This is the first of a two part series that is intended to highlight the men in the trenches for the Jaguars. I'm talking, of course, about the offensive and defensive linemen. We'll start with the offensive linemen first, and tomorrow we'll move over to the defensive line. Do you know these guys? You should. They're the guys that could pave the road to the playoffs in 2011.
The offensive tackles are the keys to protecting the quarterback, and few teams have a better, young pair than the Jaguars. Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe will be entering their third season in 2011. Both have shown great promise and resilience. Britton was injured for much of 2010, but prior to the injury, he had shown a great deal of development. Eugene Monroe probably surpasses Britton as a tackle in 2010. Monroe has developed into an all around tackle. He shutdown some of the best pass rushers in the game (I'm lookin' at you Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis), and he proved himself in the running game. The best part? These two guys will be around for a long, long time.
Next, we move to the guard position. Uche Nwaneri has been slowly developing into a solid blocker. Sometimes he has some issues with pass protection, but he does a great job opening up holes for Maurice Jones-Drew. Vince Manuwai came back in a big way in 2010. Look, this guy was almost cut before the season even started! When he was called upon to come into the game, he took a trip back to his former greatness and blew open holes for MJD. Is he a long term solution? No, but I think he has a place on the team for at least another year. His pass blocking wasn't anything special, but I'm sure he'll try to address that issue in the offseason. Finally, Justin Smiley adds depth to the guard position. He's not outstanding in run or pass blocking, but more often than not, he finds a way to get the job done. He'll have a fight on his hands if the Jaguars pick up another guard this offseason. If that happens, his roster spot might be in jeopardy.
Finally we move to the center position. This is the most important lineman, the "quarterback of the line" so to speak. The Jaguars have a gem in Brad Meester. He's a great blocker, but he's also a great person. He is one of the most actively engaged members of the Jaguars in the Jacksonville community. He was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft. That also means that this is a position the Jaguars need to start thinking about updating. In a way, it's a lot like the quarterback situation. The Jaguars should draft a center now, but he shouldn't necessarily take over this year. Let him sit and learn the position before throwing a rookie to the dogs.
Part 2 will be all about the Jaguars' defensive linemen. It'll be up sometime tomorrow. Until then, go Jags!