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O-Line: 2011 Review and 2012 Outlook

The offseason rumor mill has started. Between now and the start of the NFL Draft on April 26th every sports analyst, blogger and fan will spend countless days debating which players their team needs to keep, trade, sign or draft. Every fan has an opinion and though some are far more informed then others, in the end it is only a guessing game as only the team itself knows what they want to do. Since the end of the season Jaguars fans have started this guessing game but have mainly focused on WRs, DEs and a few CBs as major team needs that the Jaguars need to address whether in free agency or through the draft. While these positions are extremely important and absolutely need to be improved this offseason, the state of offensive line has been generally overlooked by most fans.

2011 Offensive Line:

Player

G

GS

Pen

Yds

Sacks Allowed

E. Monroe

15

14

4

27

9.50

G. Whimper

15

15

2

15

14.00

B. Meester

16

16

3

25

2.50

W. Rackley (R)

15

14

7

60

7.00

U. Nwaneri

16

16

1

10

1.50

E. Britton

4

3

1

5

1

C. Bradfield (R)

10

2

0

0

1.50

J. Spitz

10

0

0

0

0

In the 2009 NFL draft the Jaguars selected two offensive linemen, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, in the first two rounds in hopes that they would be the bookends of the line for the future. So far that hope has yet to be fulfilled. Eugene Monroe has steadly been improving over his three seasons in the NFL but has yet to really hit the elite left tackle status that both fans and the organization hoped he would hit. Monroe struggled his first two seasons but seems to be starting to get on the right track at the end of his third season. Though he allowed 9.5 sacks which is a poor number he only allowed 12 pressures according to ProFootballFocus and was ranked as their 6th best run blocker on the year. Monroe seems to finally developing into a solid starting tackle though continued improvement in pass protection would go a long way to push him to the next level. The second tackle taken in the 2009 draft, Eben Britton, has been on a very different path then Monroe. Britton’s rookie season was also very up and down as he had a lot better sack numbers then Monroe (allowed only 5 sacks) but also allowed 40 hurries which was the most in the league of starting tackles according to PFF. Britton started his sophomore year pretty well with only 3 sacks allowed in his first 7 games but suffered a season ending shoulder injur y. To make matters worse Britton once suffered a season ending injury in 2011 this time due to a back problem that required surgery. Britton seems to have become a big question mark for the Jaguars as when he was on the field has shown some solid talent and promise but injuries have hurt his short career. Here is a table of statistics on all 2009 NFL Draft tackles taken in the first two rounds:

Player

G

GS

Pen

Yds

Sacks Allowed

J. Smith (Rams)

29

26

13

111

7.50

A. Smith (Bengals)

27

19

12

75

4.50

E. Monroe (Jaguars)

45

42

16

112

23.25

M. Oher (Ravens)

48

48

30

207

20.75

E. Britton (Jaguars)

26

25

3

15

9.00

P. Loadholt (Vikings)

47

47

26

179

18.50

S. Vollmer (Patriots)

36

29

10

70

6.00

W. Beatty (Giants)

34

16

11

79

5.00

The rest of the tackle group for the Jaguars is a mixed bag. Guy Whimper played most of the season at right tackle once Eben Britton went down with his injury but played awful. Whimper allowed 14 sacks and 48 pressures allowed which ranked him 71st out of 75 graded tackles on PFF. He even allowed at least 1 sack in 10 straight games this season starting in Blaine Gabbert's first start which didn't exactly help the rookie QB. Whimper was a respectable run blocker for the Jaguars but his weakness in pass protection really hurt the Jaguars. Undrafted rookie Cameron Bradfield was a pleasant surprise for the Jaguars in 2011. Bradfield spent most of the season on the bench but when injuries to Monroe and Britton left the Jaguars without a left tackle, Bradfield got a surprise start at the position against the Steelers. Considering he was facing a tough Steelers team and it was his first start, Bradfield played admirably and earned himself one more start later in the season. With two starts and only 1.5 sacks allowed, Bradfield is an interesting prospect for the Jaguars. He is young and has potential, though a long way from proven. If he continues to improve he would offer great depth for the Jaguars. The other tackle worth mentioning is Kevin Haslam who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2010. Haslam unfortunately went down with a season ending knee injury in training camp but should return in 2012 but to what extent is the question.

