Pashos=More OFFENSIVE Line
Often overlooked in the Jaguars' running attack last year was the strong play of the offensive line. Strong, durable and consistent is the best way to describe the line which consisted of tackles Khalif Barnes and Maurice Williams, guards Chris Naeole and Vince Manuwai and center Brad Meester.
That quintet started every game together with one exception, the Houston game on Nov. 12 when Barnes was suspended a game for violation of team policy. The regular unit helped the Jaguars set a single-season rushing record with 2,541 yards, bettering the old mark of 2,102 set in 1998. The quintet also allowed the second fewest sacks (30) in team history, trailing only the 2003 unit that permitted 28 sacks.
Despite that success, the Jaguars' first venture into free agency saw them land Baltimore Ravens' right tackle Tony Pashos, with coach Jack Del Rio announcing at the time that Pashos would move into the starting lineup, replacing Williams. After watching him through the series of OTAs and minicamp, Del Rio said Pashos showed he was the player they envisioned.
"Tony is a great fit for us. He has a real tenacious approach, a dogged, determined type of guy," Del Rio said. "It was our desire to firm up the pocket and to create some more holes and I think he'll be a nice addition for us. Tony is what we thought he would be and Khalif has had a real strong offseason."
Byron Annointed Again, Despite Culpepper Option
In Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio's last meeting with the media before training camp opens in late July, he made it clear that should the Jaguars acquire disgruntled Miami quarterback Daunte Culpepper from the Miami Dolphins, it would strictly be in a backup role. Del Rio was hesitant to comment about such a possibility for fear of the NFL fining him for tampering charges by discussing the notion of brining in a player under contract to another NFL team.
But when he continued to get questions from the media, he gave a blanket stadium that said Byron Leftwich was his starting quarterback, no matter who else was in camp.
When asked if Culpepper were to sign with the Jaguars, could he compete for the starting spot with Leftwich, Del Rio answered with an emphatic "no".
"Byron is our quarterback. I've been very clear with everyone involved," the Jaguars coach said. "I can't talk about players but I've been very clear in that this is a supporting role. Byron is our quarterback."
In addition to placing 15 players (including four starters on defense) on injured reserve by the end of the 2006 season, the Jaguars also had to play nearly a third of the season without defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. The three-time Pro Bowl selection (2003-05) was hampered by a bad ankle for much of the season and only played in 11 games.
Having Stroud at full strength will make a significant impact on the defense as it frees up Stroud's line mate, John Henderson. Stroud is often double-teamed which leaves just one blocker trying to stop Henderson.
After sitting out much of the offseason drills, Del Rio pronounced Stroud fit and looking to be in good health.
"Marcus is doing great and he's running," the Jaguars coach said. "By design we held him off until June before we started to run him. He has really had a great offseason."
Del Rio Calls Out D
As strong as the defense was in 2006, there's one area that Del Rio would like to see an improvement in from his defensive unit.
"We need to turn the ball over (to our offense), need to take the ball away from the offense more, especially fumbles," the Jaguars coach said. "To be good on defense, you have to be able to stop the run. You can't let people pound you when they want to pound you.
"You've got to be able to get off the field on third down and you've got to be able to take the ball away from the opponent. We intercepted it last year but for whatever reason, it was just one of those years we did not force near enough fumbles. I can assure you we will be attacking the football this year."
Another testament to the efficiency of the defensive unit comes when comparing opponent marches into the red zone area. The Jaguars ranked first in the NFL by allowing opponents only 32 drives into the red zone. Opponents struggled against Jacksonville's defense in the red zone as opponents managed only 2.05 yards per play which third in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks had a NFL-low 41.0 passing rating inside the 20-yard line.
Quote to note:
"I love coaching, I love motivating young men. I love leading them and for me the charge is to take this group of men and help push, prod, and motivate this team to be all that it's capable of being. My energies are focused on putting all the positive energy I can into helping this team contend for a championship and ultimately win a championship." -- Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio when asked about his job status if the Jaguars don't reach the playoffs this coming season.
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