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Lenny P: Jaguars Camp Observations

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Aug 4, 2006.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    Seeing as their the 'boys 1st opponent, thought some of you would be interested.
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    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five observations on the Jacksonville Jaguars, gleaned from the training camp practices of Aug. 2:

    1.
    It isn't a good sign when the leading receiver in franchise history (Jimmy Smith) has retired, the guy who is supposed to replace him as the big-play threat in the passing game (Matt Jones) has his foot strapped into a walking boot because of an ankle injury, and the team's best runner (Fred Taylor) is nursing a groin injury sustained during a conditioning run on the opening day of camp. Even the lead character on "My Name is Earl" might call that some bad karma. Some might suggest the wheels have already come off the Jaguars, who in 2005 became one of just a dozen wild card teams since 1990, when the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format, to win 12 games.


    Coaches and players insist, however, that, the early camp detours aside, Jacksonville is capable of motoring all the way to Super Bowl XLI. Time will tell. It might have been more appropriate had the Jaguars qualified for Super Bowl XL because they might be the extra-largest team in the entire league. You expect, when the Jags run onto the field for practice, to hear the strains of "Sweet Georgia Brown" in the background, and the team to line up for layup drills. Size is the most obvious element at virtually every position here, but most conspicuously among the offensive skill-position guys. The top three wide receivers -- Jones, Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford -- average 6-foot-4¾ and 223.3 pounds. Quarterback Byron Leftwich is 6-5 and 242 pounds. And first-round tight end Marcedes Lewis checked in at 6-6 and 265. The point man, Leftwich, might be tempted at some point with a big lead to attempt a no-look, behind-the-back, wrap-around pass to a guy streaking down the wing.

    The emphasis on size, said head coach Jack Del Rio, is hardly happenstance.
    "No, it's design," Del Rio said. "We want big, tough guys, even at [the skill] positions. We want fast guys, too. You want to be big, but you want to be fast, and we feel like we're both."

    Sure, enough, but the question remains as to whether the Jacksonville skill people, especially the receivers, are good enough to help raise the offensive performance in 2006. The Jags can't compensate for the departure of Smith with one man. After all, Smith averaged 84 receptions, 1,199.9 yards and 6.4 touchdown catches over the past 10 years. There were a lot of whispers the Jaguars were starting to phase out Smith even before his retirement, but the guys they were phasing in haven't come close to that level yet.

    If there is one man the team is looking toward to help make up for Smith's exit, it is probably Lewis, the kind of stretch-the-seam tight end who has been on Del Rio's wish list for years. Lewis' size makes him a difficult matchup for interior secondaries, and if he can get deep up the middle of the field, it will dictate coverages and provide more room for the wide receivers. The best, albeit slowest, of that bunch is Wilford, a clutch receiver who really attacks the ball and has proven to be a pretty good red zone threat. Before the Jones ankle injury, it seemed the plan was to use Wilford as the No. 3 wide receiver out of the slot, but he's pushing now for a starting job.

    Everyone around here seems to feel Jones, the former Arkansas quarterback, is headed for a breakout season. Jones certainly runs fast, and like just about everyone else in the receiving corps, his raw size alone makes him a tough matchup. But his size isn't the only thing raw about Jones, who is still assimilating the nuances of the position. Leftwich truly believes in Jones, though, and it's almost as if he's willing him to be good.

    We're still not sold on Williams, who was the ninth overall player chosen in the 2004 draft, and who may never play up to that status. In Wednesday's practices, Williams did what he always seems to do: make some good plays and then suffer a few lapses. Asked to assess Williams' progress, Del Rio noted that he's the best downfield blocker on the roster, not exactly a resounding endorsement for a guy being paid big money to catch passes. Over the last 10 seasons, Smith never caught fewer than 54 balls in a year, and that was in 2003, when he served a four-game drug suspension. The only wide receiver currently on the team with more than 50 catches in a season is veteran Troy Edwards, a journeyman who might not even make the Opening Day roster. The Jags receivers might be tall, but they face a tall order this year in being asked to markedly upgrade the passing game.

    2. Mike Peterson might be the league's best defensive player, certainly its best middle linebacker, that no one knows about. At least no one outside the 904 area code. A weakside backer for his first four years in the league (with Indianapolis), the ever-active Peterson is representative of the evolution that has taken place at the position over the last five years, with quicker, pursuit-type defenders manning the "Mike" spot.