The interior of the offense line is anchored by Brad Meester like it has for years. Meester, who will be 35 in March, played all 16 games for the Jaguars which was something only one other offensive lineman did. Meester was once again rock solid in the center, only allowing 2.5 sacks and got only 3 penalties. Meester has not indicated that he will be retiring so expect the Jaguars to have the beloved center back in 2012. Behind Meester is John Estes, a 2010 undrafted rookie, but with Meester healthy for all 16 games he barely saw the field and remains very raw and unproven. Another rock on the offensive line was Uche Nwaneri who was the only other offensive lineman to play all 16 games. Nwaneri put up amazing numbers allowing only 1.5 sacks and registering only 1 penalty. Nwaneri was great in both pass protection and run blocking all season and was one of the primary reasons Maurice Jones-Drew won the league's rushing title. Nwaneri garnered praise from ESPN blogger Paul Kuharsky who put Nwaneri in his All-AFC South team. Rookie Will Rackley who was selected in the 3rd round struggled in his first year. Rackley lead the team in penalties with 7 and also allowed the most sacks (also 7) from the interior of the line though he was a respectable run blocker and another reason why MJD was able to take the rushing title. Rackley was able to get 14 starts this season which will go a long way as it gave him valuable experience that will hopefully help him develop. Finally another player to note would be Jason Spitz who inked a 3 year contract last offseason. The veteran never started but instead played a back up role which he performed decently at.

2012 Outlook:

As I said in my opening statement, the Jaguars offensive line needs work. Eugene Monroe has solidified himself at the LT spot, Nwaneri is a great RG, and Meester will once again anchor the line at center but after that there are a lot of question marks. The biggest issue for the Jaguars is at RT and tackle depth. Eben Britton is returning from his second consecutive year on IR. He was a good RT early in his career but the last season and a half has seen two serious injuries and diminished play (though this may have been due to injury). The Jaguars have no guarantee that Britton will return to form and if this is true then RT is a major concern. Guy Whimper is a free agent but even if Whimper does return for the Jaguars he should not be a starting tackle for the Jaguars as shown by his 2011 performances. Outside of Britton and Whimper, the Jaguars have only unproven undrafted rookies Bradfield and Haslam as back-up tackles. Though there is potential in these two they are obviously inexperienced and need time to develop. As for the interior of the line, Will Rackley should hopefully improve in his sophomore season but his rookie numbers are a slight concern. Center is the next area that needs to addressed quickly as Meester is a season or two from retirement at the most. Estes is far from being prepared to take over for Meester if he was to go down with an injury. Side note: 3 of the Jaguars major 10 lineman are undrafted rookies with a combined total of 2 career starts. Jason Spitz offers some much needed veteran depth but rarely saw the field in 2011 so whether he will get playing time or be effective in 2012 is questionable. Overall the Jaguars offensive line has some serious issues that need to be looked at. RT and depth are big issues especially if Eben Britton doesn't return to form.

Offseason Options:

The Draft: Though everyone is focused on wide receivers and defensive ends, Reiff or Martin would be solid picks at #7. It would not be the flashiest pick nor would it energize the fan base but drafting one of these players would help Gabbert's development as much as a WR might. If one of these two could come in and start right away it would give Gabbert more time under center and hopefully improve his confidence in the pocket. Whimper allowed 14 sacks in 2011, I'm betting one of these two could do a lot better. It would also allow Eben Britton to either move to guard or become a back-up. The Jaguars could even draft a tackle in a later round and still really improve the line. Drafting a player like Levy Adcock (Oklahoma State) or Andrew Datko (Florida State) in the middle rounds would help improve depth and give a the Jaguars a back-up option if Britton doesn't return to form and gets injured. The Jaguars could also look to add a guard in one of the later rounds which would add much needed depth. Look at guards Stephen Good (Oklahoma) and Art Frost (Rutgers) as possibly late round options for the Jaguars. Last but not least I really think the Jaguars need to draft a future replacement for Brad Meester. This draft has a lot of solid center options in the 2nd to 4th round and I really think the Jaguars should draft a center to prepare for the inevitable departure of Meester. Look at players like Philip Blake (Baylor), David Molk (Michigan), or Ben Habern (Oklahoma) as quality options in this range of the draft.

Free agency: The 2012 tackle group is one of the weakest in years. Jared Gaither of San Diego looked great this season and will easily be the best available tackle if he hits the open market. His chronic back problems however might scare teams away from the young and talent tackle but for the right price might be worth the risk. Outside of Gaither, Demetrius Bell of Buffalo will most likely be retained and the next best tackles are Jeff Backus and Kareem McKenzie who are both over 33 and their play is rapidly declining. The guard crop of free agents however offers a lot of potential. Lead by Carl Nicks who might not be retained by the Saints, there are other quality guards such as Ben Grubbs, Mike Brisiel, and Evan Mathis. Though a guard is not as pressing of an issue as RT in my opinion, adding a talented guard would go a long way to stabilizing the line and providing depth.

Summary: The Jaguars have a lot of needs to fill this offseason obviously. I am not trying to convince anyone that the Jaguars need to focus exclusively on the offensive line. I am instead just pointing out that the offensive line has flaws that need to be addressed at some point this offseason whether its through signing a stud FA like Carl Nicks or drafting a late round pick like Art Frost. Add the playmakers as we desperately need them but don't forget the line. 44 sacks allowed in 2011 is something then needs to be fixed especially with a young QB that needs to work on his confidence in the pocket.

All Offensive Line Statistics were taken from the Washington Post vis Stats LLC

FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors of Big Cat Country or SB Nation.

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