OTA's ended yesterday, so we are officially to the period of the so called "Dead Zone". It is a great time to stop a little bit, and see what this team did so far in the offseason (I mean after draft). Where the Jaguars are right now in the preparations to the offseason? We saw some changes, we saw things which keeps us fans a little uncomfortable (I must write down one word, "Henderson"), and some moments we can be happy about.
Now, let's start with the area of concern-the defensive line. Things change fast, huh?
There was a time not so long ago, until the last 2 years, that when people called the name "Jacksonville Jaguars", they immediatly thought of our dominant defense, especially in the middle. We had obstacles no one had that time in Henderson and Stroud. Sadly, this era is over. With the recent mysterious shoulder injury of John Henderson, which lead a public callout from coach Del Rio, we saw the not so promising looking reality of the D-line. I still have hope on Big (Lazy?) John, but he should rather produce 150% in the upcoming training camp, or he will wear another team's uniform before opening day.
The other starter of last year, Rob Meier, has literally disappeared from our eyes. I haven't seen many articles this offseason, which spent a word on him, which is not a good sign (in my opinion, he is a strong candidate to being cut or a trade before the final roster will be announced). So, all the hopes at DT is a developmential guy (Derek Landri), a player who spent most his professional career in several teams practice squad (Atiyyah Ellison), and the 3rd round pick from this years draft from Temple (Terrance Knighton). Sounds satisfying huh?
I don't think so... (Which lead me to say, if I would be a gambler, then I would put my money on a DT drafted in the 1st round next year..) Ellison so far shining in the OTAs, and Landri has the size to be a player on the field. From Knighton you can hear mixed signals. Vic Ketchman likes him. Ex Jaguars and Jets defensive lineman, and current color analyst Jeff Lageman says he needs to get better(source: this weeks edition of "Jaguars This Week"). I think with all that, the role of last year 1st & 2nd round picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves (with long proven veteran Reggie Hayward) importance to be a force in a pass rush all of sudden rises very, very much in my opinion. Otherwise, it will be a long season in that area for the Jaguars.
We saw a small, but very important change this week. The last member of the '"disaster FA trifecta", Cleo Lemon was cut by the Jaguars(the other 2 was Jerry Porter, and Drayton Florence-names we want to forget, but their ghosts will live here in the next couple of years). Now all the big money free agents of former Jaguars player personel boss James "Shack" Harris is out. It only costs just about $27 million of Wayne Weaver's money. Oh what a small price, especially in current economical times... If somebody wondered why Shack must leave this team(poor Lions...)! It means more then ever before then the most fragile area of the Jaguars is at QB.
Hey, I trust on the skills of Todd Bouman, this team's old-new backup QB(he was the backup of Quinn Gray, when Garrard was injured for 3 games back in 2007), but he is not someone who can lead the team to anything big in my opinion. Maybe the Jaguars will sign another QB (some say, if Brodie Croyle will be cut by the Chiefs, there is a chance, that he might land here. Connection would be Jaguars QB coach Mike Shula, his coach in Alabama back then). But let's hope David will be producing another "16 starts" season. And I think next year the Jaguars will draft a new development QB. Just not T. T. (I guess you know who I think about) instead someone, where Garrard was drafted in 2002-around 3-5 round.
Now the feel good stuff.
The drafted rookies all shown signs that they were worthy to pick in last spring. Especially the skill guys on the offense show reason of the attention. All 3 receivers (Jarett Dillard, Mike Thomas, and until he was sidelined with a small hamstring injury, Tiquan Underwood) show things we can count in the season. It seems to me, that with them, plus with veterans such as Torry Holt, and Mike Walker (and maybe Dennis Northcutt, and Troy Williamson), the Jaguars finally will have something, that they are lacking: threat at the receiver position! Times are changing...
I mentioned what was the nationwide thought about the D-line of the Jaguars. Now lately everybody joked about are receiving corps. They will stop that from this year! If David gets his protection and enough time to throw, things he lacked last year, plus these players can prove, that they can be a force, then the Jaguars has a new calling card all of sudden: the passing game! Lets not forget the 2 secret weapons this team starts to develop, and could be the real steals of the draft: the ex QB/ now TE from Nebraska, Zach Miller, and the RB of Liberty Rashad Jennings.
Miller is maybe looking so far the best among the rookies, plus he will be the player to be used to trick the opponents( I mean the Wildcat here). He is a Matt Jones type of player, exept charachter, and (I hope) reliability-and he was drafted in the 6th round! The GM Gene Smith already compares him to Owen Daniels, and Dallas Clark, exept Miller is faster. Sound promising?
Jennings, he might can take off the very high pressure and expectations from Maurice Drew, by showing that he can be Fred Taylor-ish kind of player, a partner who can help to boost the running game.
It seems more and more, that on opening day in the end of the offensive line 2 young rookie tackles will start and will protect David from the opponent. I think the situation is this: Eugene Monroe, and Eben Britton must suffer an injury or a meltdown (let's hope neither will happen) and the starting job is theirs. With this the Jaguars can move Tony Pashos to add depth at guard or right tackle, and have a quality backup at left tackle in Tra Thomas. Sounds promising? You can bet!
Let's hope the player can make the biggest boost at defense, 3rd round pick CB from William&Mary Derek Cox will heal 100% from his hamstring injury, and can take the starting job at CB along with Rashean Mathis, Brian Williams and Reggie Nelson(with backups Sean Considine, Marlon McCree, and Scott Starks in the mix), and under the new defensive coordinator, and defensive back expert Mel Tucker they can improve last years bad performance at the secondary. The linebackers looks very good. Clint Ingram is seems to be ready to perform well on his contract year, and I expect the same from Justin Durant, and Daryl Smith. And let's not forget the promising undrafted rookie free agents as well! I think at least 2 and maybe even more can made the team: Russell Allen, Pete Ittersagen, Mesphin Forrester, Maurice Dupree, and Brock Bolen might all have a shot a traing camp. And the 3 practice squead signs of last december, the already mentioned Ellison, the OG Cameron Stephenson, and the DB Kennard Cox and shows, the this team might have the talent and hungry lions, in what last year they lacked, and what lead (among others) to a 5-11 season.
Now until traing camp starts the Jaguars need two things: all their players stay out of trouble in the next one and a half months! The other key area is contracts of the rookies. Last year's holdout can not happen this year. I read an article today ( http://www.jacksonville.com/sports/football/jaguars/2009-06-19/story/jaguars_seek_to_avoid_holdout_with_monroe) which says to me that both Gene Smith and Monroe's agent will do their best, that this year #8 draft pick starts the training camp the same day when the rest of the players will do on August 3rd. Let's hope that will be the case, and nothing wrong will disturb this deadzone. If everything happens rightly, then we can see an interesting training camp with lot of position battle, and then the thing we all wait will come: opening day, and the oppurtunity that the Jaguars can bounce back!
Zoltan Paksa - Zen Buddhist Extraordinaire