    Watch him in practice and what you see is a deft defender who moves with economy, but also a guy with terrific football instincts. Peterson is only 6-1 and 235 pounds, but he hits a lot bigger, and, playing behind the enormous tackle tandem of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, has plenty of freedom to run to the ball.

    "This defense, what I love about it, is that it allows me to play the whole game," the excitable and colorful Peterson said. "I'm asked to stop the run, blitz, cover, you name it."

    And Peterson, who might have been the least skeptical of anyone when the Jags recruited him as an unrestricted free agent in 2003 and told him he was moving into the middle, does it all exceedingly well. How about these all-around numbers, on average, for the past two seasons: 184 tackles (including a career-best 190 stops in 2005), 5½ sacks and 1½ interceptions. The guy plays with emotion and intensity, but also plays smart, and hopefully, Pro Bowl voters will discover him in 2006.

    The Jaguars have another young, athletic linebacker in third-year veteran Daryl Smith, but he's not yet in Peterson's class. If you get the chance to catch Peterson this year, do it, by all means. He's a fun player and a really good guy. Can't resist this Peterson line on Henderson, who pretty much blocks out the sun, even when he's in a three-point stance: "People talk about one-gap linemen and two-gap linemen. Henderson might be a three-gap lineman. He clogs all the gaps up, man." Henderson, by the way, had a far better season in 2005 than did Stroud, who went to the Pro Bowl.

    3.
    During the Wednesday morning seven-on-seven drill, rookie tailback Maurice Drew, the mighty-mite second-round pick from UCLA (weird, right, that the Jags' first two choices were offensive players from the same program?), snagged a pass from backup quarterback David Garrard. The out pattern carried Drew's momentum totally toward the sideline. While standing along the boundary with good buddies Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union and Peter King of Sports Illustrated, I and everyone else, including all the players on defense, just expected the tailback to continue out of bounds. But the kid somehow planted his foot and, without throttling down at all, turned the play upfield. It probably didn't seem like a real conspicuous play to the couple hundred fans sitting in the stands, but it was a jaw-dropper, and the kind of explosive play the Jaguars are hoping to get from the munchkin-sized (5-7) back.


    A Southern Cal grad, Del Rio said he caught all kinds of grief from his old Trojans buddies for choosing UCLA stars Lewis and Drew 1-2 in the draft. We're not sure yet how the Jags will use Drew from scrimmage, and we don't yet buy into Del Rio's assessment that he feels he can be an every-down running back in time and not just a gimmick guy, but they've got to get the ball in his hands. Drew is very elusive in space, and Del Rio said that Wednesday wasn't even his quickest day, because, like everyone at this point in camp, the heat is starting to take its toll and create heavy legs. But the waterbug-like Drew can give the Jacksonville offense and special teams an explosive threat. Special teams guru Pete Rodriguez will almost certainly use Drew on both kickoff and punt returns. And maybe he'll play as a third-down tailback, too. Drew averaged 7.8 yards every time he touched the ball at UCLA. You don't want to erode the kid physically, but that's pretty hard to ignore.

    One other back the Jags are quietly touting is Greg Jones, a combination fullback-tailback with size (255 pounds) and surprising speed. The third-year veteran has always played best in a one-back set, but if Taylor was ever out for an extended period, Jones would probably get the call over tailbacks LaBrandon Toefield and Alvin Pearman. Fact is, Toefield might struggle to make the team.

    4.
    Despite a No. 15 statistical ranking in total offense in 2005, the Jacksonville line didn't play very well as a unit, and some individuals, notably left guard Vince Manuwai, had a miserable campaign as well. Right tackle Maurice Williams didn't play up to expectations either. Enter former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice, whose title is assistant head coach/offense, but whose primary charge is fixing the blocking unit. Because of Leftwich's long stride and elongated release, that means tightening up the pass protecting, reducing some of the leakage into the pocket, and providing the quarterback room to step up and deliver.


    It remains a work in progress during camp but the early results have been somewhat encouraging. Left tackle Khalif Barnes, entering his second year as a starter, appeared to be more quick-footed than when we saw him in camp last summer. And right guard Chris Naeole is a road grader who might have been the unit's most consistent player in 2005. There seems to be a real battle brewing at center between incumbent Brad Meester and challenger Dennis Norman. The latter started the final four games in 2005, when Meester suffered a season-ending biceps injury, and he played well enough to merit a contract extension. The coaches love his hand strength, his ability to lock onto defenders and move them around. Meester is a guy who seems to run hot and cold, and so do the coaches' opinions of him, it appears. Keep an eye on the Meester-Norman competition as camp wears on.

