Jaguars Inside Slant

Inside slant covering the 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars

COACHING: Jack Del Rio, 5th year, 5th with Jaguars (34-30)
REMEMBERING: 2006 record: 8-8 (3rd in AFC South)
PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record 10-6 (2nd in AFC South; lose in opening round of playoffs)

    Jacksonville lost three offensive starters and three defensive starters of players who were normal starters for the club last year. In most situations, that might be reason for concern. But the Jaguars appear to have strengthened themselves in five of those six spots, and it may just be a matter of time until the sixth (free safety rookie Reggie Nelson taking over for veteran Deon Grant) joins that category.

    While the passing game wasn't what they wanted it to be a year ago, the Jaguars were solid on defense and just as strong with the rushing game. Those two areas should be even better in '07. The defense lost middle linebacker Mike Peterson (torn pectoral muscle) and DE Reggie Hayward (Achilles injury), but those two veteran leaders appear close to 100 percent on the eve of the regular season opener.

    Rookies Nelson and LB Justin Durant look to be immediate contributors with Nelson filling the void of Grant's departure, while Durant can spell any of the three starters at linebacker and will be valuable on special teams.

    As sound as the defense is, however, the offense still owns too many question marks. Can quarterback David Garrard get the time to throw to a group of receivers who have had difficulty in separating from defensive backs in the past? The addition of Tony Pashos at right tackle makes the line nastier, but the loss of Brad Meester until sometime in October could be damaging.

    The biggest concern, however, rests with the receivers, where only veteran Dennis Northcutt looks to be a solid improvement over the group from a year ago. That's when talented, but unpredictable Reggie Williams led the team in receiving with 52 catches (3.3 per game). None of the Jaguars receivers required double coverage last year, often freeing up a safety to play close to the line of scrimmage and lend a hand in stopping the team's running game.

    If Garrard can stay healthy and someone, i.e. Ernest Wilford, Matt   Jones or Williams, can team with Northcutt and average five or six catches per game, it will open up the running game, where the Jaguars excelled a year ago with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

NOTES

    --LB Clint Ingram is the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys running back Robert Newhouse.

    --The Jaguars have two players on their roster from Hawaii (OG Chris Naeole and OG Vince Manuwai).

    --LB Mike Peterson has a brother, Adrian, who plays for the Chicago Bears and his cousin, Freddie Solomon, played wide receiver for Philadelphia. ... Rookie OG Uche Nwaneri has a cousin, Ike Diogu, who plays for the Indiana Pacers of the NBA

    --PK Josh Scobee, a fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2004, connected on a career-best 81.2 percent (26 of 32) of his field-goal attempts in 2006.

    --The Jaguars signed former first-round draft pick Chris Claiborne (by Detroit in 1999), but the eight-year veteran lasted just three days before the team cut him

    --Rashean Mathis became the first Jaguars cornerback to be voted to the Pro Bowl after he ranked tied for third in the NFL with a team-record eight interceptions. Mathis owns the club's career record with 20 interceptions

    --When Darryl Smith moved into the middle linebacker spot last year to replace the injured Mike Peterson, he finished with 170 total tackles, third best in the NFL behind Chicago's Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The previous year, Smith recorded 117 stops while playing at the outside linebacker spot.

BY THE NUMBERS:

    59 -- Total rushing yards that Maurice Jones-Drew needed last year to reach 1,000-yard mark for the season, enabling the Jaguars to become the fifth team in NFL history to have two (Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew) 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.


QUOTE TO NOTE:

    "Every decision, whether significant or seemingly insignificant, is made with winning in mind. There are many very difficult decisions that have to be made, and this is certainly one of the most difficult decisions we've faced. But once the decision is made we move on together with conviction. Our goal is to put the best team on the field in order to win, and that is what matters. I do want to thank Byron and acknowledge all that he has done for this organization. He is a professional and he will do well wherever he goes." -- Owner Wayne Weaver on QB Byron Leftwich losing the starting job.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    S Josh Gattis, a fifth-round pick out of Wake Forest, failed to make the final roster. He started strong and looked good in offseason workouts, but wasn't been as dominant once the pads went on.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

    TE Marcedes Lewis -- A major disappointment a year ago, Lewis got off to a slow start due to an injury and never came around like a No. 1 draft pick should. He finished with just 13 catches for 126 yards and one score. But Lewis appears healthy coming out of training camp and he could be a surprise weapon at the tight end spot. The coaching staff likes him as a blocker, better than George Wrighster, who's a better pass receiver than Lewis. But with the Jaguars' strong emphasis on running, Lewis becomes a valuable asset along the offensive line.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

    Rd. 1/21, FS Reggie Nelson, Florida -- He moved right into the starting lineup from day one, but suffered an ankle injury early in the second preseason game and has been a spectator on the sidelines ever since. The coaching staff has concern that he saw very limited time in the preseason, a factor that may make him vulnerable when the regular season begins.

    Rd 2/48, OLB Justin Durant, Hampton -- There was concern he came out of a small program but he's responded well. If the Jaguars weren't so deep at the linebacker spots, he would be a starter. As it stands, he'll be the first to spot any of the three starters and will be a valuable member of the special teams.

    Rd 3/79, WR Mike Walker, Central Florida -- Bigger things were expected of him following the summer workouts but a recurring knee problem (stemming back to his 2005 ACL surgery) and a finger injury has limited Walker. Walker was placed on the IR to rehabilitate his knee and is expected to be a difference maker in ‘08.

    Rd 4/101, P Adam Podlesh, Maryland -- Was handed the punting job the first week after he was drafted when the Jaguars cut veteran Chris Hanson. He's responded with a good average (44.3) but the net of 38.8 is low as are just three kicks that have been downed inside the 20. The club wants better placement of his punts.

    Rd 5/113, DE Brian Smith, Missouri -- The Jaguars took a gamble on him in that he missed the last four games of his senior season with a broken hip. They were hoping he would respond by the start of training camp but he hasn't and as a result was placed on the PUP (physically-unable-to-perform) list for the season. He still figures in the club's plans in the future if he returns to full health.

    Rd. 5/149, G/C Uche Nwaneri, Purdue -- He started slow but picked up his pace a couple weeks ago when he got some playing time at center as well as the two guard spots. That makes him a valuable backup at one of three positions and that should cement his position on the 53-man roster.

    Rd 5/166, DT Derek Landri, Notre Dame -- Faced an uphill battle with the DTs the Jaguars had on the roster. When Seth Payne was brought in following an injury to backup Tony McDaniel, it showed the coaching staff wasn't ready to go with this rookie. Landri finished the preseason strong and made the final roster.

    Rd 7/229 WR John Broussard, San Jose State -- It was his speed that enticed the Jaguars to draft him and that same speed may get him a roster spot. He battled and beat second-year receiver Charles Sharon for the fifth receiver spot. The Jaguars kept him out of necessity. They would've preferred that he went on the practice squad, but the belief is that with Broussard's 4.37 speed, some other team would've grab him away.

    Rd 7/251, LB Chad Nkang, Elon -- He may be the biggest surprise among the rookies. Most 229th picks don't make the roster but Nkang has done so based upon special teams. He's played well in preseason games and the staff likes his toughness

    Rd 7/252, OT Andrew Carnahan, Arizona State -- Had the advantage of having played under Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter for four seasons, but it wasn't enough to earn a spot on the Jaguars as a rookie. He was among those who were cut in the Jaguars' first roster reduction.


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