NFL Cuts: Jacksonville Jaguars Make Major Cuts and Changes
Between trading a former first-rounder and keeping four undrafted rookie free agents, the Jaguars made some eye-opening decisions in Saturday's final preseason roster cuts.
As it stands, Jacksonville's depth chart is overwhelmingly young. Of the 53 players listed only eight have celebrated a 30th birthday. Compared to the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins, who each have 14 players in their thirties, the Jaguars look baby-faced.
The downside is a lack of long-tenured veterans. Almost half of Jacksonville's projected starters have three or fewer NFL seasons under their belts.
In grading the Jaguars it's important to have a sense of scale. To that end, you'll find an example of "grade-A" and "grade-F" depth at each position from other NFL teams' rosters.
QB: David Garrard, Luke McCown
Undrafted rookie quarterback Trevor Harris was among Jacksonville's final cuts Saturday. Despite flashes of talent in the preseason, Harris didn't do enough to break head coach Jack Del Rio's two-QB rule.
This year, as in 2009, starter David Garrard will lead the Jaguars as backup Luke McCown waits in the wings. Despite media rumblings each time McCown dominated a second-string defense this summer, this isn't a hot-seat situation.
Still Garrard has been underwhelming since his breakout year in Jacksonville's 2007 playoff run. This has invited the criticism that he's a one-year wonder. It's not hard to imagine the Jaguars addressing this position with a first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
A: New York Giants (Eli Manning, Sage Rosenfels)
F: Seattle Seahawks (Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst)
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings, Deji Karim
In trimming street free agents Chad Kackert and Kolby Smith from the roster Saturday, Jacksonville separated the wheat from the chaff at running back.
The Jaguars' group of All-Pro workhorse Maurice Jones-Drew, promising understudy Rashad Jennings, and speedy rookie return man Deji Karim is one of the NFL's last to resist a committee at the position.
Jennings and Karim will get their touches, but Jones-Drew is the unquestioned centerpiece of the offense.
A: Carolina Panthers (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson, Tyrell Sutton)
F: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Cadillac Williams, Clifton Smith, Kareem Huggins)
FB: Greg Jones, Montell Owens, Brock Bolen
Looking at Jacksonville's depth at fullback, the only concern is that it might be too much of a good thing.
Projected starter Greg Jones, a Pro Bowler in 2007, has been a key component of Maurice Jones-Drew's success. This is despite ending each of the past two seasons on the injured reserve list.
As for his backups, Montell Owens is the Jaguars' incumbent special teams captain. Brock Bolen caught the coaches' attention as a standout on offense this summer.
Regardless, rostering three fullbacks takes a spot away from another position.
A: New York Jets (Tony Richardson, John Conner)
F: Chicago Bears (None)
Recevier corps shows potential
Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, Tiquan Underwood, and Kassim Osgood, who'll help less as a pass-catcher than on special teams.
The emergence of Tiquan Underwood this summer allowed Jacksonville to cut Troy Williamson. The 2005 first-rounder and career project's unreliable hands put the brakes on his all-world speed.
Mike Sims-Walker has the size, hands, and speed to start for any team in the NFL. Now he just needs to show the resilience to withstand the rigors of a 16-game season.
Behind him, the Jaguars are counting on a trio of their 2009 draft picks led by the shifty Mike Thomas. As a group, Jarett Dillard, Thomas, and Underwood are extremely inexperienced but have decent potential.
A: Dallas Cowboys (Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant, Sam Hurd, Kevin Ogletree)
F: Seattle Seahawks (Deion Branch, Golden Tate, Mike Williams, Benjamin Obomanu, Deon Butler)
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Zach Miller, Zach Potter
The release of fan favorite Ernest Wilford was a victory for Zach Potter, an undrafted 2009 rookie out of Nebraska. He spent most of last season on Jacksonville's practice squad.
Considering Potter's 6'7", 280-pound frame, it's also a boon for Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis.
