David Garrard, Luke McCown and Other Colossal Jaguars Concerns
After a 1-3 preseason record, the Jacksonville Jaguars brass, especially head coach Jack Del Rio, believes this team will be good and challenge for the AFC South title.
Maybe they are counting on Peyton Manning being out for some time to level part of the playing field.
The Jaguars still have major question marks in all facets of their team, including special teams and the coaching staff. They made their final cuts and trimmed their roster to the 53-man limit on Sunday, drawing questions as to who will fill slots on special teams, the second running back after Maurice Jones-Drew and in the offensive line where two third-year tackles need to show more promise.
These issues, along with a tough schedule for finishing second in the division last year, do not bode well for a team that appears to be in transition. I have been critical all preseason of this team, hoping to find something that would tell me this is a franchise that can challenge for a playoff position.
Right now, I can't do that and want to be proved wrong (yes, as a fan and as a writer). The Jaguars have many new pieces to a puzzle that has yet to fit together and while millions of dollars were spent to shore up a defense that still looks uneven, the offense is in just as many straits, losing Rashad Jennings to injury and dealing with an offensive line that is shaky at best right now.
How will the new players signed in free agency adapt to the style and contrast of other schemes played in before and how will the veterans on this team rally to provide leadership to many new faces?
The AFC South becomes a lot more difficult to navigate if Manning is not starting for the Colts. The Texans are better and the Tennessee Titans hope to be improved with a new quarterback and a happy Chris Johnson.
The Jaguars finished second last season, but if improvements are not made this season to issues that have existed (that will be discussed in this slideshow), then the team could finish at the bottom of the crowded division that could place two teams in the playoffs this season.
Quarterback: Will Luke McCown Be the Answer for the Jaguars?
With David Garrard just released from the team, what happens now?
Luke McCown will be the starter for now while Blaine Gabbert learns more and then is inserted in the line-up, probably some time in the near future.
What happened speaks volumes about the team and the direction it wants to take in the future.
The image of Garrard hold his right arm and grimacing in the Rams game last week is still one that I see as a major problem.
McCown looked good in mop up duty for this team in the preseason and Gabbert flashed signs of great play, but again he is still a rookie.
Look for this team to rely heavily on the ground game and short passing schemes to move the ball down field.
Running Back: There Is Maurice Jones-Drew ... and ?
Maurice Jones-Drew looks completely healed from the knee injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the season.
Rashad Jennings proved to be more than a capable backup in his place, but during the game against the Bills, Jennings was injured and placed on injured reserve for the entire season.
Deji Karim opens 2011 as the primary backup to Jones-Drew. This was a team strength and now appears to be somewhat of a weakness.
Will Greg Jones get more carries from the fullback position? What happens now in goal line situations?
It was believed that the Pro Bowl performer would have his carries reduced this season in an effort to keep him healthier toward the end of the season.
There is no doubt Jones-Drew can carry the Jaguars running load, we just wonder if the load will wear him down.
Receivers: Can Someone Other Than Mike Thomas Emerge as a Receiving Threat?
At 5'8", Mike Thomas is expected to be the go-to receiver for this team. So much for years past when tall receivers like Reggie Williams and Matt Jones were expected to be trees that could catch balls across the middle or in the end zone.
Jason Hill, Cecil Shorts and Jarrett Dillard are expected to help find the red zone.
Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis is a big target for whoever is behind center, but you get the feeling more is needed, someone who is more adept at catching a football in an important moment in the game.
Offensive Line: Who Are These Guys?
Brad Meester, meet Guy Whimper.
Guy Whimper, meet Will Rackley.
Will Rackley, meet Eugene Monroe.
You get the picture. This offensive line was tough last season, but it underwent an overhaul with the release of Vince Manuwai and the signing of Jason Spitz and the drafting of Will Rackley.
Monroe and Eben Britton, who may not start the season, are being counted on to finally be the bookend tackles they were drafted to be. If they are not as good as advertised, it will be a long season and McCown or Gabbert will be on his back plenty this season.
Defensive Line: Is Everyone Present and Accounted For?
Defensive end Aaron Kampman got his first taste of live action Thursday night, played a few downs and called it an evening.
The defense will be the focal point of critique and criticism if it cannot improve on its pass rush and sack totals from last season.
With a healthy Kampman, who will have his plays from scrimmage reduced to 45 this year and the continued progress of both defensive tackles, Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton, this can be a decent unit.
The question remains, what happens opposite of Kampman where free agent signee Matt Roth and Jeremy Mincey look to get into the rotation with Austen Lane?
There may be numbers here, but are there enough to scare opposing quarterbacks? The Jaguars had only one sack during the preseason.
Linebackers: The Team's Most Improved Unit?
We hope so.
Two new starters and depth give this team a new look and possibly better tacklers than last season.
Holdover Daryl Smith is now playing along side Paul Posluszny and Clint Session. They appear to be faster at getting around the field, but like the same thing said before, they are just puzzle pieces right now.
If the middle of the defense molds the way defensive coordinator Mel Tucker hopes, this will be the most improved unit on the team and maybe the best unit in the division.
Secondary: 13 Interceptions Last Year Does Not Cut the Mustard
Rashean Mathis looks like a new man on the field and Dawan Landry may be the missing link to what the team needed in terms of a shot of adrenaline.
The team let go Don Carey, a starter last season and David Jones is on IR. Look for this unit to improve during the season, but the changes will still take time to gel because of lack of continuity.
The team traded for Dwight Lowery this past weekend to add depth.
Special Teams: Old Kicker, New Punter and New Hope
Josh Scobee was the best kicker in football the first half of the season and then tailed off. He cannot be counted on to kick 53-yard field goals to win games. That is the offense's job to score points.
Matt Turk will handle the punting duties.
The Jaguars special teams, including Kassim Osgood need to perform better. The league's new kickoff rules make it a little more difficult, but the team must tackle better and give the defense a better chance to give the ball back to Garrard and friends.
Conclusion: The Team Isn't Going Anywhere, Yet.
This is not a playoff team yet. Too many questions. Not enough progress. A possible quarterback change is on the horizon and injuries already in the preseason have cast doubt on the offense.
Can this team make the playoffs? Maybe, but again this will be more about other teams falling to the Jaguars instead of them rising above.
This team controlled its own destiny 15 weeks into the season. Another collapse and this is the end of the Del Rio Era. Period.