The Jacksonville Jaguars have come a long way under head coach Jack Del Rio and after posting a 12-4 record last season, are looking for nothing less than an AFC Championship title this season.
However, the Jags will have a tough road to hoe if they expect to come out on top in the AFC. Nevertheless, the Jags, who return 18 of their 22 starters, remain undaunted in their singular goal of winning the AFC. Here’s my 2006 preview on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich is the unquestioned leader of this team now and as he goes, so go the Jags, whose offense may finally be catching up to their superior defense. However, there is one glaring problem with Leftwich – and that’s the fact that he gets injured on a perennial basis, which, in turn, means that, at some point, the Jags will have to turn to their backup, David Garrard, who went 4-1 in the final five regular season games after taking over for an injured Leftwich.
The bottom line here is that, if Leftwich can make it through an entire season, the Jags could have a legitimate shot at the AFC title game. If not, it will more of the Jags on the outside looking in come playoff time.
The Jaguars backfield situation has become a muddled mess. Possibly, a pleasant one at some point in the near future, but right now, a complete mess. Jacksonville drafted Maurice Drew in the second round and think he may have what it takes to be a starting running back in the NFL. However, the Jags still have veteran Fred Taylor who seemingly won’t go away quietly as the Jags would probably like. Youngster, Greg Jones, also has a legitimate shot to get 10-15 carries a game. Alvin Pearman, the third down back last year is back as well, so there is no shortage of runners in the Jags crowded backfield. How it all shakes out should be interesting to say the least.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The venerable Jimmy Smith finally announced his retirement and will the majority of the receiving of the pass catching duties to some young guns who typify the look of the NFL’s “new millennium” wide receiver.
First, the Jags have Matt Jones who is all of 6-6 and they also drafted Reggie Williams in 2003 who is 6-4. The Jags also added 6-6 tight end, Marcedes Lewis in this year’s draft and still have veteran, Kyle Brady and Ernest Wilford, who caught seven touchdown passes last year and stands 6-4 himself.
The Jags got inconsistent play from their offensive line last season and will be looking for improvements in 2006.
Right tackle Mo Williams is mediocre at best while right guard, Chris Naeole is only slightly better. Center Brad Meester is coming off an injury plagued 2005 and left guard Vince Manuwai, is pedestrian as well. I know Jacksonville is expecting these guys to get better, but I’m going on record right now to say that may never happen. If this group can’t protect Leftwich or run the ball effectively, then the Jags could be in trouble again.
Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season in 2005 and defensive end, Reggie Hayward led the team in sacks last season. Paul Spicer, the other defensive end had a very decent season as well last year and should be better in 2006. John Henderson may be the anchor of the line and defensive end Bobby McCray, is another valuable player in the Jags’ rotation.
Mike Peterson, and Daryl Smith may not have the big name recognition of some of the league’s other more prolific linebackers, but they are still very effective. Nick Greisen, Clint Ingram and Pat Thomas should all see some significant time this season as well.
Free agent acquisition, Brian Williams replaces Kenny Wright, at one corner while Rashean Mathis mans the other, giving the Jags two very capable and versatile corners. Veteran, Terry Cousin will return as a nickel back while another vet, Donovin Darius is back at strong safety after suffering a torn ACL in the second game last year. Deon Grant will start at the other safety, while Gerald Sensabaugh will backup both safety positions.
The Jags have a pretty good young kicker in Josh Scobee, and veteran punter Chris Hanson led the league with 33 punts inside the 20-yard-line. Pearman and Wimbush shared the punt and kickoff return duties last year but Drew could also see significant time as a punt returner this season.
I like what head Del Rio has accomplished since taking over as the head coach of the Jags in 2003. The team has steadily improved under his guidance and he has built one of the league’s most respectable defenses. If Jacksonville can get some more production out of their offense, then they could really be on to something. As it stands right now, I think they are just a cut below the upper echelon teams in the AFC with still plenty of room for improvement.