The 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars: Defying Expectations?
The 2008 Jaguars defied expectations by doing much worse than expected.
In 2008, the Jaguars had been talked about as a possible Super Bowl contender. However, that was not to be as the Jags went 5-11 en-route to a last place finish in the AFC South.
But that was the past and as star running back Maurice Jones-Drew said recently, "You can't live in the past."
The Jaguars have moved on, adding many new players to the roster. Expectations for the 2009 Jaguars are low, but fans here in Jacksonville are carefully optimistic that now with very little pressure, the Jaguars can finally flourish.
Here are some of the important parts that need to work for the 2009 Jaguars to have a good season and perhaps even make the playoffs.
It is no secret that since longtime Jaguar Fred Taylor was released and subsequently signed with the New England Patriots, this is Maurice Jones-Drew's team.
For the Jaguars to have a good season MJD will have to have an amazing season. There is no doubt that he is capable of having a beast of a season.
Rather, the question is, at 5'7" (which ironically is about my height) can he sustain the beating of a 16-game schedule as a starter?
Expectations for MJD are high across the board, NFL.com has him listed as their No. 3 player in terms of fantasy value. MJD is definitely the central part of the 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars.
If Maurice Jones-Drew is the central cog in the Jaguars offense, quarterback David Garrard is the second most important piece.
Garrard's 2007 season was the stuff of fairytales. Garrard went from relatively unknown backup to Pro Bowl alternate in one magical season.
Unfortunately his 2008 was very disappointing, but to blame it all on him would be wrong. Injuries on the offensive line and a poor receiving corps certainly did not help.
However, for the Jaguars to have a successful season Garrard will have to return to his 2007 form. So far in training camp he has looked much better.
With the return of a healthy offensive line (which I will speak about a little later), and a revamped receiving corps, Garrard seems ready to play at a high level.
Another interesting thing about Garrard this season is his weight. He has always been fairly heavy for a quarterback (he claims to have been about 250 lbs. at the end of last season), this year he has lost a significant about of weight. At the end of OTAs he weighed in at about 238 lbs. He feels this will help him avoid being sacked as much as he was in 2008. This may be Garrard's key season for the future of his career.
If he continues to perform like the 2008 edition, the Jaguars may need to get another quarterback in 2010. Needless to say, Jags fans are definitely hoping for more of 2007 Garrard than the 2008 edition.
The Pass Catchers
If I had to point out only one major weakness of the 2008 Jaguars, I would point to the receivers.
Last year's corps of Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, Dennis Northcutt, Mike Walker, and Troy Williamson did not work out very well. Of those receivers only two are still on the team, Mike Walker and Troy Williamson.
However, in addition to Walker (who has shown some promise as a reliable target for Garrard), the Jags have finally added a true No. 1 receiver, former St. Louis Rams wideout Torry Holt. Torry Holt is in my mind and many others, a future Hall of Famer, thus I am very excited to have him on my Jaguars.
I am not alone in this sentiment, when I went to training camp last week, fans were clambering for autographs and a chance to shake hands with this outstanding receiver. In addition, the Jaguars drafted three receivers and a tight end in the 2009 draft.
These rookies will likely be counted on to make an immediate contribution on offense. All three have shown great promise but coaches are especially high on seventh round pick Tiquan Underwood. He has shown great speed and good hands. The receiving corps will have to be much better than 2008s for the the Jags to have a decent season this year.
Jack Del Rio
Jack Del Rio has been the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2003. In that time the Jaguars have been to the playoffs only twice.
In my opinion this is a very disappointing record for an NFL head coach. I've always thought that Del Rio was more suited to being a defensive coordinator than a head coach, but obviously the Jaguars feel he is a good head coach.
This is an important part of the 2009 season, if the Jaguars fail to have a decent season, it may be time to move on and get a new coach. Fans I have spoken to still like Del Rio but are starting to become restless with the losing.
Defense has long been considered the strong point of Jaguars football, however in recent years the defense has slipped.
This year the defense has changed dramatically.
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has begun installing a sort of hybrid 3-4 defense. The base defense will still be the traditional 4-3 but the 3-4 will probably be used occasionally.
New players abound on defense, as many as seven new players may be starting on defense. Longtime middle linebacker Mike Peterson is gone, and has been replaced by former outside linebacker Justin Durant.
So far in practice Durant has looked much improved and should have no problem adjusting to his new position on defense. Cornerback Rashean Mathis looks good as usual and some good young defensive linemen have been making good impressions in training camp. The defense will need to return to playing the smashmouth type of football that they used to be known for if the Jags want to go anywhere this season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are focusing on team unity this year and Maurice Jones-Drew has taken this to heart.
MJD has announced something new that he calls the the "movement."
One part of this is Jones-Drew encouraging teammates and fans to grow beards to support the Jaguars this year. So far the idea seems to be catching on around Jacksonville, many of the players can now be seen sporting facial hair.
Even popular sportscaster Dan Hicken has begun growing a beard. Gimmicks like this sometimes actually work to increase the unity of the team which was considered to be a major issue of the 2008 Jaguars.
A Fan's Expectations
Obviously as a fan of the Jaguars, I want them to go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl in convincing fashion, but as a realist I can't hope for that.
However, I do think that the Jaguars will once again defy expectations and have a decent season that 2010 can build off of.
My prediction for the Jags is something like 8-8 or 9-7, probably keeping the Jaguars out of the playoffs. But, if everything goes right, the Jaguars could possibly go 10-6 and maybe even get a playoff spot as a wildcard team.
As a Jaguars fan, I am excited for this season and am hoping to see a good team out there defying the "experts" predictions.