The next few years will determine whether newly promoted General Manager Gene Smith will live up to the expectations and hype the fans and media have been so eager to grant him. Whether it is the fans’ undying hope for the team to be successful or Smith’s operational beliefs, historically proven effective by other teams (Indianapolis Colts), the arrow seems to be pointing up for the Jacksonville Jaguars organization.
Smith has declared that he believes in building through the draft and acquiring high character talent. He has been unhesitant to rid the organization of bad character and has hopes to instill more intangibles in his players.
After a season of promise was devastated by injuries, poor attitude, and distraction, the Jaguars are looking to stand behind their new leader. With the 2008 season ending in bitter disappointment, it has been rumored the team is left with a bitter taste in its mouth. Nothing can change a team’s mindset like losing.
Unless you consider that Smith has gotten down to business by releasing long-standing players from the team on a variety of levels. To rid the team of age and to open up room for a new infusion of talent, Smith went to work by releasing franchise running back Fred Taylor, team co-captain Paul Spicer, and made it known he wasn’t interested in resigning several players who left for free agency. Smith also released high-priced free agent mistakes from last year in Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence.
Through these moves, Smith has dedicated himself to operating under the same principles at all times. This was demonstrated by the release of Matt Jones after his last chance was squandered on the golf course drinking beer and led to a failed drug test. Smith also acquired high character players in former Philadelphia Eagles teammates Tra Thomas and Sean Considine.
With the new, high-character blood in and the bad blood out (Reggie Williams, Khalif Barnes, Jones), Smith hopes to provide head coach Jack Del Rio with a team that is focused more on championships than snorting cocaine and smoking pot. With consistency in procedure and a no nonsense approach, I believe Smith will begin to instill a fear in his football players which whispers that no one is safe.
April 25th, however, will determine the near future, and the fans can expect the next few years to paint the picture of the team’s long-term hopes of the future.
Other than the excitement which surrounds acquiring multiple young talents who will hopefully contribute for years to come, the draft also provides the media and fans an opportunity to analyze the decisions made by the personnel office. Smith’s first draft will no doubt cause an over analysis by the organization’s fan base and media coverage alike. Smith will make his mark one way or another on draft day.
The question remains: Will Smith hold true to his philosophies on drafting the highest valued player on his board while also staying faithful to his belief on character? Only time will tell, however each fan will perform a tedious analysis on each player drafted, searching for anything which might betray Smith’s promised word. Under these circumstances, fans will then have a gauge in which to determine how much trust should be given to the new leadership.
On a different note, Smith is bound and determined to accumulate more draft picks. Albeit picks for this year or next, it is widely believed Smith is hiding a covert plan up his sleeve somewhere. Multiple scenarios exist in each fan’s mind, but common beliefs include the trade of John Henderson, trading down in the draft order, and drafting Chris Wells.
Fortunately, I honestly believe Wells is not in the organization’s plans. On the other hand, I believe that acquiring talent for and around David Garrard are in the plans of the franchise. I believe the future will be paved with strong offensive and defensive lines and promising, inexpensive talent on the outside. Epitomizing Smith’s high character standards, Jarrett Dillard, WR, Rice, was quoted saying the NFL Combine can’t “measure heart.” Players like Dillard who possess these intangibles are what this Jaguars team needs. Dillard has admitted the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jaguars have shown him the most interest.
The next few years will be a stepping stone to something special, in my opinion. It will be a time of change. It will be a period of strengthening. This team is not rebuilding. It’s remodeling. Smith is changing the face of the team while leaving the structure in sound condition. With a new look usually comes added confidence. Swagger is the key in the NFL.
With that swagger, the Jaguars will have a new uniform, a new feature running back, a new wide receiving corps, and a new General Manager. Common to all of these, however, is the undying devotion of the fans to the team. Through the struggles and change, the fans will watch from afar. They will support the team with adoration. They will also wait to see if Gene Smith has what it takes to bring Jacksonville a championship. I believe he does.