Roster Roundouts: A Jacksonville Jaguars Camp Preview
The 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars saw their season veer off course early with numerous injuries to the offensive line in the season’s first week, and that would give them a convenient excuse to fail to reach expectations, which they did.
But there’s a problem with this excuse, and it goes as follows: after a noticeable hiccup in Week 2, the Jaguars re-tooled offensive line performed adequately for the rest of the season. Perhaps not as good as the team was hoping, but a lot better than it could have hoped for.
The Jaguars were playing very well at the bye week (3-3 overall), and were well on their way to a playoff berth when back to back games against the hapless Browns and winless Bengals went terribly wrong. The Jaguars would win only two of ten games following their week seven bye, and remarkably, it wasn’t due to a decline in either the offense, or the defense. What seperated the Jags’ 5-11 season from an 8-8 season was a decline in the quality of it’s consistently reliable special teams. Josh Scobee was typically excellent on kickoffs, but posted a career low in FG%, while the return units provided no lift.
Since Dirk Koetter became the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville, he has been able to strike the perfect balance with the weapons in his offensive backfield: QB David Garrard, and RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. With Taylor now with the Patriots, Koetter will rely on some combination of 2005 2nd round pick Greg Jones and 2009 7th round pick Rashad Jennings to help out Jones-Drew. The Jaguars have now posted above average rushing DVOA in four consecutive years, and only the Giants and the Chargers have been better on the ground for longer. Consider that a positive development in the hall of fame bids of Taylor and Jones-Drew.
Koetter’s true contribution to the team has been the development of the passing game, and he’s done it with smoke and mirrors at the WR position. Getting Torry Holt over from St. Louis is a small help, but Holt is a declining player and the Jaguars return only one receiver who made a positive contribution last year, and that’s Mike Walker. The depth chart at WR still looks more like a 8 player sampling of the waiver wire than a team’s roster, but by shedding a lot of dead weight, the Jaguars have opened up some playing time for young guys at the position to catch on. One problem though: there’s no height. Troy Williamson is listed at 6’1″, and he’s the jump ball target of the group. Actually, they are probably better off not throwing passes to Troy Williamson, who is blessed to still be in the league by this point. Give it a month.
The offensive line added three major pieces in the offseason: veteran T Tra Thomas, and draftees Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, which helps the Jags be as deep up front as they are strong, but the Achilles heel of the entire team is it’s secondary. Patently awful last season, not even defensive coordiator Gregg Williams could help this group out. S Reggie Nelson was promising out of Florida as a rookie, but was terrible as a cover safety last season. Gerald Sensabaugh is gone, departed for Dallas. Marlon McCree has returned, but he was last seen in Denver last season chasing receivers into the end zone. If he’s on the field in Jacksonville this year, it does not bode well for Nelson’s future with the team. Sean Considine is the de-facto strong safety, and as replaceable as Sensabaugh’s production was, it’s unlikely that Considine will adequately replace him. Nelson’s decline, however, may have been scheme related, and a change of coaching should do him well.
When things went right defensively for Jacksonville last year, it was either due to teams running the ball against them, or throwing shorter passes at the excellent linebacker trio of Daryl Smith, Clint Ingram, and Justin Durant. It’s only a matter of time until the young talent on the Jags’ DL begins to mature and produce, so if the linebackers can stay on the field as a unit, the Jags defense may once again be among the league’s most feared. If they can’t produce, the secondary will be torched yet again, and the offense will struggle to play catch up.
The Jags, more than any other team in the league, use their training camp to uncover the next crop of undrafteds who will make up the core of the future in Jacksonville. This year is no exception.
Jags Camp, Jacksonville, FL
The position battle headliners begin at the offensive skill positions, but will be equally important at every level of this team.
Running back: Rashad Jennings vs. Chauncey Washington
Jennings is certainly expected to win this battle, but given that he was a compensatory 7th rounder, the Jags have little invested in him if Washington has made major strides during the offseason.
Wide receiver: Troy Williamson vs. Tiquan Underwood vs. Todd Peterson
For the Jags, this is the biggest of all the camp battles. A roster that will already feature two rookies at this position: Mike Thomas and Jarrett Dillard; could very well feature a third. Williamson has the experience, but it’s not particularly valuable when you drop passes like he does. It’s do or die for him now. Underwood was undrafted out of Rutgers, and has some name recognition. Peterson, though, may be the favorite because as a converted quarterback, he brings a 6’4″ frame to a team that lacks any sort of height at the position. If he shows his value on special teams early on in the preseason, I think he’s the favorite for this spot.
Tight end: Richard Angulo vs. Greg Estandia vs. Zach Miller
Both backup TE spots are open, as they were held by Angulo and Estandia this year, but with Miller challenging for a position, it may be Angulo vs. Estandia for the right to stay on the team/in the league. It would be a shocking twist of events if these three were the depth chart at TE for the Jags on opening day, but Marcedes Lewis is still living off his first round pick status at this point, and Jack Del Rio has pulled the plug on first round experiments before.
Offensive line: Tony Pashos vs. Jordan Black vs. Cameron Stephenson
If either Pashos or Black show the ability to move inside and make a competant backup guard, then the Jaguars will likely go forward with said player, and that will be it. If they both show a lack of versatility, Stephenson is a darkhorse to make the team.
Defensive line: wide open
Let’s start with the obvious: John Henderson is guarenteed a spot. Okay, one down, eight to go. Likely candidates include: Derek Landri, Rob Meier, Reggie Hayward, Derrick Harvey, and Quentin Groves, but even if those guys all make it, there’s 3 spots remaining for some combination of: Terrence Knighton (4th round pick this year), Jeremy Mincey, James Wyche, Atiyyah Ellison, Johnaton Lewis, and Montavious Stanley. That’s a lot of names, but if they don’t surprise in camp, that’s not as much quality depth as it looks like it is.
Safety: Gerald Alexander vs. Michael Desormeaux
Desormeaux, who yes, is a converted quarterback (just like Nick Sorenson, Matt Jones, Todd Peterson, and Zach Miller), could emerge as a dominant special teamer, and a better safety prospect than Lions castoff Alexander sooner rather than later. Of course, he doesn’t even enter camp with a roster spot guaranteed, which makes Alexander a small favorite in this camp battle.
Returners: Alvin Pearman vs. all comers
Pearman’s only way onto the team is to remain the primary punt returner, and possibly to add kick returner to his arsenal of skills, given that Maurice Jones-Drew held the KR spot last season, and it’s unlikely the team will have it’s featured runner returning kicks. His main competition is CB Brian Witherspoon, who held most of the return duties last season, and was limited in his effectiveness. Witherspoon’s roster spot at corner appears to be safe regardless.
Punter: Adam Podlesh vs. Steve Weatherford
Still don’t really like to forecast the punter battles, but I will say that Podlesh was a draft pick last year while Weatherford has been cast off by the Saints in recent memory, a team that has had issues punting the football.
- RB Greg Jones
- TE Marcedes Lewis
- G Vince Manuwai
- DT Rob Meier
- DE Reggie Hayward