While practically every pundit has picked the Jaguar's to finish last in the AFC South yet again, along with picking in the Top 5-10 in next April's draft, hopes are high along the banks of the St.Johns. Gene Smith has said that this roster might be the team's most competitive ever and ticket sales are climbing upwards. The discrepancy in the different outlooks? The number of questions the Jaguars will need to answer during Camp and the preseason. Depending on how these five situations come about, the Jaguars will end up either becoming a dark horse playoff team, or sputter once again.
1. What will be the returns in the defense line?
The Jaguars dismal defensive line has been beaten, burned, and salted to the point of a non-issue. The new issue is how much the Jaguars will get for the significant investment they've made in the defensive line. Factoring in Tyson Alualu's soon to be signed rookie contract, there will be about $35 million in guaranteed money tied up in the starting defensive line. Never mind that the easily lowest paid of the bunch, Terrance Knighton, has been the only one to prove anything on the field in a Jaguars' uniform.
The Jaguars also invested heavily to bring depth to the positions, grabbing 3 additional defensive linemen in the 2010 draft. Larry Hart has already been tagged with the infamous "Designated Pass Rusher" tag, though DT D'Anthony Smith and DE Austen Lane both have the builds to become every down defensive linemen in a 4-3.
In addition, the Jaguars have brought in Joe Cullen to bring results to the defensive line. Cullen made Detriot's defensive line the only respectable unit in the Motor City, and will look to rebuild the Jaguars former vaunted unit.
Speaking of the past tense, there was also some highly publicized additions by subtraction in the unit. Pro Bowler John Henderson and DE Reggie Hayward were both let go during the offseason. Both were disappointments in the last few years for radically different reasons, but disappointments none the less. Their releases can only be explained by the staff's belief in the younger players.
In short, whole sale change was made to the Jaguars' weakest link, much as what happened with the WR corps last year. However, alot more money changed hands in the defensive line. The Jaguars must be have something tangible to show for it.
2. What is Rashean Mathis' state of mind?
Mathis' holdout was quite low key compared to most. However, the Jaguars have made it quite clear that they're not going to move an inch on his deal. What Mathis will do next is going to be one of the main story lines of camp. Does he simply be a good soldier and go out and play? Does he try to force the Jaguars' to deal him to a team that will be willing to give him the deal he wants?
I personally can't blame Mathis for holding out. When he's seeing practically every veteran being tossed on the team for somebody younger, and knowing you're being paid less than practically all of your peers, I can see why he would want to try this. However, if he wants to get paid and stay a Jaguar, it is going to be a stretch.
3. How will David Garrard do?
I can't remember the last time a starting QB was thrown under the bus as much as Garrard has been in 2010. It started with all of the "Pro Bowl" comments and came to a head when Jack Del Rio went on Jim Rome is Burning. Nevermind all of the persistent talk of the Jaguars looking to take a QB early in the 2011 draft.
In short, the writing is on the wall for David Garrard as far as his career with the Jaguars goes. He has one, maybe two more years in order to show what he is made of as a starting QB in the NFL. The results have shown for themselves so far. With no more guaranteed money to protect him, will his competitive spirit keep him from joining the growing list of cuts that Gene Smith has made.
4. Will the interior of the offensive line gel?
For as much flak as the offensive line got last year, there was tangible proof the line was getting better on the outside. Eugene Monroe began to show the makings of an All-Pro LT later on the in season, while Eben Britton began to solidify himself as well. The interior of the offensive line was an entirely different story.
Brad Meester's body began to betray him, Vince Manuwai was still suffering from his previous surgeries, and Uche Nwaneri was still a sub-par run blocker. The Jaguars chose to address this by bringing in Kynan Forney and Justin Smiley. Both are experienced guards that should hopefully provide the depth and talent needed to make the interior a force once again.
However, there are still plenty of questions to be had. The most likely scenairio will have Nwaneri sliding into the center position. How will he look, will he be able to make the necessary adjustments? Is Smiley's shoulder any good?
5. Will the fans make the final push?
Accounting for the remaining sales in group tickets, the Jaguars are under 6,000 tickets needed to sell out the general bowl. It's clear Team Teal is making one hell of a final push in order to get fans into the stadium. Will the city respond?