The torch was passed to a new generation on Feb. 16, when Gene Smith, Jack Del Rio, and Wayne Weaver hopped a charter jet and made their way to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to meet with longtime running back Fred Taylor.
By the time the jet was wheels-up and headed back to Jacksonville, arguably the greatest Jaguar in franchise history was a free agent in search of a new team, and a new era had begun for the Jags.
The move had to be the most difficult decision in the very short tenure of new general manager Smith.
After 11 seasons with the Jaguars, Taylor had become the beloved veteran as he progressed up the list of all-time great running backs in NFL lore. He was given respect around the league and was a fan favorite at home. Fred WAS the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As good as Taylor was during his time in Jacksonville, the team had made the tough call to part ways in order to make way for the beginning of a new era. A young, dynamic playmaker was waiting in the wings, and it was his time to shine. The 33-year-old Taylor could no longer hold back the inevitable.
Rather than create an awkward transition, the team sat down with Taylor to hammer out an arrangement that would allow him a graceful departure. The release was one of the most amicable in recent memory. Taylor was given ample opportunity to say goodbye to the fans, and the community was able to express their well wishes.
Behind the scenes, the shift had happened toward the end of the 2008 season as Maurice Jones-Drew became the focus of the offense. His big-play ability provided the Jaguars with a home run threat that they had not seen since Taylor was in his prime.
Jones-Drew was now the centerpiece of an offense that prides itself on being one of the most potent rushing machines in the NFL. The team moved quickly to secure his future with the Jaguars, extending his contract a little more than two months after Taylor was released.
The new focal point for the offense had quickly entrenched himself as the face of the franchise over the past two seasons, as his highlight reel continued to grow. His demeanor and media savvy off the field made him a popular interview subject on a national level. His work ethic gained the respect of his teammates.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a dynamic player who has earned his stripes with the Jaguars. He may wind up being the best player acquired during the Del Rio era. We could find him being discussed along with Fred Taylor and Tony Boselli as one of the greatest Jaguars of all time when his career winds down.
At a time when the Jacksonville Jaguars need someone who can step into a lead role as the face of the franchise to get the fans excited about the future, Jones-Drew appears to be just what the franchise required.
The self-proclaimed "Superman" may very well be the guy that has the ability to pull the franchise back from the precipice and provide the necessary spark that will put to rest any concerns there might be about the team and its long-term future in Jacksonville.
When Jones-Drew came into the league, he arrived with a chip on his shoulder. He fell to the second round, passed over at least once by every team in the league. When the Jaguars drafted him with their second-round pick in 2006, he made his displeasure with being passed over known.
Usually this type of rookie bluster fades into the oblivion as players deal with the usual struggles rookies encounter. They hit the proverbial rookie wall and fade into the background.
With Jones-Drew, this never happened.
He set a standard as a rookie as the best running back selected in the draft. He produced better stats than his more highly touted draft mate, Reggie Bush, and finished second to Vince Young for Rookie of the Year honors.
Based on his production, he probably should have won the award, but Young had become the media darling during his rookie season. Jones-Drew was never able to get the type of media recognition to mount a serious campaign for the award.
This provided the running back with yet another bit of motivation.
From their inception, the Jacksonville Jaguars have always looked for a homegrown player who carried the star power necessary to become nationally recognized. The team has come close on several occasions but never quite hit the mark.
Maurice is a player with all the necessary ingredients to be a genuine star for the Jaguars.
His stature gave him the "little guy" tag.
His draft slotting gave him "underdog" status.
His personality gave him a marketable face and persona.
He has just enough swagger to let others know that he is confident, but not too much to come across as being cocky.
His performance on the field gave networks the type of film that high-profile players dream of having.
Maurice has become the face of the franchise and a legitimate star in the National Football League. That is a tall order for any player competing in a small market.
Jones-Drew has yet to find an obstacle on the field or off that he cannot run around, over, under, or through.
As he enters the 2009 season, he faces one of the most difficult challenges of his football career: taking the torch from a legend and carrying on alone.
If his responses to previous challenges have set any sort of precedent, it is probably safe to say that you do not want to bet against Maurice Jones-Drew in 2009.
For a franchise that truly needs a player to step up and bring the star power to the table, the Jaguars have found their Superman, and they have now handed him his cape. The sky is the limit for Jones-Drew.
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