After clipping Lewis's wings last season to help two rookie offensive tackles in run blocking, the Jaguars will get their 2006 first-rounder more involved in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's vertical passing attack.
A: Chicago Bears (Greg Olsen, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kellen Davis, Desmond Clark)
F: Denver Broncos (Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn, Dan Gronkowski)
OT: Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Jordan Black, Kevin Haslam
Jacksonville's depth chart at offensive tackle is Exhibit A in favor of drafting the best player available, regardless of positional need.
In 2009, the Jaguars picked and committed to two linemen with their first two draft picks: Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Arizona's Eben Britton. Now, with a year of starting experience under each of their belts, Monroe and Britton are poised to hold down starting jobs at the ends of Jacksonville's offensive line for years to come.
They aren't as seasoned as you'd like, of course, and backups Jordan Black and Kevin Haslam are better in six-lineman sets than as full-time replacements. But the Jaguars have come a long way at this position from the days of Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos.
A: Baltimore Ravens (Michael Oher, Jared Gaither, Oniel Cousins)
F: Chicago Bears (Chris Williams, Kevin Shaffer, J'Marcus Webb)
OG: Uche Nwaneri, Vince Manuwai, Justin Smiley, Paul McQuistan
Toward the end of August veterans Vince Manuwai and Justin Smiley seemed locked in a two-man battle for one spot behind Kynan Forney.
Now that the dust has settled the two-man battle will continue sans Forney in favor of the pair of embattled pros.
Whoever wins will settle in opposite second-year starter Uche Nwaneri. a ferocious run blocker, Neaneri made waves this summer by panning NFL Draft prospect Tim Tebow. As a unit the Jaguars' potential starting guards look a little shaky in pass protection.
A: New Orleans Saints (Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, Matt Tennant)
F: New England Patriots (Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell)
C: Brad Meester
When undrafted rookie John Estes suffered a season-ending knee injury, Jacksonville's challenge to incumbent center Brad Meester went down too.
Meester gets points for consistency, topping the Jaguars' depth chart at center since 2003. The blame for Jacksonville's leaky interior line can't be laid entirely at his feet, considering their motley crew of journeymen, hobbled veterans, and rookies.
His blocking, however, simply hasn't been up to snuff since 2007. The Jaguars have shied away from using him as a pulling blocker—a maneuver that used to gash opposing defensive lines for big chunks of rushing yardage.
Whether it's the return of Estes, continued prep work with starting guard Uche Nwaneri, or a draft pick, something needs to be done to address Jacksonville's future at this position.
A: New York Jets (Nick Mangold, Robert Turner, Damien Woody)
F: Oakland Raiders (Samson Satele, Jared Veldheer)
DE: Aaron Kampman, Derrick Harvey, Larry Hart, Austen Lane, Aaron Morgan
Of these five players only 2008 first-rounder Derrick Harvey was on the roster a year ago. Position coach Ted Monachino was fired and replaced by wayward guru Joe Cullen.
Think last year's abysmal sack total (14, the NFL's lowest) caught Jacksonville's attention?
Still, for all the new faces, this is a unit characterized by long shots and limitations. Free agent signee Aaron Kampman is unlikely to come back 100% from a 2009 torn ACL.
Across from Kampman Harvey has shown the physicality and quickness to beat the pants off opposing tackles. He, however, may not have the closing speed to get the sacks expected from an eighth overall draft pick. Behind them the rookies will need time to get up to game speed.
A: Minnesota Vikings (Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Jayme Mitchell)
F: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Stylez White, Tim Crowder, Erik Lorig, Michael Bennett, Kyle Moore)
DT: Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu, Leger Douzable, Atiyyah Ellison...
...and Jeremy Mincey, a 2009 practice squad defensive end who split time between end and defensive tackle this summer.
Early on in training camp the Jaguars were hurting at this position. Mincey's switch was forced due to Tyson Alualu missing time with a calf injury. Terrance Knighton reported in terrible shape. Losing third-rounder D'Anthony Smith for the season in August marked a low point for the middle of Jacksonville's defensive line.
