With training camp opening July 29, the dead zone has officially ended and there's no doubt that a buzz has started to grow around the Jaguars. On Jaguars This Week, Vic Ketchman, Jeff Lageman, and Brian Sexton sat down to discuss what the stadium naming rights mean to the team. Dirk Koetter also joined the program to provide a glimpse of what Jags fans can expect to see from the offense in 2010.
The Jaguars announced Tuesday that EverBank Field will be the team's new home for the next five seasons. Given that the Jaguars had been playing in sponsor-less Jacksonville Municipal Stadium since the deal with Alltel expired in 2006, the news flooded the city with a sense of optimism about the future of the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
While recognizing how crucial this deal is to the viability of the franchise, Ketchman didn't hesitate to warn fans that EverBank can't-and won't-be the sole savior of football in northern Florida. It only completes half of the puzzle. Ticket sales account for the other part of the equation. If the fans rise to the challenge and purchase the remaining 5,000 season tickets needed to avoid blackouts in 2010, Ketchman believes that, coupled with the EverBank deal, it is "the combination that's going to work here. That's what's going to protect the future of professional football in Jacksonville. You have a name on [the stadium] and a full stadium, a full house inside it. I don't care what the other revenue streams are. If you have those two, the NFL will be on your side."
Last week, Mel Tucker and Joe Cullen provided a sneak peek at what they hope the defense will be in 2010. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter did the same Wednesday night, discussing the major storylines heading into training camp, the highly scrutinized play of quarterback David Garrard, and what he believes are the two most important areas the offense needs to improve on to find success this season.
So what can we expect to see from Koetter's group when training camp kicks off? Watch Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton and how they respond now that they have a full year of experience. "I think everybody is going to be really impressed when they see the work Monroe has done," Koetter said. "I think you're going to be pleased with where Eugene's at. But Eben is the vocal guy, he's fiery. I really like the way both of them play. I think we're set at the two tackles for a long time." Koetter also spoke highly of Jordan Black, a third tackle whom the team may also use at the tight end position in certain situations.
Big expectations surrounded tight end Zach Miller heading into the season, but an injury that forced him to the sidelines during OTAs and landed him a spot on the PUP list has raised questions about the role he'll be able to play in the offense. Koetter still expects good things from Miller, but noted that Ernest Wilford did "a good a job as anybody in OTAs" and the coordinator is confident in the strength of the second tight end position.
Deji Karim, the team's sixth round draft pick out of Southern Illinois, created a buzz with his performance during OTAs, leaving many drawing comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew and wondering whether he could push Rashad Jennings in the back-up role. Koetter was hesitant to anoint Karim as Jones-Drew 2.0, but he did mention the explosive, game-changing ability the running back flashed in OTAs. Koetter hopes that dynamic power will translate to the return game, where he believes Karim could become a major threat each time he touches the ball. Still, Koetter also noted that, if active on game day, "there's a lot of things Karim can do in relief of Maurice...as a third down complimentary back or we'll definitely have a package ready with Maurice and Deji in the game at the same time."
What may be the most interesting storyline to watch unfold over the next few weeks is what happens with the core of young receivers the Jags have assembled over the past couple of seasons. "There's six or seven guys that are battling to even see who's going to start, let alone who's going to get playing time," Koetter said. Apart from Mike Sims-Walker's role, nothing is settled in terms of who will do what for the Jaguars at receiver.
When asked what David Garrard could do to improve this season, Koetter responded that he believes that stronger play from those around his quarterback would go a long way towards helping Garrard inch closer to the level of play fans saw from him in 2007. "One of the best things we can do to help Dave is to play better around him. If you look at the top three or four quarterbacks in the league...the guys that play with them are making unbelievable plays for them. I think we have so much room to play better around Dave. I think Dave has worked harder to prepare not only his body but his mind this offseason and I really think he will play better as we protect him better and we play better around him."
What does Koetter think are two major areas the Jaguars offense must improve on to have success in 2010? The first is fairly obvious: the team must do a better job of protecting the quarterback. But Koetter believes that responsibility goes beyond just the offensive line. To him, protecting the quarterback means that Garrard must get the ball out on time, or faster than he has in the past, and that the receivers must be where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be. A more cohesive unit on offense should allow for greater productivity and success.
Secondly, Koetter knows that the red zone offense must be better at converting opportunities into touchdowns. "There were just too many times last year where we'd get pushed back right at the end and we'd expect Scobee to come in and kick a 52-yard field goal. So we've got to finish with more touchdowns or at least get inside 45 years for him to hit that automatically."
2010 is already radically different for the Jaguars: they will play eight games at EverBank Field. Optimism surrounds the team on both sides of the ball. Competition among players is at an all-time high. Fans are excited about what the season may bring. As Vic Ketchman said at the end of the show, the only issue left to settle is ticket sales: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium proved to be a temporary name, a temporary issue. Will the fans make EverBank Field a permanent home?