1. Find a dependable receiver.
This should actually read "receivers" but for the time being, the Jaguars would settle for just one receiver to step forward and stand out. Patience is running thin for three veterans who have been around for several seasons, including former first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones.
The pressure is really on Williams, who's been with the club for three seasons, and while he had his best year in 2006, 51 catches for an entire season does not put a lot of fear into opposing cornerbacks. Williams' problem has been his lack of consistency. He'll make the highlight reel with an over-the-shoulder catch falling out of bounds and two plays later drop a pass across the middle when he's open. The nagging injuries that he's had, including some that limited him during the team's offseason workouts has frustrated the coaching staff.
At the end of the 16 practices, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio announced that neither Williams nor Jones would be among the starters if he were to name a two-deep lineup at the time. There is still hope that Jones will pan out as a receiver. He's been given a longer leash because he came to the Jaguars after spending four years at Arkansas as a quarterback. His conversion has been a work-in-progress, but he'll need to take his game to another level this year in order to stay in good graces.
Ernest Wilford has natural talent, good speed and outstanding leaping ability. Why he has caught less than 100 passes over three seasons is both puzzling and frustrating to fans and the staff. Dennis Northcutt was acquired in free agency and Mike Walker is a third-round draft pick out of Central Florida. If both have strong training camps, Williams or Wilford may not make this year's roster.
2. End the quarterback speculation.
It can't be called quarterback controversy because Del Rio has publicly declared that Byron Leftwich is the starter. But then the what-if games start. What if Daunte Culpepper becomes available, do the Jaguars go after him? If they do, how will that affect Leftwich's status and the fact that he's in the final year of his contract and neither he nor the Jaguars have given any indication that a new contract is forthcoming any time soon.
Should Culpepper be signed by Jacksonville, Del Rio has stated several times that the former Minnesota Vikings standout would come in as a backup to Leftwich, that the latter is firmly entrenched as the starter. If Culpepper comes in, does the team trade away solid backup David Garrard and possibly leave itself vulnerable at the position should Leftwich walk next year and Culpepper doesn't rebound from last year's injury-plagued season?
And whether Culpepper joins the team or not, there's still the issue of the relationship between Leftwich and Del Rio. It's frosty at best though both downplay it and say their only concern is winning games. True, but will that happen enough times to get the Jaguars into the playoffs if there's a barrier between the two? The hiring of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula could alleviate those concerns as Leftwich will work closely with those two, both of whom he has publicly acclaimed as being strong additions to the coaching staff.
3. Stay healthy.
By the end of the 2006 season, the Jaguars had placed 15 players on injured reserve, including Leftwich and key members of the defense, players like middle linebacker Mike Peterson, safety Donovin Darius and end Reggie Hayward. In addition, Marcus Stroud missed five games with a bum ankle. The team was deep enough that they were able to move people into the lineup, but that weakened both special teams and depth. In the end, it may have had as much as anything to do with the Jaguars dropping their final three games -- all by a touchdown or less -- and finish at 8-8 and miss qualifying for the playoffs by a game.
Darius is the only regular who was hurt last year that is not with the club this season and his loss on the field won't be missed as much as his leadership in the locker room. But Hayward sat out all of the spring/summer workout sessions and Stroud was limited in the action he saw. Those two are key parts of what has become one of the league's best defensive units. Both have indicated they will be at full strength when the training camp opens at the end of the month, but the key will be to stay at that level.
Greg Jones, Peterson and Leftwich -- that trio missed a combined 37 games last year -- all took part in the offseason workouts and appear fully recovered from last year's mishap. All play a key role to the team's success and can't afford to miss time like they did last year.
The good news is that several young players got unexpected playing time a year ago, which will make the team stronger in the big picture. But this team can't afford to have as many season-ending injuries this year as it did in '06 if it expects to be among the AFC challengers this fall.
Jaguars Inside Slant 7.14 / Training Camp
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