Since the retirement of Jimmy Smith after the 2005 season, the Jaguars wide receiver play has been inconsistent at best, and many times downright bad, as they've been riddled with drops, poor route running, and sometimes complete lapses of concentration. Since the departure of Smith, the Jaguars haven't had a deep threat, or even someone who can consistently catch the ball.
Jacksonville broke camp this year with veteran free agent acquisition Dennis Northcutt, former first-round draft picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and former fourth-round pick Ernest Wilford, to go along with seventh-round pick John Broussard. The names Northcutt, Williams (Reggie), Jones, Wilford, and Broussard don't exactly strike fear into opposing defensive backs, and nor should they. None of the five players have ever made a Pro Bowl, and they all have some major question marks with their game.
If you look at the Jaguars receiving corps statistics, none look overly impressive. Dennis Northcutt is the leading pass catcher through 11 games with just 32 receptions (less than three per game), Reggie Williams has just 22 catches, Matt Jones usually isn't active unless there's an injury, Broussard has caught passes in just two games, and Wilford is not on pace to reach 40 receptions for the season.
Statistics certainly don't lie, but sometimes they don't tell the entire story. Despite not having one single receiver in the top 75 in yardage or receptions, the Jaguars passing game is improving each week, and the receivers have become more and more reliable. Reggie Williams' season totals of 22 receptions for 381 yards look pretty ordinary, and not what you would probably expect from a former top-ten draft pick in his fourth season, but he has emerged as the Jaguars big play guy. Williams has caught touchdown passes in five of the seven games that David Garrard has finished, and has six touchdowns this season in just 10 games, including a 17.3 yards per catch average. Williams helped put away the Buffalo game with a 59-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
David Garrard spoke about Williams catch-
"It took all the way to the end of the game for Reggie to get into the end zone, but I'm glad we could keep that streak going. He did a great job once he caught the ball and made guys miss and then showed his speed."
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio talked about Williams play--
"You have to have some talent or he wouldn't be here and he wouldn't be taken high in the draft. A lot of guys come here with talent and then what do you do with it? I think he's worked extremely hard at it. I think Todd Monken has worked very hard at it with him. I think Reggie has embraced it. I think he's catching the ball better, running better routes, showing you some of that run after the catch that we know he has. He's a big strong guy. He's a horse. He's hard to tackle once you get him the ball in space. We just want him to continue to doing the same thing, continue getting better."
Dennis Northcutt has emerged as the Jaguars finest possession receiver. Northcutt's 32 receptions lead the team, and although he has just two touchdowns, Northcutt has been a very reliable target for David Garrard. Of Northcutt's 32 receptions, 23 have gone for first downs. Northcutt's 428 receiving yards also lead the team, and he's chipped in on special teams with a punt return average of 10.5.
Despite a slow start to the season by Ernest Wilford, the lanky 6'5 receiver has turned it on of late, making acrobatic catches for drive sustaining first downs. Of Wilford's 26 receptions on the season, 21 have gone for first downs. Just a few years ago, Wilford was one of the league leaders in dropped passes, but those days appear to be long gone. Ernest has caught everything thrown in his direction this year, and last week he helped out David Garrard with two fantastic catches in which he was fully extended.
David Garrard talked about the receivers, and Wilford's play-
"These guys continue to get better every week and keep on making big plays. If you look at the catch Ernest (Wilford) made, I threw the ball behind him and he reached back and caught it with one hand. That would give any quarterback a lot of confidence."
While the Jaguars receivers lack major (or even minor) star power, they are improving each week and have become reliable targets for the NFL's fourth-rated passer. This group of Jaguars is beginning to resemble the "no-name" receivers that the Patriots had during their Super Bowl runs of 2001-2004. When the Jaguars face the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, they will look across the field and see a pair of receivers dressed in blue that have made multiple Pro Bowls, and appear to be destined for Canton, Ohio when their playing days are over. The same can not be said of the Jaguars group of wideouts, but they continue to get the job done, while like the rest of the team, flying under the national radar. Coach Jack Del Rio commented on the Jaguars anonymity-
"Hey, that's up to you guys. The nation is not here. It's you guys, you guys reporting on us and you tell them how you see it. It's up to you to spread the word. Obviously all we can do as coaches and players is do our best to win games and that's what we're doing, and if you think it's good, tell somebody. Maybe the word will spread."
The media doesn't have to spread the word this Sunday, the Jaguars will make a statement of their own, one way or the other. This Sunday will be a excellent test for Duval's finest, as they take on a very aggressive Colts secondary that will likely play quite a bit of man coverage, while trying to slow down the powerful Jacksonville rushing attack. If the Jaguars can score an upset victory in Indianapolis, a place where the Colts have 26 out of their last 28 games since the Jaguars last victory there, the entire nation will take notice.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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Jaguars Wide Receivers Stepping Up
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