The Jacksonville Jaguars finished 8-8 last season, which was better than most expected considering the young roster. But it's the way they got there that stung.
The Jaguars had a chance to clinch the AFC South with a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 15, but lost that game and then dropped the final two to miss out on the playoff party and finish second in the division.
The non-playoff season led many to believe coach Jack Del Rio would be fired, but owner Wayne Weaver gave him another year, citing the youth on the team. Del Rio must win this season -- or he's gone.
General manager Gene Smith, now in his third year running things, has made some nice picks and there is some young talent, but the same two issues have limited the Jaguars during Del Rio's tenure:
So-so quarterback play and a lack of a pass rush.
David Garrard flashes at times, but he isn't a top-20 quarterback. The Jaguars are limited offensively by his inability to make plays down the field. That's why they are such a run-centric team with Maurice Jones-Drew.
There is a lot of talk that the Jaguars will draft a quarterback early this year. They've gone longer than any of the other NFL teams without drafting one, so it's time. Whether Garrard can hold off any pick will be determined by a camp battle -- if there is camp.
Jones-Drew remains the team's only real star, but he played through a knee injury that ultimately led him to the injured-reserve list the final two games. Even so, he was selected to the Pro Bowl, which speaks volumes about his toughness.
|Five possibilities: Jaguars|
Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue: Captain, tough-guy, hard-worker. Oh, and he can rush the passer.
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: He might be more explosive than Kerrigan, but he doesn't always play to that speed.
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: They likely won't take him with the 16th overall pick, but they should. He probably won't be there when they pick in the second round.
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU: The Jaguars like this kid, but he's moving up. Will he be there when they pick in the second round?
Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy: He is a perfect slot receiver who could complement Hill and Thomas.
Brinson: Jaguars offseason checkup
Team Needs: All 32 teams
Look for the team to take a pass rusher, quarterback, safeties and a linebacker in this draft.
The first two have to be priorities.
They don't throw it well enough and they don't defend the pass well enough. That tune seems to play on every year for the Jaguars.
QB: Garrard has started the past four years and he hasn't really improved much. He isn't great at scanning the field and getting off his first option, which limits the offense. He is a tough guy who stands in the face of pressure and takes a ton of hits, but he also brings on some of that himself by holding the football. He is a player who has to have everything working around him to succeed. Even the coaches say he's far too inconsistent. The Jaguars need more from the position. Trent Edwards and Luke McCown are the backups, but McCown is coming off a torn ACL. Neither of those players is the answer. They need to use an early pick, maybe even the first-round pick, on a quarterback.
RB: Jones-Drew had another big season, even though he had knee issues the entire season. He is a tough runner who also excels in the passing game. But he's now entering his sixth season and he isn't a big back. That body takes a beating. He doesn't shy away from contact. That has to be a concern. Rashad Jennings flashed at times as his backup, but he isn't a 20-carry back. Deji Karim is a speed back, but little more. Greg Jones is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league. He keys the run game. Want to know where the ball is going? Follow Jones. Montell Owens is a Pro Bowl special teams player.
WR: This is a trouble spot. It has been since Jimmy Smith retired in 2006. The Jaguars have wasted high picks trying to find a No. 1 receiver the past six years. They have failed miserably. They still don't have the go-to guy. Mike Thomas is a nice player, but he's not a No. 1 receiver. He needs a speed guy opposite him. Jason Hill, who was picked up last season, might be that player. Hill showed big-play ability after being signed when San Francisco let him go. The Jaguars re-signed him this offseason and they think he can start. Mike Sims-Walker is a free agent who won't be back. Jarett Dillard has been slowed by injuries his first two seasons and the rest of the group isn't much. They need help here, especially as it relates to speed outside.
TE: Marcedes Lewis emerged as one of the league's best. He has always been a top-tier blocker, but he developed into a Pro Bowl tight end as a receiver. He has the ability to get down the seam, creating problems for linebackers and safeties. Zach Miller is a converted college quarterback who has good speed. He is more of an H-back type. He had 20 catches, but fought through a bunch of injuries. He has 50-catch ability. Zach Potter is a backup who can block.
OL: The Jaguars have a potentially good unit -- depending on health. Young tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton have a chance to be a nice tandem for a long time. Britton excelled as a rookie in 2009, but was bothered by a shoulder injury early in 2010 and went on IR after surgery was needed midway through the season. He is expected back at full strength. Monroe wasn't as good as a rookie in 2009, but played much better last season. He got his weight down under 300 and he played with more quickness, yet still had the power in the run game. Backup Jordan Black, who started for Britton, was let go this spring. He disappointed with his play. Guy Whimper is now the top backup at tackle. Right guard Uche Nwaneri played well last season, especially in the run game. Center Brad Meester and left guard Vince Manuwai both bounced back from sub-par 2009 seasons to play better. But Manuwai wore down some late in the season.
DL: The Jaguars made a big splash when they took defensive tackle Tyson Alualu in the first round last year. He proved to be a good player, starting all 16 games. He is the perfect complement for Terrance Knighton, the team's run stuffer. Knighton played at a high level early on, but he gained weight as the season went along and didn't play as well. He has to stay in shape. D'Anthony Smith missed his rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon, but the Jaguars think he will be part of the rotation this season. The ends are a trouble spot, although the return to health of Aaron Kampman will help. He started off strong last season, his first with the team, but tore an ACL for the second consecutive year. The Jaguars expect him back for camp, but at 31 he isn't a kid anymore. Austin Lane found his way into the lineup as the left end last season and showed good toughness. But he needs to be better as a pass rusher. He took the job of former first-round pick Derrick Harvey, who has been a major disappointment. He might not make this team this season.
LB: The best linebacker on the roster is Daryl Smith, although the coaches have a tendency to overrate him. He's good, not great. He might be the only starter back. Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison and strong-side linebacker Justin Durant are free agents, and the team isn't expected to pursue them, unless Durant comes cheaply. Morrison didn't play well after coming over in a trade with Oakland. Russell Allen has started outside, but he's little more than a quality backup. They need speed here. Look for a couple of picks at linebacker.
DB: This unit was horrible last season. The safeties were the worst group in the NFL -- and it wasn't close. They struggled big time in coverage back there. Blowing a first-round pick on Reggie Nelson, who was let go last season, has haunted this team. Strong safety Courtney Greene was decent when he took over as a run player, but he lacks coverage skills. Don Carey, a converted corner, looked lost at times at free safety. The rest of the group is made up a bunch of guys. Veteran corner Rashean Mathis is coming off his worst season. He was beaten a lot in coverage and didn't tackle well. He's better than that. At least the coaches feel that way. Derek Cox lost his starting job early in the season, but he battled back to take it again after getting healthy and had four interceptions. He's solid, but he's more of a No. 2 corner. David Jones, William Middleton and Tyron Brackenridge don't offer much hope in terms of fixes.