2011 team previews
About the Author
Recent posts by Arthur Arkush
Updated at 5:50 p.m ET, Tuesday, Sept. 6
The Jaguars weren't the also-rans who were pummeled 138-39 in their first four losses last season. They weren't the group that appeared invincible in taking five of the next six and control of the AFC South — with a chance to knock the rival Colts out of the playoffs in Week 15. No, the 2010 Jaguars were somewhere in the middle: an ascending 8-8 football team with obvious flaws.
When the dust settled on an exhilarating season, the rebuilding Jaguars had earned only one of their eight victories over a playoff team and had allowed the most points and yards in franchise history.
Owner Wayne Weaver elected to bring back head coach Jack Del Rio but made it crystal clear that anything short of a trip to the postseason won't end well for Del Rio and his staff.
The Jaguars aggressively traded up in the first round of April's draft to grab promising triggerman Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick. Del Rio has said that Gabbert will be a clipboard holder initially, but following the surprising release of QB David Garrard on Sept. 6, Gabbert will be right on the heels of starter Luke McCown.
The Jaguars were big spenders in free agency, adding three new starters on defense who will give the unit a vital shot in the arm. But with the exciting offseason comes raised expectations. Controlling their playoff destiny late in the season before again melting down in December certainly won't meet those expectations.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew is the straw that stirs coordinator Dirk Koetter's drink. The Jaguars finished the season ranked third in rushing offense, and had a 6-1 record last season when Mojo rushed for 100 or more yards. Koetter was impressive in maximizing former QB David Garrard's talents, as well as preventing opponents from loading up against the run by stretching defenses sideline to sideline with QB options, end-arounds and WR screens.
Quarterbacks: With less than a week remaining before the start of the season, Jacksonville made the surprise decision to release former starter David Garrard, naming Luke McCown as his replacement. Garrard, the club's starter the past four seasons who was due in excess of $8 million in 2011, regressed in the preseason, necessitating the change. McCown, 30, the Jaguars' most consistent signalcaller throughout camp and the preseason, has started only seven games in his seven-year career, but he is a student of the game who knows the offense well. McCown possesses a strong arm and displays good footwork. He gave Garrard a run for his money last offseason, eventually replacing a struggling Garrard in Week Two before quickly going down with a season-ending knee injury. At 6-4, 217 pounds, McCown has very good size and athleticism for the position, and he will guide Jacksonville's run-first offense until 2010 first-rounder Blaine Gabbert shows that he is ready for the big stage. Gabbert, the top-rated rookie QB on some draft boards, is loaded with upside. He puts great zip on the ball and is excellent throwing on the move. His intelligence and competitiveness are outstanding. The biggest obstacles he will have to overcome are having worked exclusively out of the shotgun in a spread offense at Missouri and possessing questionable footwork and accuracy on deep passes.
Running backs: For perspective on how much the Jaguars lean on Maurice Jones-Drew and the running game, take a look back at the Week 13 win over the Titans. Of the Jaguars' 73 offensive plays, 59 were running plays. Jones-Drew was dominant, toting the rock 31 times for a career-high 186 yards. And he did it all on a torn meniscus suffered during the preseason, which led to bone-on-bone contact before MJD shut it down with two games remaining. The health of Jones-Drew's knee is a question mark, as he was extremely limited this offseason. Standing only 5-foot-7, Mojo is seldom brought down by one defender because of his low center of gravity and remarkable lower-body strength. He is the total package: fast, powerful, elusive and dangerous in the passing game. Backup Rashad Jennings has the strength to run inside and speed to get to the edge. The '09 seventh-rounder also drew rave reviews last season for his soft hands and blitz recognition. FB Greg Jones, who was finally healthy after several injury-plagued seasons, played at a Pro Bowl level. Jones is a punishing lead blocker who hones in on defenders well. RB Deji Karim flashed big-play ability and, along with backup FB Montell Owens, was a special-teams standout.
