.
His most important achievement was helping the Jaguars earn a playoff spot and, subsequently, their first playoff win under Jack Del Rio.
It was a heady time for the player who had nearly lost his opportunity altogether at the end of the 2006 season. He almost caused a complete meltdown at the end of the season by filling in for the injured Byron Leftwich and taking the team out of playoff contention. By the end of the season, Garrard had been replaced by Quinn Gray.
He dedicated himself to putting that dismal performance behind him, and over the next few months as he prepared for the 2007 season, he worked on improving the flaws in his game.
He addressed a hitch in his throwing motion that caused his passes to miss the mark, and he focused on trying to make better decisions.
With the help of his quarterback coach Mike Shula, Garrard started to make significant strides during training camp leading up to the 2007 season, and he earned the confidence of his head coach as a result.
Garrard silenced the critics and proved that he could be a quality starting quarterback (in the right situation) with his 2007 performance.
Then, he got paid.
When Garrard signed his contract extension prior to the start of the 2008 season, many wondered if the Jaguars had rushed into giving him a new deal. The contract was the most lucrative ever signed by a Jaguar, so the team was making an unprecedented commitment to a quarterback who had only performed exceptionally well for one year as the starter.
The contract put to rest any talk of finding a starting quarterback for the Jaguars. After years of controversy, they were confident that they had found their guy, and they were eager to pay him despite the fact that he still had another year left on his current deal.
Expectations were high heading into the 2008 season. The Jaguars were being touted as a Super Bowl contender in media circles, and the buzz was growing louder by the day.
Garrard, coming off of his 2007 performance, was a contributing factor to this talk. Everything appeared to be heading in the right direction for the player and for the team.
Then, along came the injuries and off-field issues that sent the team into a tailspin.
Prior to the start of the season, the Jaguars were dealt a series of blows that left the team off balance and reeling. Starting with the arrest of receiver Matt Jones for cocaine possession, followed by Brad Meester's serious injury, and then Richard Collier's shooting, things were not going well for the team.
Meanwhile, their big wide receiver, free agent acquisition struggled to get on the field. Jerry Porter was barely able to take the field before he partially tore a hamstring that required surgery. He never regained any sort of form that would allow him to get up to speed, and as a result, he never developed any sort of chemistry with Garrard.
On opening day against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars were dealt two of the most significant blows to the team when Maurice Williams and Vince Manuwai were both lost to season-ending injuries before the halftime break.
With so many things going wrong around him, Garrard was never able to follow up his 2007 performance with any meaningful effectiveness. He struggled to deal with a makeshift offensive line that could barely protect him. He was barely able to establish himself in the pocket before he was being flushed out.
When he did have time, the hits that he had sustained created an alarm in his head that had him uncomfortable in the pocket. This caused him to force passes into spots that he would normally avoid, and the end result was a 10-interception swing from 2007 to 2008, as he posted 13 picks.
It was not a good year for Garrard.
Entering the 2009 season, Garrard seems to be focused and ready to play. After dropping 20 pounds during the offseason, he looks to be in the best shape of his career. He appears to be confident and more comfortable in his role, and he has a new supporting cast around him.
The offense is being tailored to his style of play, and the personnel being brought in to help him are solid, quality players.
This is the year Garrard proves once and for all whether 2007 was a fluke or if 2008 was just a compilation of problems that created the perfect storm for a quarterback to stumble through.
If he returns to his 2007 form, will that be enough for the team to succeed, especially when there is so much change on both sides of the ball?
The 2009 season will be the most critical year for Garrard to prove himself. His fortune or failure will mirror the team.
If he flounders, there is no other option—the team struggles.
If he regains his swagger and can get back to what he does best, the team will thrive.
It is just that simple.
Most agree that David Garrard will never be considered an elite quarterback. He can be a solid and efficient manager of the offense, and he can certainly win plenty of games and generate solid statistics in that role. However, he is never going to be deemed one of the best in the league.
The question that should be asked is whether it is even necessary for Garrard to achieve elite top-tier status in order for the team to be successful.
While it would certainly be nice to have an elite quarterback at the helm (a common wish for every team in the league), the Jaguars are a team built to run the ball. The demands placed upon Garrard are not as over the top as they might be for a pass-first team.
What would be expected of Garrard would be a performance more in line with what was seen in 2007, where he minimized his mistakes and took advantage of opportunities.
The receiving corps has been rebuilt to better suit his needs to add a vertical component to the passing game. The addition of experienced veterans and young speedsters will give Garrard an opportunity to find receivers capable of shedding coverage when he goes through his progressions.
This was a tall order in previous years with bigger, slower receivers vying for his attention.
The offensive line has been beefed up and given adequate depth to assure that he will not run into the same type of situation that he encountered last season. He will have adequate pass protection, and the running game will not be hampered by poor blocking.
The running game took a hit with the loss of Fred Taylor, but Maurice Jones-Drew is a legitimate home run threat who can make any quarterback look good with his ability to break any play wide open.
The addition of Rashad Jennings should allow the Jaguars to maintain the two-headed attack that has become their trademark in recent years while providing Garrard with an outstanding pass catcher out of the backfield.
At tight end, the Jaguars have added competition with Zach Miller. The rookie quarterback-turned-tight end is a pass catching machine. If the ball is in his range, he is going to catch it. The Jaguars are working on packages that will allow Miller to be productive right out of the chute.
Garrard has a well-documented tendency to rely upon his outlet receivers, and Miller could benefit greatly from that in his efforts to make an immediate impact.
For David Garrard, the stars are aligned to have a good season.
Does he need to have a top-tier performance for the team to rebound?
What he does need to do is settle into the mindset that he is the starting quarterback and that this is his team.
He needs to have enough confidence in the talent around him so that his sole focus is on making each play a success.
He does not need to be worried about whether he is going to be hit again or chased out of the pocket. He does not need to concern himself with receivers that are not getting open.
He just needs to focus on doing his job.
He does not have to be elite in his efforts. He just has to be good enough.
The rest will take care of itself.