Jaguars Youth Serves Up Competition in Jacksonville

Charlie BernsteinContributor IMay 16, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 1:  Tackles Eugene Monroe #75 and Eben Britton #73 of the Jacksonville Jaguars team up May 1, 2009 at a team minicamp near Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.  Monroe and Britton were the team's top two draft picks in 2009.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Jacksonville Jaguars front office will not come out directly and admit the team is rebuilding, but after releasing veterans such as Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, and Paul Spicer, it appears painfully obvious. 

Out of the 87 members of the current roster (including the 2009 draft class), just 22 players have more than four years of NFL experience.  With this infusion of youth, there should be some very interesting position battles this season in Jaguars camp.  We are going to preview two of what is sure to be the most intriguing competitions.

Offensive Tackle

The Jaguars addressed one of the weakest spots of team a year ago by letting former starting left tackle Khalif Barnes walk in free agency, and replacing him with three-time Pro Bowler Tra Thomas.  Knowing that the 34-year old Thomas is more of a band-aid to the left tackle position rather than a long-term solution, the team dedicated the entire first day of it's draft on offensive tackles, selecting former Virginia Cavalier Eugene Monroe and former Arizona Wildcat Eben Britton. 

When Monroe signs his contract, he will likely receive upwards of $20 million in guaranteed money and although every position is said to be open for competition, realistically the team can't leave that kind of money on the bench. 

"The thing about Eugene is that he possesses what we call left tackle abilities," Jaguars offensive line coach Andy Heck said about Monroe.  "Because he has such a great work ethic and is such a great person, I expect him to come and pick up things very quickly." 

With a proven left tackle in Tra Thomas, and a pair of first-day draft picks in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, there will be fantastic competition on the offensive line.  It will be interesting to see where right tackle Tony Pashos, who was signed to a rich contract prior to the 2007 season, will play, and it's no lock that he will even make the team following a 2008 campaign in which he, along with the rest of the line, struggled mightily. 

"First, we are going to find the best five players to play with and then find the nine or ten that will make this team," Heck told reporters following the draft.  "After that, we will figure out where they will go."

Wide Receiver

To say that the Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver situation has been disappointing is a pretty big understatement.  The team hasn't had an 800 yard receiver, much less a 1,000 yard receiver since Jimmy Smith retired, which was roughly four years ago.  After spending first-round draft picks on underachieving, non-character guys such as Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, the team decided to wash their hands of some of the key contributors in what was a below average passing game. 

The Jaguars decided to bring in a positive veteran presence in Torry Holt, who has earned seven Pro Bowl selections in his illustrious career.  After Holt, the wide receiver position is completely open for competition as the team spent their fourth-round pick on former University of Arizona wideout Mike Thomas, their fifth-round pick on former Rice Owl Jarett Dillard, and a seventh-round compensatory selection on former Rutgers speedster Tiquan Underwood. 

"I see some pretty good talent,” Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said of his new young targets. “They’re all wet behind the ears now, but they’re showing a lot of promise just running routes and catching the ball and actually making some plays out there. I know Mike Thomas is looking pretty good, and really all of them—Tiquan Underwood and the Dillard kid—there’s all looking good. And I’m very happy to have them out here.”

Battling it out with the rookie class will be somewhat less than sure-handed veterans Dennis Northcutt and Troy Williamson, youngster Mike Walker, and undrafted journeymen Nate Hughes, D'Juan Woods, Jason English, Todd Peterson, and Maurice Dupree. 

With Holt already secured a roster spot, and Thomas and Dillard likely to earn positions, the real competition will be from the talented, but often injured Mike Walker, slot receiver Dennis Northcutt, and former first-round pick Troy Williamson.  The team kept just five receivers for much of last season and with a team whose strength will be the running game, it's not likely that they will increase that number at the wide receiver position in 2009.


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