Receivers: The Jaguars' lack of a true No. 1 wideout didn't prevent WR Mike Thomas and TE Marcedes Lewis from enjoying breakout seasons. Thomas, an undersized but extremely confident pass catcher with outstanding separation skills, followed up a solid rookie campaign by leading the club with 66 receptions for 820 receiving yards. Thomas is fearless going over the middle and explosive whenever the ball is in his hands — he gained 10.5 yards per punt return, including a 78-yard TD. Jason Hill joined the Jaguars late in the season after being cut by the 49ers. His gaudy 22.5 yards per reception were enough to entice the club to offer him a two-year extension in the offseason. Hill possesses nice size and athleticism and is penciled in to start opposite Thomas. WRs Jarett Dillard, Kassim Osgood and rookie Cecil Shorts III will compete for playing time. The Jaguars remain high on Dillard — a Keenan McCardell-type with superb leaping ability — despite his struggles to stay on the field his first two seasons. Osgood is a big target, but his bread and butter always will be special teams. The hardworking and crafty Shorts, a man among boys at Mount Union, gets in and out of his breaks cleanly and, along with Dillard, is a favorite for the third WR job. After totaling seven TDs in his first four seasons, Lewis took the next step in 2010, finding the endzone 10 times. Whenever Garrard needed a big play, he looked for Lewis, who at 6-foot-6, is a very inviting target with exceptional hands and range. He is widely regarded as one of the best blocking tight ends in football. Backup TE Zach Miller, a great athlete who has worked hard to improve his strength and run blocking, could be a bigger part of the offense next season if he can stay healthy.
Offensive linemen: The offensive line was a dominant run-blocking unit at times, and the pass protection also showed improvement. C Brad Meester, a smart player with sound technique, has started more games than any player in franchise history, and he rebounded nicely after a down season in 2009. OLT Eugene Monroe has outstanding quickness and athleticism, but his footwork is still improving. He dropped 30 pounds last offseason and held up very well against several of the league's elite pass rushers. ORT Eben Britton, who was placed on I.R. before Week Eight with a torn labrum, is a hardworking, competitive player who really understands OL play. However, Britton's health is a concern, as he underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disk and has been held out of practice and the preseason. Look no further than the five-year, $24 million extension ORG Uche Nwaneri was rewarded with before last season to see how highly the Jaguars think of him. Nwaneri is very strong and versatile and plays with a mean streak. Third-round OG Will Rackley has the versatility to play inside or outside and brings an infusion of youth to an aging interior. Veteran Jason Spitz will compete with Rackley for the OLG vacancy created by the release of Vince Manuwai. Spitz, who started 45 games in five seasons with the Packers, has had trouble staying on the field because of injuries, but he possesses great strength and versatility. C John Estes and OTs Tony Moll and Guy Whimper complete the unit.
Entering his third season as coordinator, Mel Tucker will call plays for the first time after Wayne Weaver stripped Jack Del Rio of the responsibility this offseason. The Jaguars' attacking 4-3 scheme, which relies heavily on its front four to generate pressure, won't look dramatically different, but Tucker plans to simplify things to get his guys playing faster and more instinctively. The "D" will be more aggressive after tying for a league-worst 18 takeaways in 2010.
Defensive linemen: DTs Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu are the cornerstones of this young defense. Alualu — the club's first-round pick in 2010 — was sensational, joining Knighton as the only two D-linemen in franchise history to start all 16 games as rookies. An explosive three-technique, Alualu plays with great leverage and is a quick penetrator who is stout at the point of attack. Knighton is dominant against the run. He also improved greatly as a pass rusher — and as a leader — last season, learning how to get on the edges of blocks better and getting his hands in passing lanes. Knighton's weight is an ongoing issue, however. DRE Aaron Kampman was the Jaguars' best defender before his second ACL tear in as many years cut short his first season in Jacksonville. He's as hard a worker and as solid a character as there is in the league, and team sources have raved about Kampman's impact on and off the field. He will have his snaps reduced to around 45 per game in an effort to preserve his health. Veteran Matt Roth, formerly an outside 'backer in Cleveland, played the DLE position in college and will provide added juice off the edge opposite Kampman. DLE Austen Lane stepped into the starting lineup late in the season and was very good against the run. Relentless DRE Jeremy Mincey joined the starting lineup in Week 10 and never looked back, leading the team in sacks (five). Larry Hart, who is mostly a nickel pass rusher given his size constraints, made a minimal impact as a rookie. DTs Leger Douzable, a pleasant surprise last season, D'Anthony Smith, who is coming off Achilles sugery, and C.J. Mosley round out the unit.