Lately Alualu has flashed the tenacity and quick hands that caught the Jaguars' eye in scouting him. Knighton has gotten back in Jack Del Rio's good graces. Even so Douzable and Ellison aren't great in rotation or as depth behind them.
A: Philadelphia Eagles (Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Trevor Laws, Antonio Dixon)
F: St. Louis Rams (Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott, Jermelle Cudjo)
LB: Daryl Smith, Kirk Morrison, Justin Durant, Russell Allen, Jacob Cutrera
As in 2009, Jacksonville unearthed a roster-worthy linebacker among this year's undrafted rookie free agents. Jacob Cutrera might not start every game, but he came out on top of a field of veterans and hardened special-teamers.
The Jaguars' draft-day trade with the Oakland Raiders for Kirk Morrison allowed Justin Durant to return to outside linebacker, patching two trouble spots with one move.
Jacksonville's general pass-rushing ineptitude notwithstanding, Daryl Smith was opposing quarterbacks' biggest worry last season. He brought quickness and block-shedding strength or lined up as a fifth down lineman.
A: Seattle Seahawks (Lofa Tatupu, David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill, Will Herring, Matt McCoy)
F: New York Giants (Jonathan Goff, Keith Bulluck, Clint Sintim, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn, Phillip Dillard, Bryan Kehl)
CB: Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, David Jones, Michael Coe, William Middleton...
Tyron Brackenridge—a holdover from the 2009 roster rememberred for getting burned on a fly route by Terrell Owens—and rookie return specialist Scotty McGee.
During Rashean Mathis's summer holdout for a new contract, Derek Cox was Jacksonville's best cornerback. Considering the consequences, it's surprising that Mathis didn't end up with the new deal he wanted.
Cox's progress in just one year has been admirable, but the idea from sites such as NBC's RotoWorld that he's better than Mathis is far-fetched. One of the main reasons he racked up 72 tackles in 2009 was the huge space cushion he'd give opposing receivers. This is a habit he has yet to break in 2010.
Mathis and the Jaguars' upgrade at nickel corner with former Bengal David Jones could boost this grade. Mathis, however, hasn't finished either of the past two seasons.
A: New York Jets (Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, Brian Jackson, Marquice Cole)
F: Detroit Lions (Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade, Amari Spievey, Aaron Berry)
S: Anthony Smith, Sean Considine, Courtney Greene
When sizing this group up, cut Jacksonville some slack. For all the work second-year general manager Gene Smith has put in, you can't fix it all right away.
Between cutting Gerald Alexander and shipping 2007 first-rounder Reggie Nelson out to Cincinnati, he's taken the safety position apart. In the wake of those sweeping changes, the Jaguars are left with Anthony Smith—best known for calling out the near-perfect New England Patriots in 2007—and 2009 backup Sean Considine as their starters.
Courtney Greene was a playmaker on Jacksonville's kick coverage team last year but the depth chart lacks depth.
A: Buffalo Bills (Donte Whitner, Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Bryan Scott, Cary Harris)
F: Jacksonville Jaguars (Anthony Smith, Sean Considine, Courtney Greene)
Specialists: K Josh Scobee, P Adam Podlesh, LS Jeremy Cain
Retaining last year's trio of designated special-teamers must have been fairly easy.
Unlike last summer, when Adam Podlesh fought off veteran punter Steve Weatherford and Jeremy Cain usurped fan favorite Joe Zelenka for long snapping duties, the Jaguars didn't invite any challengers to camp in 2010.
New special teams coordinator Russ Purnell has reportedly been impressed by Podlesh's hand-to-foot speed and directional kicking ability. Josh Scobee has made enough clutch kicks to earn a mulligan for last year's 64 percent conversion rate on field goals.
A: Oakland Raiders (K Sebastian Janikowski, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Condo)
F: Washington Redskins (K Graham Gano, P Josh Bidwell, LS Nick Sundberg)