Yup, it's that time of the year... Well, sort of. In school, report cards are used as a measure of performance, but that just doesn't seem right to me, given the "any given Sunday" effect. What I'm going to attempt to do is give what I think of as a "talent" report card. Of course, talent is a very vague and individualized term, but I'll do my best to be objective in my grading, like with any kind of report card. Hopefully, I can give some idea of where we are in the rebuilding effort and give us a hint as to how the team will do for the rest of the year and into the future.
It's a tough job for one guy to really get all these answers right, but I'll do my best.
Up first, everyone's favorite superhero/scapegoat positionQuarterback: C+ I think that we are not nearly as bad off at the Quarterback position as we could be. Garrard has been getting good time, and a much improved receiving corps to work with this year. He has been extremely accurate up to this point in the season in my opinion. Even in his bad games, his effectiveness has been negatively affected by timely drops, and being forced out of the ball control type gameplan in which Garrard has been so successful this season. His accuracy drops off after about 35 yards, and Garrard seems hesitant to throw the long ball. This is a good and bad think in my mind because it takes away from his effectiveness, but it also suggests that he is thinking. He isn't just gonna throw it up, he is asking himself "is this deep ball worth the risk." Since the number one question mark on Garrard is decision-making, that is the kind of weakness I can handle in a starting QB. Losing McCown was an unfortunate circumstance, since not having a solid backup forced us to play Trent Edwards early, and pull Todd Bouman off his tractor for a game apiece when Garrard went down. Bouman played a decent game, but made a key pick in the KC game that kind of lowered his performance grade. Given the injuries and the hit-or-miss performances this season, the QB's have to grade out at about a C+. With a little hard work, however, Garrard can help bring this grade back up before the season is over. Oh yeah... we're a little bit old, but we're drafting a guy next year. We'll have to decide who's staying on to help him around, Garrard or Trent Edwards. My stinginess has me leaning towards Edwards.
Backs: B+ Two words: Pocket Hercules. Three more: NFL's best fullback. That's something that as a fan I just love to see. MJD has been a different kind of beast this season. I'm kind of comparing his season so far to the Clinton Portis of a few years ago, who would average 4 yards a carry, but would actually get about 4 yards every time he touched the ball. He's yet to have a chance to flash the speed we know he still has on a big long run, which makes me think he could be a little off of the expected pace. Blame his lack of scores on Marcedes Lewis. His yardage is good considering he sat out the equivalent of a full game plus some, when either in lopsided losses or leading big against the hopeless Bills. That Bills game was a great opportunity for Deji Karim, who surpassed Rashad Jennings for the backup spot. Karim has been a big boost in the return game, and he has flashed very good quickness and looks like a legitimate speed threat. Greg Jones is seriously blowing people up left and right in the running game. I can't believe I almost thought it was a good idea to get rid of this guy at the beginning of the year. The interior O-line is the only the thing keeping the backs out of the A range.
Receivers: B- I am encouraged by the performance of our Wide Receivers so far this season, but inconsistency has been a problem. Mike Sims-Walker has shown flashes of greatness, and yes I do mean greatness. That sideline catch last week was incredible, and when he's gotten looks, he's made catches. Mike Thomas is an asset to this team as well. Ideally, we would have a number 2 guy so that we could throw Thomas in the slot, but his production has been solid this year. Whenever he has the ball in his hands, he is getting up the field and getting yards. His play in the screen game and on reverses has yet to backfire (like reverses are want to do in the NFL), and I give him a lot of credit for that. He is also a very effective (9th in the NFL) punt returner. Tiquan Underwood is a functional number 3 guy, and flashed a bit in his huge fourth quarter performance against Indy. That last second drive was all Underwood (or as I lovingly call him, Underpants), and we definitely owe the speedy wideout that W. Kassim Osgood won the game in Denver for us, and we also owe the big guy some thank yous for being a bruising blocker and his high quality special teams play. I almost expect this grade to get bumped up later in the year as well. Sims-Walker just had a breakout game at Dallas, and we have reason to think that more of those kinds of games on the way.
