Less ?'s On Jaguars Offense-Hardly A Stretch

If you've watched the Jaguars over the last four seasons, this may sound a little crazy to you, but I believe the Jaguars defense has more question marks going into the 2007 season than their offense has.

Since halfway through the 2003 season, the Jaguars identity has been defense. They have been known as a physical, defensive team led by head coach that was a former linebacker, (Jack Del Rio) and their two monster defensive tackles, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.

Over the past few seasons, the Jaguars have been involved a many low-scoring defensive battles, even against poor defensive teams. The Jaguars defense carried the team in most games, while the offense took the brunt of the criticism, and rightfully so. In 2003, the team's record was 5-11, and the Jaguars offense finished 25th in the NFL in scoring, while the defense finished sixth overall. In '04, their record improved to 9-7, while the Jaguars finished 29th in scoring offense, and the defense finished seventh in points allowed. In the '05 season when the Jaguars made their return to the playoff's after a 12-4 regular season, the offense was a mediocre 15th overall, while the defense held the sixth overall ranking. A trend of defensive dominance and offensive futility had clearly formed.

During the up and down 2006 season in which the Jaguars finished a disappointing 8-8, the Jaguars offense started to turn the corner. Fueled by the third-ranked rushing offense in the league, the team finished ninth overall in points scored, while the defense remained as stingy as ever, finishing with the number two overall ranking. Considering the Jaguars had virtually no semblance of an effective passing game with backup quarterback David Garrard, the number nine ranking in points scored was even more impressive. When asked about the under-appreciation of the team's offense, head coach Jack Del Rio said "We were 9th in scoring out of 32 teams, so we're in the top third of the league right now, we see room for improvement. We think with the football players we have, with the coaches we've assembled, we think we can be even better than that."

So what has happened in the offseason for anyone to believe that the Jaguars could actually have fewer question marks on offense that defense? First of all, the Jaguars invested their entire free agency budget on the offensive side of the ball by acquiring a right tackle (Tony Pashos) to help protect Byron Leftwich, as well as a deep threat wide receiver in Dennis Northcutt. They also picked up a solid, veteran tight end in Jermaine Wiggins. On defense, the team lost starting free safety Deon Grant in free agency, and the return of Reggie Hayward is uncertain, due to his ruptured Achilles tendon. Playing opposite Hayward, Paul Spicer will be 32 years old before the season begins, and backup defensive end Bobby McCray has refused to sign his first-round tender that the Jaguars placed on him. Without Grant in the secondary, the Jaguars are forced to lean on Gerald Sensabaugh and Donovin Darius to play an entire season, something Darius hasn't done since 2004. The Jaguars linebackers should be healthy to start the season, but their depth at the position isn't anything to advertise. Nick Greisen is just a guy, and Pat Thomas and Tony Gilbert probably aren't as good as Greisen.

Now don't get me wrong, the Jaguars have some questions on offense, mainly revolving around quarterback Byron Leftwich's health, but they did take measures in the offseason to get better. Will the Jaguars offense be as explosive as the Colts? Probably not. But they should be better than they were in 2006. Jack Del Rio was asked about what he expects from the offense and this is what he said, "My vision for this football team is to continue to grow, to become even more explosive offensively. We know how to run the ball, we ran it very well last year. We need to do a better job setting up play action off that run game and we will have some opportunities down the field. We expect our passing game to be more efficient this year. Part of that will be keeping our quarterback healthy."

The Jaguars have improved their offensive personnel since their final game of the '06 season, and return a healthy Byron Leftwich at quarterback. Add in another year of experience for Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Marcedes Lewis, as well as last season's runner-up for rookie of the year, Maurice Jones-Drew, and the Jaguars should certainly improve on their top-ten offensive ranking. Looking at the other side of the ball, if Hayward can't go at 100%, and it's more than possible that will be the case, and Spicer's play declines (he's of the age), and the team and Bobby McCray can't work out their issues, the Jaguars may have some holes on the defensive line, as well as in the secondary. It has been bandied about that the Jaguars are very likely to commit their first few draft picks next week on defense, and at this point it appears that they need to.

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