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Walter-Football's Jaguar Preview 6/19/2008

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Here is the last linked story for the weekend, and it comes from Walterfootball.com. It is a preview of the upcoming season and if you want to read the entire article, click here.
-Collin
Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Year: 11-5)

2008 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Cleo Lemon, QB Todd Bouman, WR Jerry Porter, WR Troy Williamson, CB Drayton Florence, S Pierson Prioleau.
Draft Picks:
RB Chauncey Washington, DE Derrick Harvey, DE Quentin Groves, ILB Thomas Williams, CB Trae Williams.
Offseason Losses:
QB Lester Ricard, RB LaBrandon Toefield, WR Ernest Wilford, OT Stockar McDougle, G Chris Naeole, DE Bobby McCray, DT Marcus Stroud, DT Grady Jackson, OLB Kenneth Pettway, OLB Chris Claiborne, CB Terry Cousin, CB Aaron Glenn, S Sammy Knight, S Lamont Thompson.

2008 Jacksonville Jaguars Offense:
Jack Del Rio received tons of criticism when he cut Byron Leftwich a week before the start of the 2007 regular season. I actually loved the move; I had been saying that choosing David Garrard over Leftwich would instantly improve the team. Still, I understood why the critics questioned the release. How do you get rid of your starting quarterback nine days prior to Kickoff Sunday? I wanted Garrard to play ahead of Leftwich, but I never expected Del Rio to go as far as release Leftwich.

Well, Del Rio had the last laugh. Garrard, once considered a mid-round project from East Carolina, turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In 12 starts, Garrard threw for 2,509 yards, 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Garrard's abilities to take care of the ball and avoid easy sacks (unlike Leftwich) were the reason why Jacksonville ranked sixth in offense, averaging 25.7 points per game. Garrard's 2007 campaign was defined by a 32-yard run on fourth-and-two, setting up the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter against the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. The following week, Garrard had his Jaguars going toe-to-toe with the invincible Patriots; Garrard went 22-of-33 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, even though his receivers let him down with a few key drops.

Jacksonville's receiving corps has been a huge disappointment ever since it lost Jimmy Smith. You can blame that on the front office spending numerous first-round selections on busts. Matt Jones has been the worst, as he managed only 24 catches and 317 yards in 12 games. Reggie Williams, meanwhile, also disappointed in the yardage department, accumulating 629, though it should be noted he had 10 touchdowns. Dennis Northcutt was the squad's top wide out in 2007, which was sad considering the Cleveland Browns didn't want anything to do with him anymore. Northcutt had 44 receptions, 601 yards and four scores.

In an attempt to improve this unit, the Jaguars signed Jerry Porter and traded for Troy Williamson, both of whom are currently penciled into the starting lineup. I can summarize this in one word: Ugh. I seriously feel sorry for Garrard. Instead of giving him reliable targets, management matched him up with a perennial underachiever and one of the greatest draft busts in this decade. Even so, Porter could be the best receiver Jacksonville has employed since Smith.

With the Jaguars' receiving corps in shambles, it's obvious they're able to move the chains on a consistent basis because of their ground attack. After numerous injury-ridden seasons early in his career, Fred Taylor has turned into a reliable 1,200-yard runner. Taylor had 1,202 yards and five touchdowns in 2007 (5.4-yard average), which is remarkable because he shared half of his carries with Maurice Jones-Drew. As for Jones-Drew, the human bowling ball pitched in with 768 rushing yards, 407 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Taylor turned 32, so Jones-Drew could see more of the workload. That said, Taylor hasn't received more than 260 carries since 2003, so the wear and tear of a normal 32-year-old back isn't there just yet.

You can thank a superb offensive line for Jacksonville's scoring success, as the team ranked second in running the ball and Garrard was sacked only 21 times in 12 starts. The front is anchored by stout offensive tackles Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos. With right guard Vince Manuwai and center Brad Meester both solid, the only concern I have with the line is left guard Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri, taking the place of the pedestrian Chris Naeole, has just one career start under his belt. Nwaneri will have to learn on the job, which should be easy for him considering he'll be playing right next to four really solid blockers.

I can't see Jacksonville's offense being worse than it was in 2007. But I can't really see it being much better, save for either Porter or Williamson having a break-out campaign. Still, I can't really blame the NFL's sixth-ranked offense for sitting on its laurels.

2008 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense:
If you told Jack Del Rio that his defense would miss one of its enormous defensive tackles (Marcus Stroud) for seven games, and it still would be ranked 10th in the NFL, he would have taken it. The Jaguars have since traded Stroud away, acquiring two extra draft picks from Buffalo.