Linebackers: SLB Daryl Smith, one of the more underrated 'backers in the league, was typically consistent, eclipsing the 100-tackle mark for the sixth consecutive season. (His team-high 156 tackles were the second-highest total of his career.) Although Smith goes about his business quietly, scouts say he is an excellent tackler and technician who excels at stopping the run. Joining Smith in the starting lineup is a pair of free-agent additions, MLB Paul Posluszny and WLB Clint Session. "Poz," who led the Bills in tackles last season (151), is a very active defender whose leadership will provide a boon for a young defense. He should thrive in Jacksonville with Knighton and Alualu keeping him clean to make plays. Session is a run-and-hit linebacker whose best football is in front of him. Both very intense players, Posluszny and Session will bring toughness to the unit, while allowing Smith to showcase his skills better. Dependable backup Russell Allen, an active and well-sized defender, Jacob Cutrera and Kyle Bosworth bolster the unit's depth.
Defensive backs: Veteran RCB Rashean Mathis, who enters a contract year, held up well from a health standpoint — he started all 16 games for the first time since '06 — but his coverage skills declined. Although he freelances too often, Mathis is still a very good athlete who the Jaguars believe is in line for a big season. LCB Derek Cox was benched by Jack Del Rio at halftime of Week One and did not regain his starting job until Week Seven. Upon his return, Cox's play improved considerably. He is a long-armed corner with natural ball skills and good physicality. Scouts say his footwork and eyes are works in progress. New nickel back Drew Coleman is an athletic inside cover guy who has some playmaking ability. After using six different starting combinations at safety last season, the Jaguars stabilized the position with the signing of FS Dawan Landry, who is coming off a career year in Baltimore. A reliable open-field tackler, Landry is at his best in run support but also has shown enough range and anticipation to make plays in coverage. Courtney Greene and rookie Chris Prosinski will battle to start opposite Landry. Greene is a punishing hitter and tone setter for the run defense. Prosinski, who can run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and has a 39½-inch vertical leap, is a bright kid with good range who also likes to come down the alley and fill. CBs William Middleton and David Jones and DB Don Carey will assist on special teams.
Montell Owens, who was elected to his first Pro Bowl, and Kassim Osgood — a three-time Pro Bowl honoree — comprise arguably the best one-two special-teams punch in the league. PK Josh Scobee converted his first 14 FG attempts, including the game-winner against the Colts, before stumbling in the second half and finishing the season 22-of-28. P Matt Turk struggled in Houston last season (36.8-yard net average), but the Jaguars are confident in the 16-year veteran. Mike Thomas and Deji Karim are very dangerous returners, but both of them need to work on ball security.
Jack Del Rio said this offseason that the Jaguars, who are entering Year Three of GM Gene Smith's four-year rebuilding project, "expect to take control of the division" in 2011. For that to happen, the newcomers on "D" must shore up the pass defense and create more turnovers. Additionally, Luke McCown must display more consistency and better ball protection that former starter David Garrard. The Jaguars have a brutal first-half schedule, and if they stumble out of the gate, fans will begin calling for rookie Blaine Gabbert to offer a dose of optimism for the future.
To order the digital edition of Pro Football Weekly's 2011 NFL Preview magazine, visit the PFW Store. The publication contains scouting reports on all 32 teams, rosters, depth charts, positional grades and 2010 week-by-week stats. Also, the magazine includes PFW's exclusive player rankings feature, ranking the top players in the league by position and overall.