Transition Time for Jaguar Safety

Every NFL team dreads starting a rookie on opening day at pretty much any position. The Jaguars are slated to start a rookie at a very important defensive position, safety. In April, the Jaguars selected safety Reggie Nelson from the University of Florida with their 21st overall pick.

This was in wake of letting three year starter at free safety Deon Grant walk in free agency, and after seeing the contract Grant signed for in Seattle, anyone can understand why he was not retained. The Jaguars later on surprised some people by releasing nine-year veteran starter Donovan Darius after the team's OTAs. The release of Darius wasn't all that surprising, considering that Gerald Sensabaugh, now entering his third season, has filled in admirably for Darius when he was injured over the past two seasons. Many believe Sensabaugh outplayed Darius, showing nearly the same big hitting ability, plus having better speed and coverage ability. Sensabaugh has played in all 32 games, and started 10 games in his short stint in the NFL.

Starting the 2007 season, the Jaguars will come in with a completely new safety tandem, with some definite lack of experience. Fans can and should expect some mishaps early in the season, as the safeties get adjusted to each other, and as Nelson gets adjusted to the speed of the NFL. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they do not face an elite quarterback until week seven when they take on the defending champion Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, which of course features Peyton Manning. The Jaguars should feel fortunate when they look at their schedule and see games against either young and unproven quarterbacks, or quarterbacks who are just mediocre passers early on in the season.

In week one, the Jaguars face the reigning 2006 offensive rookie of the year in Vince Young. Luckily, since the Titans are in the division, the Jaguars have already seen Young twice. Right now the scouting report on Young is pretty simple (if you don't listen to ESPN); Young will not beat you with his arm. In his two games against the Jaguars last season, Young completed just 45% of his passes for 248 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions. Young is known for his ability to run with the ball, but that area failed to materialize against the Jaguars as well, as Young rushed for just 18 yards on 8 carries, while being sacked four times resulting in two fumbles. Opening against the Titans is a blessing for the young safety tandem because their quarterback does not strike fear into anyone through the air, and the Titans receiving corps appears to be one of the worst in the league.

In week two, the Jaguars face the perennial underachiever in Michael Vick. maybe. Currently, Vick is involved in a federal indictment, and it's still uncertain whether or not he will be on the field once the season starts. If Vick does not start, the Jaguars will be facing Joey Harrington who also falls into the disappointing passer category. If Vick plays, the game plan should be similar to Young, because neither is a quarterback who will likely beat you throwing the ball. Vick rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, so the primary danger will be containing him when he drops back to pass, and not worrying about him throwing over the top. Like Tennessee, Atlanta's receivers are not very formidable. Joe Horn was added in the off season, but there is real question how effective he will be at his advanced age (35). This is another great game to play early in the season to help the safeties get acquainted, and possibly make some plays in the passing game.

In week three, the Jaguars face second-year quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler showed lots of promise last season, and has a strong running game to rely on. Unlike Atlanta and Tennessee, Denver has receivers you must pay attention to, not to mention two good pass catching tight ends in Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler. While Cutler showed loads of promise in his short amount of starts last season, he also showed the tendency to throw into coverage and force the ball under pressure. Cutler is still a young and unproven quarterback; however this will be a good gauge on the safety play. Unlike the opponents in the previous weeks, Cutler is a pocket passer. He will be the first to effectively test the new safety tandem, but he will be making just his eighth start as a pro.

Week four is a toss up for the Jaguars. It is still uncertain if the Chiefs are going to start their fill-in from last year, Damon Huard, or move forward to the inexperienced Brodie Croyle. Like Denver, both of these quarterbacks are pocket passers, but they also have the benefit of handing the ball off to one of the best running backs in the NFL in Larry Johnson. This game will greatly test the new safeties, especially Nelson's recognition ability, as they can expect plenty of play-action and passes to the tight end. Kansas City has no real threat at the wide receiver position, so covering Tony Gonzalez will be a priority for either Sensabaugh or Nelson.

In the Jaguars fifth game, they will face Matt Schaub, who was the favorite "next best QB who was a back up" in the off season. Schaub was brought in to Houston to replace David Carr as the quarterback of the Texans, but he is still relatively unproven, as he has a grand total of zero career victories as a starter. Schaub has started just two games in his NFL career, and most will credit his success in the games to teams being unprepared, as he is the complete opposite of his former teammate Michael Vick. In Houston, Schaub will be without the powerful running attack of Atlanta, and he'll play behind an offensive line that could have possibly been convicted for abuse, as they allowed David Carr to be sacked 249 times in just 76 games (a little over 3 times a game average). Schaub will have a high caliber receiver in Andre Johnson, which he's never had the luxury of passing to before. Still, there are legit concerns about Matt Schaub's ability through the course of a season, and reports from Houston are that he hasn't been overly impressive so far.

During this start, the Jaguars would be well served to work in their other young safeties, in second-year player Jamaal Fudge, and rookie Josh Gattis. Fortunately, the schedule is very favorable to battle test and familiarize the new safety tandem. While Sensabaugh should have enough experience, the experience gained by rookie Reggie Nelson and their communication and "feel" for each other that will be developed is vital. They will be tested during the Monday nighter against Peyton Manning, the best pure passer the NFL has seen since Dan Marino, and the Jaguars will likely need to win that football game, as much as any during the regular season. The facts are that there will be kinks early with the young safeties, but the team is fortunate however, in who they face early.


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