Jacksonville used some of its many picks to trade up for Derrick Harvey, and it used its next selection on another defensive end, Quentin Groves. The team has clearly been paying attention to how the Giants won the Super Bowl and obviously wishes to emulate Steve Spagnuolo's pressure scheme.

However, despite the Jaguars spending their first two selections on ends to join Paul Spicer and the oft-injured Reggie Hayward, this tactic may not work - at least not right away. Defensive ends usually take a while to transition to the NFL (see Mario Williams). The thing is, neither Harvey nor Groves will be an every-down end in 2008. They'll be in on passing situations, so if their only focus is getting to the quarterback on a handful of plays, they could find some early success in this league.

With Harvey coming in and Stroud going out, the Jaguars are left with just one monstrous defensive tackle. Sort of. Stroud has frequently been in and out of the lineup the past few seasons, missing 12 games since 2006. So, does Jacksonville have a void next to John Henderson? Not likely - the team just signed Rob Meier to a four-year extension in May. Meier may not be as massive as Stroud, but he can get to the quarterback. In seven starts, Meier had four sacks.

Though they have some concerns up front, the Jaguars are pretty set at linebacker. Manning the middle is Mike Peterson, who has been a force since he signed with the team in 2003. Peterson just turned 32, but he's in a contract year. Jacksonville's top linebacker is Daryl Smith, who plays on the weak side. It's a shame Smith is a Jaguar because he'd get so much more publicity in a larger market. Meanwhile, Justin Durant, entering his second season, has cemented his spot at strongside linebacker. Durant started the final eight contests of the 2007 campaign, including the two playoff games.

My main concern with Jacksonville's defense last season was at the strong safety position. Donovin Darius just left, and all the front office did was plan to go with journeyman Sammy Knight and unproven Gerald Sensabaugh. Well, Sensabaugh suffered a serious injury early on, leaving Knight as the only reliable player there. Sensabaugh is back, but the Jaguars plan on moving Brian Williams from corner to strong safety. Williams is currently penciled in as the starter.

Taking Williams' place across from the Pro Bowl-caliber Rashean Mathis is the newly acquired Drayton Florence, who played in San Diego his entire five-year career. I'm not a big fan of Florence's, but he can't be much worse than Williams. Meanwhile, Williams should be better than Knight, so Jacksonville's juggling of the secondary should work out.

Rounding out the unit is free safety Reggie Nelson, who started every game from Week 2 on for the Jaguars. Nelson led the squad with five interceptions.

Jacksonville should be able to maintain its defensive ranking (10th), but it really depends on how quickly Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves develop. If the Jaguars strike gold with one of these guys, watch out.



2008 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule and Intangibles:
Jacksonville's hot and humid climate contributes to its outstanding 67-37 home record since 1995. The team had problems winning on the road (2-6 in 2006) prior to the 2007 campaign; it was 5-2 last year (5-3 if you count when all the bench players battled the Texans).

Josh Scobee was just 7-of-13 from beyond 40 yards in 2005. Credit Jack Del Rio for sticking with him; Scobee improved, connecting on 17-of-23 attempts from the same distance the past two years, though only one of those tries was from 50-plus.

Rookie punter Adam Podlesh struggled last year, maintaining a 41.6 average and hitting just 14 punts inside the opposing 20. As a reference, Jacksonville's foes had an average of 43.5 and 24 inside the 20. The Jaguars are sticking with Podlesh again, so they better hope he improves.

The past two years, the Jaguars have returned a touchdown and surrendered two. Maurice Jones-Drew took one back to the house on a kickoff. Dennis Northcutt never went the distance, but averaged a respectable 9.2 yards per return.

The NFL didn't do Jacksonville any favors with the schedule. The team opens at Tennessee, battles an upstart Bills squad in between that contest and a road trip to Indianapolis. After the Texans, the Jaguars have a rematch with the Steelers. They then go to Mile High and battle the Browns at home. Doesn't sound like good times to me. Luckily, the slate eases up, though two of the final three games are against the Packers and Colts.

2008 Jacksonville Jaguars Analysis: One problem the Jaguars have always had was not playing up to expectations against lesser opponents. They were always swept by the Texans because they had their mind on playing the Colts or another powerhouse. Well, that changed last year. Starting in Week 2, Jacksonville beat every team it was supposed to when David Garrard was under center. Take away Kickoff Weekend, and the Jaguars were 9-2 with Garrard under center, losing only to Indianapolis twice.

Was Garrard that much of a difference? I think so. The Jaguars became a focused team with him at the helm. While Jacksonville finished 11-5 in 2007, remember that two losses came with Quinn Gray, and a third was just nine days after Byron Leftwich was cut. They're an elite team that has inched very close to Indianapolis.

Projection: 13-3 (TBA in AFC South)