Overlooked Piece of the Puzzle

Despite the Jaguars having three consecutive non-losing seasons, most fans around the NFL couldn't name five players on the team. One of the Jaguars key players that embodies the national stature of the team is offensive lineman Dennis Norman.

The Jaguars could be the least recognizable team in the NFL. There are very few household names on the roster, the team has a very brief history, not a lot of tradition, and they play in one of the NFL's smallest markets with two other NFL franchises already in the state.

Dennis Norman is entering his seventh season in the NFL, and most people around Jacksonville wouldn't recognize Norman if he were wearing his own Dennis Norman #62 jersey. Norman is one of the key players on the Jaguars, despite not being a full-time starter. Norman is one of the most cerebral players on the team, and he should be, being that he is a graduate of Princeton University, not exactly a hotbed for NFL lineman. Norman is one of the hardest workers in the NFL, and is currently defying the odds by just being on a roster. Norman was drafted with the 22nd pick in the seventh round in 2001, by the Seattle Seahawks, and was just the sixth player ever drafted from Princeton. Norman toiled around with Seattle for three seasons, playing in just one game before landing with the Jaguars as a free agent in 2004.

Dennis Norman's stats look very unimpressive, as do most offensive linemen. Norman has started just five games with the Jaguars in his three seasons, but anyone who watches Norman work knows that he's much more than a journeyman lineman. Dennis Norman is one of the only players in the NFL that can play all five positions on the line. Most tackles can be moved inside to guard when their feet start to get slow, but they usually play too high. Even fewer guards can be moved to tackle, because they usually aren't athletic enough. Some centers can be moved to guard, but usually never outside. Almost no one on the offensive line can be moved to center, because they are usually not intelligent enough to read opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage. Dennis Norman is the exception to all of these. Norman is usually listed on the Jaguars depth chart as either the backup center, or backup guard. In 2005, Jaguars starting center Brad Meester went down with a torn biceps injury, and in came Norman. With the Jaguars trying to make a playoff run, all Norman did was not get noticed. Each snap was good, and his blocking was outstanding. After two weeks, the absence of Meester was no longer an issue, due to Norman's rock solid play. In a perfect world, backups are supposed to come in and teams hope for little dropoff, and that was exactly what happened for the Jaguars.

Norman started the '06 training camp in serious competition for Brad Meester's job, as Norman is about three years younger, and Meester was coming off a season ending injury. Norman pushed Meester, but Meester won out in the end, and the entire offensive line benefitted from the competition. Norman was relegated to his role of capable backup, and that role was tested on the day of November 12, when Norman found out he was going to get a start... at left tackle, a position that he hadn't played since college. Starting left tackle Khalif Barnes was suspended for the week 10 game against Houston due to his DUI arrest the day before the game. Norman was not only playing a position that was recently unfamiliar to him, but had to line up against the number one overall pick in the draft and physical freak, Mario Williams. Not only did Norman do his usual, and go unnoticed, but so did Williams. Mario Williams finished the day with exactly one tackle and zero sacks after spending most of the day locked up one on one with Norman. Norman had successfully stopped the Texans best pass rusher, playing the most difficult position on the offensive line for the first time in his professional career.

The Jaguars will begin training camp sometime in late July, and they should have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. A lot has been made about the training camp battles at the wide receiver, safety, and defensive end positions, but not much has been said about the offensive line. Dennis Norman has worked hard his entire six year career, and all he's done is make the most of each and every opportunity that he's had in real game action while going mostly incognito. Norman is poised to take the next step and will compete for a starting job on the offensive line in '07, and don't be surprised if #62 is announced with the rest of the offensive starters, even if there isn't an injury or suspension.

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