Expectations were running high for Jack Del Rio as his Jacksonville Jaguars stormed onto LP Field this past Sunday to face division rival, the Tennessee Titans. Coming off the most lucrative contract extension ever given to a Jaguar and a stellar three interception season, David Garrard was hoping to avenge last season's disappointing playoff exit and maintain the Jaguar's new perception of being a favorite to go to the Super Bowl. Little did he know that he would end up being flattened on his back seven times and throw over half the interceptions that he threw all of last year combined against a staunch Titans defense led by Cortland Finnegan.
Maurice Williams suffered a partial tear to his biceps muscle in pre-game warm ups and today the Jaguars have placed him on injured reserve. Williams received a contract extension to remain in Jacksonville to play out of his favored right tackle position and fill the void at guard that he did so admirably when Chris Naeole went out for the season last year. Before the game even started, Williams was gone. While this was devastating news to Del Rio, little did he know he was only staring down the tip of a devastating injury iceberg whose slippery slope would claim two more.
Although the loss of Williams was crucial, Del Rio still maintained optimism, since he was aware of the depth of the position. Second year player from Purdue Uche Nwaneri was poised to fill in, a player who really pushed Williams for a starting position in preseason. Injuries happen. Life goes on.
Then, as quickly as the Jaguars lost Williams, Nwaneri was down. Already playing without all-pro Center Brad Meester, who was put on the PUP list for an injured bicep, the Jaguars were down two, or maybe even three if you consider Richard Collier, who was critically wounded in a drive-by shooting on September 2nd. Nwaneri return would return, but was obviously limited throughout the rest of the game.
To add insult to injury (no pun intended), Vince Manuwai was down. Manuwai, the sixth year pro out of Hawaii, was arguably the best player on the Jaguars line. Tutan Reyes now has to step in, and Albert Haynesworth and Tony Brown are chomping at the bit. Manuwai was determined to have an ACL tear, and was placed on injury reserve after the game. The Jaguars never had a chance from then on.
When asked if the Jaguars are still contenders, jaguars.com senior analyst Vic Ketchman stated, "I still think that the Jaguars are contenders. I still think that they can go out and win games. However, now they are contenders, whereas before they were favorites." So what's the next step?
The Jaguars recently signed Charles Spencer and Milford Brown in free agency to fill these voids. Charles Spencer was an amazing prospect coming into the Houston Texans camp his rookie year, earning a starting left guard spot week one of his rookie year. Unfortunately, in his second pro game, Spencer suffered a devastating "grand slam" injury, tearing his LCL, ACL, PCL, and MCL. If Spencer can re-gain his pre-injury form, the Jaguars may have picked up a bargain and nice replacement for Manuwai, however this would be an incredibly difficult injury to recover from. Brown, who was signed by the St. Louis Rams and played 15 games as a filler player, will provide some more depth for the Jaguars, but more importantly will accentuate the significance of how premier an opportunity it is for Uche Nwaneri to permanently seize a starting spot. Add in that Meester will be available by week eight, a hungry right guard that is looking to assert himself into the starting line-up, and the prospect of a former stud left guard who is looking to re-establish his pre-injury potential, and the Jaguars may not be as depleted as initially thought.
Folks, don't count this team out yet.