Attacking Passing in 2007

Many speculated at the end of the 2006 season about how the underachieving Jaguars would bolster their passing game for the next season. There was a train of thought that they would dump oft injured quarterback Byron Leftwich, and go after someone like Jake Plummer (with his error filled connections to Dirk Koetter), Matt Schaub, or even David Carr, if and when he was released.

In February at the NFL Combine, head coach Jack Del Rio shocked quite a few people by announcing they would stick with quarterback Byron Leftwich and he would be the starter. This was further cemented in stone in April at the NFL Draft when the Jaguars passed on Notre Dame Quarterback Brady Quinn not once, but twice.

The Jaguars made a few subtle off-season moves in free agency and the draft to improve the abysmal, 24th ranked passing game from a year ago. The team signed veteran receiver and punt returner, Dennis Northcutt from the Cleveland Browns to add speed and experience. The Jaguars also brought in right tackle Tony Pashos from the Baltimore Ravens, who had just cemented himself as a very good starter.

The Jaguars also added more speed to their receiving corps with the drafting of Central Florida receiver Mike Walker and John Broussard from San Jose State. Perhaps the most important off season move to bolster the passing game didn't come from any of the new receivers, upgrading the offensive line, or confirming the starting quarterback. The biggest move may have been made on January 8th, 2007, when Jack Del Rio named former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter as the offensive coordinator.

I may be heaping a lot of praise and responsibility on Dirk Koetter before he has even called a play in the NFL, but it does not come without warrant. The previous offensive coordinators the Jaguars have hired during Del Rio's tenure were not known as offensive greats. Bill Musgrave came to the Jaguars and attempted to install a pseudo-west coast offense, the kind he ran at the University of Virginia. While this system might have worked with the 2003 incumbent quarterback Mark Brunell, it was the worst system imaginable for the newly drafted Byron Leftwich. Last season's offensive coordinator, Carl Smith came as a seemingly last resort hire. Reports were abundant that Jack Del Rio headed to his alma mater USC in hopes of bringing back renowned offensive mind Norm Chow, but he apparently declined. Del Rio brought back current USC quarterbacks coach, Carl Smith, whom Del Rio had played under during his time in the NFL as a linebacker when he played for the New Orleans Saints. If you look back at his time in New Orleans, the Saints offense was pedestrian at best, much like the Jaguars in 2005 and 2006. Despite the Jaguars offense being ranked in the Top 10 in 2006, it was clearly a misnomer. The Jaguars offense in 2006 was carried on the shoulders and legs of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The passing attack struggled, whether it was from injuries and inconsistency at the quarterback position, or lack of surrounding talent, the struggles cost Carl Smith his job at the end of the '06 season.

In January, seemingly learning from his past mistakes, Jack Del Rio hired Dirk Koetter as the new offensive coordinator. Unlike Musgrave and Smith, Koetter comes to the Jaguars with heaps of praise for his offensive philosophy. "Having worked with Dirk Koetter for seven years, I have a hard time believing there is any better football mind at any level than Dirk's," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said of Koetter. During his tenure at Arizona State, Dirk Koetter received a heap of criticism for the Sun Devil's underachieving and losing ways. However, this criticism rarely had to do with the offensive output or play calling, but on the lack of attention to defense and special teams. While at Arizona State, Koetter routinely ranked in the Top 10 in the NCAA in total offense, scoring, and passing. He made perennial back ups like Andrew Walter look like superstars. He also loved using the tight end in his offense, pumping out tight ends like Baltimore Raven and pro-bowler Todd Heap, and the recently drafted Zach Miller.

Koetter seems like a perfect fit for what the Jaguars want to do. The Jaguars have one of, if not the best, rushing attacks in the NFL. With Dirk Koetter at the helm, the Jaguars get a coordinator who will utilize play action, finally. The Jaguars appear to want to get the tight end involved in the passing game, as evidenced by the team drafting Marcedes Lewis in the first round in 2006, George Wrighster in the 3rd round in 2003, and bringing in Jermaine Wiggins, a pass-catching threat, in free agency. In addition, Koetter seems to have hit it off with quarterback Byron Leftwich. Leftwich has been gushing about the new offense since he met with Koetter in February in what was supposed to 30 minute sit down, that turned into a 2 hour football discussion. Leftwich has said that Koetter's offense reminds him a lot of the offense he ran at Marshall, where Leftwich was wildly successful passing the ball. Dirk Koetter, per Jack Del Rio, has made the Jaguars offense quarterback friendly and more "black and white". He's simplified things for each player to reduce mistakes. Koetter was asked if his offense was going to be a lot like the Indianapolis Colts offense, where quarterback Peyton Manning comes to the line with 3 plays, then depending on the defense and his checks, calls the play. To this, he noted it wouldn't be identical to what the Colts do, but it would be similar. This would mean that finally, the Jaguars will give the opportunity to the quarterback to audible out of the obvious bad play.

While there was a lot of excitement when Carl Smith was hired by the Jaguars and he promised a "more vertical passing game", he failed to deliver. So, you ask, why should we get excited again when Dirk Koetter promises the same thing? In mini-camp alone, Dirk Koetter has shown almost a completely different offense than the Jaguars' fans are used to. The first thing that stood out was motion. The Jaguars were using motion to create match-up problems. While the Jaguars used motion under Carl Smith, it was limited to moving the tight end from weak side to strong side. Under Koetter, it appears to be used to setup trips on one side, or motions the running back out wide. Koetter also utilized the tight ends, lining up primarily in 2 tight end sets, something the Jaguars did not do a lot of. He showed a focus on always giving the quarterback an "out", be it in the flat to a running back, or on a little 5-8 yard hitch to a tight end. With the additions of speed to the offense with Dennis Northcutt and Mike Walker, plus the addition of Jermaine Wiggins and a healthy Marcedes Lewis, Koetter has all the toys he needs to play with. Under Koetter, we should finally see the strengths of this team utilized. Byron Leftwich has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, and excels at throwing the deep ball. While it was only "underwear" practice, Koetter showed the tendency to attack deep off the play action. He showed the knack to have Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor on the field at the same time, motion one out wide, which the Jaguars used to do with Fred Taylor often. While the Jaguars offense in 2007 will more than likely still be dominated by the running game, the passing game should be right on it's heels, as that is the key to the Jaguars success. Right now, Dirk Koetter has the key in the ignition, and appears to have the pedal to the floor.


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