Jags Team Report
For the first time, Smith didn't seem to get the same separation from cornerbacks and many now wonder if he can again be the big-time performer that struck fear into secondaries. Smith believes the reason for his dropoff was the Jaguars losing his sidekick, Keenan McCardell, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and that the team must address that void in the upcoming NFL draft.
With the No. 8 overall pick, the Jaguars' ideal scenario would be for University of Miami receiver Andre Johnson to still be available, but that's no sure thing with Arizona (No. 6 pick) also having a major need at that position. The draft's best receiver, Charles Rogers of Michigan State, figures to be gone by the third pick.
"If we got [Johnson] with our first-round pick, I'm probably going to be the happiest guy in Jacksonville," said Smith.
The Jaguars' receiving corps has taken two major hits in the past two years, both of which factored into Smith having 32 less catches and 346 less yards in 2002 than the year before. Not only was McCardell no longer there, but nobody emerged to pick up the slack as defenses clamped down on Smith.
That scenario could have been avoided had 2000 first-round draft pick R.Jay Soward, now out of the league, not been such a bust. However, with Soward suspended for all of last season because of a second violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, the Jaguars' receiving corps is down to a 34-year-old Smith and a bunch of no-names.
Last year, the Jaguars picked up cheap free agents Patrick Johnson and Bobby Shaw and figured that one or both could replace McCardell. But Johnson missed seven games with an abdominal injury and the two had just 53 catches for 698 yards between them. Two weeks ago, the Jaguars signed 6-foot-4 receiver Donald Hayes, hoping that he can be as productive as he was in two years with the Carolina Panthers and not the disappointment he turned out to be in New England.
"We got to get some guys to fill in some spots and make plays," Smith said. "As we found out last year, unless you've got that second or third option in the passing game, it's pretty difficult. We went three years with me and Keenan (McCardell) where it would have been nice to have that third option. We thought Soward was going to be the answer, but it didn't happen.
"Now you go from needing a No. 3 receiver to needing a No. 2. I don't care what kind of system you got, if you don't have players on the field, it's not going to work."
That said, Smith is excited about new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave installing a West coast offense because he thinks it'll free him up to draw favorable matchups and be more productive.
"I've seen guys like Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Terrell Owens catch a lot of balls in that offense," said Smith. "I always wanted to be in that offense because it allows receivers to get good matchups like on linebackers. Rod Smith (of the Denver Broncos) led the league a couple years ago in catches (113). There were games I'd sit and watch and defenses just couldn't double him, so I'm loving this new offense."
Jimmy Smith wants to prove that he can be as effective in his later years as the Oakland Raiders' tandem of Rice and Brown. If that's going to happen, the Jaguars need to find a second receiver to complement him.
That will likely require making the right call in the upcoming draft. One thing is certain: the Jaguars can ill afford another R. Jay Soward.
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