Tight End: A- It's hard not to love what we've been seeing from the TE spot this year. This is probably our strongest group of guys. Marcedes Lewis is sooo good, he's getting the call in the red zone over MJD. That, my friends, is saying something. His TD total alone makes him an asset, but he and Zack Potter have both been very effective blockers. Marcedes is getting paid bigtime when the year ends. I'm hoping and praying that we're the ones doing it, because he is a big asset to this offense. He has had a few key drops, however. His rise has also really brought down Zach Miller's playing time. Still, as much as I was hoping to see Miller in the passing game, I can't blame the coaches for rolling with the Benzo. Keep it up, buddy, we're loving it as fans.
Offensive Tackle: B It's hard to give any group on a 4-4 team an A grade, but I almost did for the Jags offensive tackles because of Eugene Monroe. Yes, he got beat like a drum by Trent Cole, but that was when we were down early and the Eagles started showing blitz on every play. It's real hard to block your man when you don't know who's coming and who's not. But in games when he's been across from the big-name pass rushers, we were left asking "Demarcus Where?" and "Was Dwight Freeney OUT in week two?" Eben Britten had a tough time with all of his injury trouble this season. He still had his good games, and Garrard, while not entirely clean, has been hit much less this year than in years past. There are questions now about Britten's future, but at the worst, he'll make fixing our interior O-line easier by sliding into the guard spot. A shame, absolutely, but if this happens, I think Jordan Black is a more than functional RT. As a backup, he was the key to our pounding win in Indy, and with help, he can certainly get Garrard enough time. The next time you're watching the Jags, just watch Monroe getting off the line. He's gotten real quick. Like reeeaaall quick. He could legitimately be a Pro-bowler this year and well into the future. Great draft pick.
Interior O-line: D I didn't really want to have to do this. I was hoping like every other Jags fan that picking up Justin Smiley, and getting Brad Meester and Vince Manuwai another year past their respective season-ending injuries in 2008, that we would see better production from these guys. Still, Uche Nwaneri is nothing better than average, Meester is 33 and will need to be replaced this offseason cuz he ain't coming back, and Smiley has been outdueled by a 30 year-old Vince Manuwai, who just really isn't his old self in the running game. We've allowed a lot of pressure up the middle, and the running game has been less than ideal, largely because our line struggles to hold up in the middle. Quick question: do you remember where the pressure came from when Garrard got his concussion in the Tennessee game? Right over the left guard. Who was our LG blocking? No one. I don't know that a real fix is in the cards, but the interior O-line will be addressed fairly early in the draft, in my opinion. A 3rd round Center just sounds like a very... Gene thing to do next year.
Kicking: A 19 out of 19. Nuff said. Oh wait, one more thing: Scobee-dobee doo! Adam Podlesh has performed well also, and thanks to Podlesh's accuracy and two talented return men, we've had a significant advantage in field position in most of our games. We really could have the best special teams in the league. You get what you pay for, and we payed Osgood and Montell Owens pretty well for special teamers.
Coaching: B+ Some people have complained about the lack of deep balls. I won't. It's not in our nature as the Jags. We're a smash mouth team, and running the ball is what we do best. The reverses are a nice, effective new twist and Koetter has given teams a lot of different formations to deal with. We've mixed up our personnel well, and we're starting to take advantage of our best matchup: Marcedes vs anyone and everyone. Del Rio has stayed gutsy with his 4th down calls, and we've gone over 30 points more already than we did all of last season in only half the games.
OVERALL: B Nice work. If our guys can continue to grow into their roles, Black steps up at tackle, and MSW keeps playing like he did in Dallas, this could really be a great offensive team. We've got top ten potential here in sleepy little Jacksonville, and it's about time for these guys to really wake us all up.
I'll try to get to the Defense too in the next couple days. I'm kind of sad that this season is already half over, it's really been a lot of fun watching. Less so in the losses, especially the Monday nighter, but I'm seeing a lot of good stuff from this offense. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment, and please rec. I put a lot of work into writing this, and everybody needs something to fill those 3 empty hours this sunday, right?