Looking back over the over the last 5 seasons we have seen a lot of change in Jacksonville. We have seen the emergence and fall of David Garrard, the growth of perennial Pro-Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew and an influx of youth to the team. The interesting thing about the last 5 seasons is that entering the beginning of 2011 season the Jaguar’s seem to oddly mirror the Jaguars team of 2006. I can see the same issues with our team then as I do now and our strengths as a team then are still our strengths now. There are teams like the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens who had vastly improved in the last 5 years. The Lions have gone from a laughing stock to one of the league’s most energetic and fun teams to watch. The Ravens who have always been known for their defense have improved their offense to including amazing talents such as Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and Anquan Boldin. The Jaguars on the other hand have remained about the same in many areas. When one area improves, another regresses and the team cannot seem to get all areas to improve all at once.
In 2006 the Jacksonville Jaguars were a team searching for answers on offense. With the retirement of Jimmy Smith the Jaguars found themselves lacking talent at the wide receiver position. First round picks such as Matt Jones and Reggie Williams were not the talents the Jaguars had hoped they would be and the team was still searching for a true go-to-guy. In 2006, Ron Borges of MSNBC (now ProFootballTalk) stated this about the Jaguars receivers “If the Jags want to go vertical, they need to establish their No. 1 receiver, if they have one. With the retirement of Jimmy Smith, there is a vacancy at the heart of the passing game that has to be filled”. Does this comment about the Jaguars receivers sound familiar? Fast forward 5 years and our own Alfie Crow is echoing the same idea in his own articles when he stated that “the team still currently doesn't seem to have someone who can stretch the field at the receiver position”. In 5 years the Jaguars have yet to find a receiver that can stretch the field and give the Jaguars that vertical passing game that it desperately needs to improve the offense. The closest we have had to a true #1 receiver has been Mike Sims-Walker but even then he had one decent season but was never truly an elite receiver that opened up our offense. In 5 years the Jaguars have yet to spend higher than a 3rd round pick (MSW) on a WR. Though Mike Thomas has developed into a quality receiver and the emergence of Marcedes Lewis has helped improve the passing attack, the Jaguars still have a glaring weakness that has existed for 5 years.
At quarterback the Jaguars were dealing with a revolving door due to injuries and poor play by Byron Leftwich. As a team there was a struggle between giving David Garrard a shot at the starting job or to let Leftwich keep trying to improve. The Jaguars were obviously struggling with their identity at QB, they were looking for a QB to be a franchise QB and had to decide to stick with Leftwich or give Garrard a shot. It’s now 2011 and once again we are in the midst of quarterback issues. The Jaguars have Garrard his chance and after one solid season in 2007, he remained inconsistent and never evolved into that franchise QB that the Jaguars were looking for. Even Jack Del Rio said as much when he stated that Garrard was not an “elite” quarterback. As in 2006 we have quarterback issues and the position is a weakness for the team. The difference between now and then obviously is that Blaine Gabbert, unlike Garrard in 2006, is a rookie who has the potential to become that franchise QB that the Jaguars have been hoping for. That being said the fact that 5 years later and we are still weak at quarterback (for the time being, as hopefully Gabbert will develop) is a little frustrating.
Where in 2006 wide receiver and quarterback were spots of weakness or unknown, the RB was a position of strength. Fred Taylor was still rushed for over 1100 yards and looking revitalized and then rookie Maurice Jones-Drew came on strong in the second half of the season to look like the heir to Fred Taylor. As a team the Jaguars amassed an impressive 2541 yards rushing which was only 300 yards shy of topping the teams passing yardage for the season. The Jaguars in the last 5 years have retained that strength at RB, with MJD emerging as a perennial Pro Bowler and now back-ups Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim look impressive in spots. Overall the offense, in my opinion, has seen very little improvement over the last 5 years. Marcedes Lewis has improved to become a Pro Bowl TE, but we are still having issues at WR and our QB position (though now with hope for the future) is still a weak area whether it is because of game planning or not. The offense line has since regressed as well. In 2006 under the guidance of Mike Tice the Jaguar’s offense line was dominant, especially in run blocking but also decent in pass protection as well. Since then there have been injuries and unfortunate events (Richard Collier) that have weakened the line. The Jaguars though even with investing draft picks and money to free agents still seem to be searching for a return to that dominance. Eugene Monroe has been decent but as seen in his performance against the Panthers Charles Johnson is still far from elite and the elite status we all hoped. His fellow 2009 draftee Eben Britton has been good as well but due to injuries has been sidelined often and now has been moved to guard. Brad Meester is still at center but for how long? Will Rackley who was drafted in the 3rd round this past year had showed talent at times but has struggled in the regular season. Overall the Jaguars offense has seems to have returned to the same issues that plagued them in 2006.
As for the defense, in 2006 the Jaguars defense the second best defense in the league. The ranked as a Top 3 run defense and a Top 10 pass defense. The defense was anchored by then dominant defense tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. With these two in the middle of the defense line is was nearly impossible for opposing teams to run against the Jaguars. The Jaguars also had Mathis in his prime who garnered 8 interceptions but also had a solid linebacker core with Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram. In 5 years since we have seen the defense really regress and now re-emerge as a dominant defense. In the past years our secondary has been one of the league’s worst and our defensive line was very weak at times as well. Like 2006 though we once again have two dominant defensive tackles in Alualu and Knighton. Our linebackers are once again a very talent group now with Smith, Poz and Session. Our secondary though not dominant is easily vastly improved as well. Overall the Jaguars defense had a few down years but seems to have returned to become a strength for the team and is once again anchored by its defensive tackles and linebackers.
Overall I guess the point of this article is to show that the Jaguars seem to have returned to a very similar situation that they were in back in 2006. We lack a true #1 receiver, we are waiting for a QB to take the reins and become a franchise player, our offense is led by our RB and our defense is our strongest unit. Over the past 5 years we have seen the offense grow at times but then our defense would regress. We seemed to never be able to improve both areas at the same time. Is it poor coaching? Poor drafting or personal decisions? Each person will have their own theory. I understand where a lot of fans are coming from in their frustration with this Jaguars team. We as a fan base have been told over and over again that our team is only a year or two away from developing into a great team. 5 years later and we have seen one playoff appearance and we are once again being told to wait a year or two. As a loyal fan, I will be here through thick and thin but to honest it’s just been disheartening to see the same issues plague the team for so long.