Maurice Jones-Drew assumed the lead role for the Jacksonville Jaguars rushing attack, and ascended to take on the task of being a leader on the field, in the locker room, and in the community. When he accepted the challenge of replacing Fred Taylor as the premiere back, he probably did not anticipate being the lone offensive weapon on a team struggling to find a spark.
Jones-Drew answered the challenge in the season opener by racking up 97 yards on 21 carries, padding his statistics with five receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown.
When Arizona came to town for the home opener on Sunday, Jones-Drew was expected to be one of the major contributors in helping the Jaguars earn their first win of the 2009 season in front of the smallest season opener crowd in franchise history.
The Cardinals set the tempo early and took the Jaguars offense out of their plan. The running game became secondary once the team was down by four touchdowns at the half-time break. With the running game taken out of the equation, Maurice Jones-Drew was nullified as a legitimate threat because the team was forced to throw the ball to try to get back in contention.
Even in a diminished role, Jones-Drew was able to put up more than 80 yards in total offense.
There have certainly been speed bumps along the way for Maurice to overcome.
First, he is not a player willing to shy away from contact. Because he will take the offensive in initiating a hit, he takes an unnecessary beating.
His mentor, Fred Taylor, had worked with Jones-Drew to avoid taking the big hits in an effort to prolong his career. Fred knew all too well the dangers of taking too many shots, and he paid the price by being tagged as a fragile player early in his career. When he started to be more aware of his own limitations, he was less inclined to take on a defender, opting to get what he could with an eye on the next opportunity.
Until Drew starts to understand just how short the career of an NFL running back is, he will continue to seek out contact. As these big hits start to pile up, it will begin to take a toll on his ability to remain a home run threat for the Jaguars.
With no viable alternative on the roster to offer respite from the beat downs he receives, the eventuality of Maurice missing playing time due to injury becomes more realistic.
The other obstacle for Jones-Drew to overcome is the lackluster performance of his offensive line.
He has been able to generate decent statistics despite the best efforts of his line to undermine him. With two rookie tackles, and one player returning from the Injured Reserve, the challenges presented to Maurice just to get back to the line of scrimmage can be as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest at times.
As his offensive line starts to show signs of cohesiveness and improvement, it will ease the burden he currently carries in making plays where none exists, and it will allow him to become the explosive weapon the team is confident he will be.
Jones-Drew is worthy of the feature back tag, but he needs another running back to split carries effectively in order to keep him fresh during games. The hits he has absorbed through two weeks would certainly cause lesser men to stumble, and despite his claims of being super human, he is not.
Great players certainly rise to the top and assume the role of leader, and Jones-Drew has done this with a high level of aplomb, saying and doing all of the right things. He is indeed a rising star in the National Football League, and the new face of the Jacksonville Jaguars around the country.
All Maurice Jones-Drew needs to figure out is how to preserve the momentum he currently enjoys to make it last as long as he possibly can. He is the star of the franchise, and their greatest offensive weapon. Flaming out early is not an option.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a confident and competent player. As his fortunes continue to rise, so do the fortunes for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That is certainly a lot to put on one player. Drew has proved he is more than capable of carrying that burden. He just needs to know when to pick a fight, and when to ease up in order to play another down. In turn, the team needs to do Jones-Drew a favor and find additional players to take on the burden of being play makers on an offense sorely lacking in that department.