Five Reasons the Jacksonville Jaguars Will Make the Playoffs in 2011
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the "yeah but" teams for quite a few years. Just when it looks like they will make a move, the team slips. There are a number of reasons for this. The simplest to understand are that key role players got old and the team used poor player-acquisition techniques.
Here's what happened four out of the last five years.
In 2006, the Jaguars were 8-5 and lost the remaining three games of the season. In 2008, bad drafting caught up with the team and after starting 3-3, the Jaguars lost eight of the remaining 10 games.
In 2009, the playoffs were in sight with a young roster at 7-5 before losing the remaining four games. Last year, the trend continued and the Jaguars lost the final three games, after starting 8-5 and needing only to beat the Colts in Week 15 to lock up a playoff spot and the AFC South crown.
The buzz around the Jaguars is that this year could be different.
MJD and Lewis Are Elite Red-Zone Threats
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The Jaguars re-signed Marcedes Lewis to a five year contract worth $38 million, which ensures that they keep a top red zone threat on the roster.
Last season, Lewis had 700 yards on 58 receptions with 10 touchdowns. His off-season MMA training has him in the best shape of his career, which may help keep him focused for the year ahead.
Maurice Jones-Drew has made progress after his off-season surgery for a torn meniscus and should be ready to roll by the start of the season. He is being eased into training camp and the preseason, however. He can be expected to score more rushing touchdowns this year, as he only had five in 2010.
He was limited in goal-line situations with the knee injury. Another 1,000 rushing season is likely, and an improving offensive line will increase his goal-line scores relative to a year ago.
The Defensive Backfield Is No Longer a Liability
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Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis did not get much help from their partners at the safety position in 2010. In fact, the safeties were so inexperienced that Rex Grossman could have been mistaken for Joe Theisman incarnate against the Redskins.
Key additions this off-season for the Jacksonville Jaguars may improve the backfield enough to compete against the Texans' and Colts' offenses.
At the safety position, the Jaguars added Dawan Landry as a free agent and Chris Prosinski through the draft.
Landry will shore up one of the safety spots, as he was productive throughout his time with the Ravens even when Ed Reed was out with injuries. Prosinski will compete with Courtney Greene for the other starting safety spot.
Drew Coleman was added as a free agent to play nickel back. The Jets failed to re-sign him even though he was very productive at the position. He registered four sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception. Rod Issac was also drafted with the nickel position in mind.
Each of these additions, along with improved play of defenders from the 2010 team, will ensure that the backfield is not a liability this year.
The Rushmen Will Step It Up
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Aaron Kampman is coming off his second torn ACL in as many seasons. However, his work ethic and determination are second to none. Before his injury, Kampman registered four sacks in eight games and was very close to a lot more than that.
The young Jaguar Rushmen had the benefit of working closely with Aaron Kampman during the lockout. If it were not for him, their development would very much be hindered.
He's like having a coach on the field for the young players, and his knowledge during this summer may go a long way to improving the defensive line.
Austen Lane has looked faster in training camp. He also plays with an unmatched passion for the game. Look for him to have a breakout sophomore season in 2011.
Tyson Alualu has added good weight this off-season and is no longer battling soft-tissue injuries.
D'Anthony Smith will be a role player in the defensive tackle rotation. He displayed quick feet before being lost during his rookie campaign with a torn Achilles tendon. Even if he can't play to that level, he'll still have the opportunity to be an important contributor.
With Pot Roast, it is same old, same old. Terrance Knighton reported to training camp 20 lbs overweight. He's making progress, but he's not there yet. He'll be fine by the time the Jaguars play the Titans on 9/11.
Jeremy Mincey was productive in Kampman's absence in 2010, registering five sacks during the season while starting only eight games. Joe Cullen, the coach of the Rushmen, will push him to succeed even more this season, along with the rest of the line.
The Wide Receiving Corps Is Emerging
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The Jaguars are not going to get another wide receiver in free agency in the immediate future. All available information leads me to believe that team personnel want to see how the young group performs this year.
The young group includes Mike Thomas, Jason Hill, Cecil Shorts and Jarett Dillard.
Kassim Osgood is another receiver on the team, but he is going into his eighth season and is more well-known for his special teams prowess than his ability to catch footballs and run after the catch.
Mike Thomas had a solid sophomore outing in 2010. He caught 66 passes for 820 yards and four touchdowns. He ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at his NFL combine and said he clocked a 4.29 this off-season during an interview of his on the Pete Prisco show.
He is a motivated player looking to take the next step. With his size, many people, including myself, are beginning to compare him to Panthers great Steve Smith.
Jason Hill caught 11 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown during the final six games of last season. He was claimed off of waivers from the San Francisco 49ers and was chosen to fill the 2011 starting receiver position as opposed to re-signing Mike Sims-Walker.
Cecil Shorts was drafted out of Mount Union. He was a teammate of Pierre Garcon. The two of them obliterated any receiving records the school had prior to their attendance. He has flashed in training camp and is starting to turn heads.
Jarett Dillard broke his leg during his rookie season and broke his foot last season. If those problems are behind him, he could still develop into a reliable possession receiver. He is competing with Cecil Shorts for the No. 3 receiver position.
The Linebackers Are a Strength of the Team
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Daryl Smith, Paul Posluszny and Clint Session. Those are the three players the Jaguars plan to have as the starting linebackers this season barring injury. It looks like a great group.
They'll be able to play together for a long time, but this year will unveil the growth of a possible three-headed monster in the defensive middle.
Daryl Smith has the most tackles in franchise history even though he has only played seven seasons thus far. He will be the team's strong-side linebacker. He is well suited for the position as he can blitz, help in coverage and stop the run.
Paul Posluszny is a banger at middle linebacker. He's not so much of a blitzing linebacker, though he has shown the ability to do that in the past. He is good at cutting off routes in the middle of the field and terrific in run support.
Clint Session is a young player that likely hasn't played his best football yet. He is also very good in run support, so the Jaguars should at the very least be improved in that area this year. He will play the weak-side linebacker position.
The Jaguars also have depth in Alvin Bowen, Jacob Cutrera and Russell Allen.
General Manager Gene Smith did a good job of solidifying the linebacker position in free agency with the addition of the free agents. If they live up to the hype and their contracts, it could go a long way towards getting the Jaguars into the postseason this year.