    The Jags worked during the offseason to improve their line depth, and signed two former first-round picks, Mike Williams and Stockar McDougle. The former was the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft, by Buffalo, and he had to lose 40 pounds just since the end of the organized team activities before Del Rio would allow him to come to camp. He's got a back problem now, though, and that's ominous. McDougle, a Detroit first-round pick in 2000, might have a better shot. Del Rio mentioned that team doctors discovered McDougle had a blood-sugar level problem. Since he's been on medication, Del Rio said, McDougle has demonstrated a lot more stamina and has been much sharper mentally, too.

    5.
    Getting strong safety Donovin Darius back, after the strong safety missed 14 games in 2005 when he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury, will help solidify the secondary.


    We're not as sold yet on the effect that newcomer Brian Williams, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Minnesota, will have on the unit. The Jags paid a lot of money, including an eight-figure signing bonus, to get Williams, who logged 48 starts for the Vikings in four seasons. Williams might bring some toughness to a unit that also includes corner Rashean Mathis and free safety Deon Grant, but he always has been considered a dubious cover guy. While it probably isn't fair to make an assessment based on one day of observation, his footwork leaves a little to be desired.

    The emerging star, and a guy we've been touting for a couple of years now, is Mathis. He's a big, fluid corner, probably not quite as physical as you'd like, but a superb young cover guy with 12 interceptions in three seasons. Jacksonville has a lot of money invested in the secondary, actually in the defense in general, and the team ranked No. 6 in overall defense in 2005. It will be interesting to see how much of a stabilizing influence Williams provides.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here [IMG].
  2. miamicowboy21

    miamicowboy21 Active Member

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    I've been saying all along this will be a tough competitve game. Smith not being their helps out, but that defense, especially the interior defensive line is no joke. If our o-line cant control henderson & stroud were in for a long day.
  3. ravidubey

    ravidubey Active Member

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    Their strength is their DT's, MLB, and SS. In a 4-3 defense this translates to a bend-don't-break style of defense. They are less proven on the edges of the defense with Ayodele missing and Daryl Smith admittedly not in the class of their MLB. This is a team that seems to have size but lacks quickness... except at MLB.

    On offense they will be working in Lewis and Jones is a 2nd year guy and Lewis might be a bust. Their OL, like ours, is not special, and their QB has yet to prove a damned thing except to his devoted fans on this and other Cowboys sites that wished we had taken him over Terence Newman.

    The guys you feared, Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, are retired and banged up.

    Here's a taste of their 2005 schedule: Houston (twice), Cleveland, Tennessee (twice), Jets, Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers. That's 9 easy games, and they went 8-1 in that stretch and 3-3 against the rest of their schedule.

    Dallas should beat this team. I think both defenses will play tough and both offenses will struggle, but I see Dallas' defense and offense making more plays.
  4. CrazyCowboy

    CrazyCowboy Well-Known Member

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    good article...thx
  5. stilltheguru

    stilltheguru Well-Known Member

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    i agree with everything u said but it is a road game. BUT i still think we should definately win this game. If not i will be shocked.


    if our cbs are shutting down TO and glenn and crayton they better not let jones,williams,and wilford sniff anything over 20 yards.
  6. Aikmaniac

    Aikmaniac Well-Known Member

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    It's only a matter of time before Greg Jones takes over at Jax.
  7. miamicowboy21

    miamicowboy21 Active Member

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    Yeah jones is a beast. I wacthed him run for almost 200 yards against a canes defense that has Vilma, D.J williams, amongest others. Too bad he tore his ACL.
  8. Angus

    Angus Active Member

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    Sure hope you're right.
  9. adbutcher

    adbutcher K9NME

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    I hope our interior OL play will be ready because Stroud and Henderson could cause a lot of havoc.
  10. baj1dallas

    baj1dallas New Member

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    LOL...Stockar McDougle and Mike Williams? Two of the biggest o-line busts in recent memory...if they're counting on anything from those guys, they're in bad shape.

    I thought Jacksonville's o-line was actually decent last year, the problem is more that Leftwich takes a long time to get rid of the ball sometimes. Which could be due to his receivers. Tice should help them some. If they can generate some pass rush (other than collapsing the pocket) they'll be a darn good team. They could beat Dallas but Dallas has the advantage of the better overall defense which should help for the first game of the year...plus the fact that TO can break a play open. Should be a good game.

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