As a longtime and loyal Jaguars fan I was very excited about the possibilities for the future of this team going into the offseason. While I, like many others, was disappointed by our slide at the end of the ’09 season, I was encouraged by the emerging growth of some of our players. I will start with an evaluation of things that are looking up.
Some good things out of 2009
Mike Sims-Walker has grown into a player worthy of waiting three years to see get on the field. I completely expect him to be our number one wideout next season.
Mike Thomas emerged as a dynamic slot receiver and got the record for the most catches by a Jaguars rookie with 48 (tied Michael Crabtree in about the same number of games and as a slot, not a starter, so not too shabby).
Derek Cox showed his huge upside with four interceptions and 11 deflections. He certainly showed that Gene Smith knows what he is doing with those small-school guys.
Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton was a beast in the middle, and will anchor our line for years to come.
Eben Britton was arguably the best rookie tackle in the game at RT. This man got it done last year and handled Robert Mathis in our games against the Colts. True to what he said, I think he is already making teams who passed him up regret it.
Eugene Monroe had a rough start at LT, but steadily improved over the season. I expect at least a solid season with the definite possibility of a breakout next year. We are settled at the tackle positions.
Maurice Jones-Drew handled the load and more. With the most rushing TDs since 2007 is it any surprise that MJD lived up to his billing as a feature back. It didn’t surprise me, and I expect the train to keep on going next year.
Now there were some downsides to last year as well
Derrick Harvey was a solid LE, but did not give us the elite pass rush we had hoped for. While he led the team in hurries, he didn’t get the sacks often enough. However, our new D-line coach, Joe Cullen, says that he was not taught proper technique, and expects him to improve to a double digit sack level this year.
The rest of the D-line besides Harvey and Knighton was a disaster. Even "Big Hen" John Henderson just didn’t have the mojo that he did of years past. 14 sacks was seven less than the next team up (the Chiefs) and was half of what the rest of the league averaged. This was a major problem.
Safety play was bad for most of the season. Considering that they were often left on islands thanks to the horrible pass rush, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed might have had trouble, but still some things you can’t blame on the rush. Like, for instance, blown coverage.
At the FS Reggie Nelson started off the season strong and looking improved, but his play took a huge nosedive in the second half (especially after he tried to start at corner). This culminated in the foolish attempt to swat a ball out of Reggie Wayne's hands rather than going for the tackle, which resulted in a TD for the Colts in a game we lost by just a couple points.
At the SS Sean Considine looked like a career backup who just couldn’t make the cut for most of the season that he started. Although I thought that Gerald Alexander seemed like a good playmaker any time he was in, he only got to start the last couple of games.
Tackling among the linebackers was bad—no one besides Smith could get his man to the ground consistently.
Rashean Mathis looks like he’s beyond his prime now, and I am wondering if he is truly over the hill or just having some bad luck the last two seasons.
The interior of our offensive line was makeshift at best. Vince Manuwai did not look like he had regained his 2007 form, and there was no real answer at the other guard spot. Brad Meester seems to have been affected by his many injuries the past couple of years, and looks like he will need to be replaced soon.
So going into the offseason we had several strengths and many weaknesses. In part two of the article I will evaluate how we met some of our needs through free agency, the draft, and trade, taking a comprehensive look at where our team stands heading into next season.