Time to Exhale

Another Jaguars season has concluded, and despite the Jaguars not reaching the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl championship, or even an AFC South title, the team made great strides in 2008 and established itself as one of the handful of very good teams in the NFL.

They achieved the "respect" from the national media that many small-market Jaguars fans have been clamoring for over the last few years, and are viewed nationally as a very good, ascending football team.

Entering training camp, the Jaguars had uncertainty at the quarterback position, the defensive line, the secondary, and on special teams. At the conclusion of Saturday night's game, it was blatantly obvious that the Jaguars still certainly need help on defense, but they certainly took strides toward the explosive offense that head coach Jack Del Rio promised a few years ago.

"Our offense emerged. We showed explosiveness. We broke several team records. I said for several years, I want to have an explosive offense. You saw signs of that this year and we believe that we're just getting started," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars set new records for points scored, mostly thanks to David Garrard's emergence as a franchise quarterback. Entering camp, Garrard was relegated to backup duty behind Byron Leftwich, and found out that he would be the Jaguars starting quarterback just nine days prior to the regular season opener. Garrard threw 18 touchdown passes during the regular season with just three interceptions as he finished with the third-highest quarterback rating in the NFL at 102.1. Following a lackluster opening round playoff performance, Garrard was fantastic in the divisional loss to New England, matching the great Tom Brady for a little over a half, and finishing with a rating of over 100 without the benefit of a powerful rushing attack. Del Rio once again praised Garrard in his Monday news conference--

"I think with that David Garrard obviously became our guy and took the reins and ran with it and took that ball and took off with it and led this football team, and showed you that he can be our quarterback for many years to come and give us a chance to get into the postseason and win in the postseason. And that's what we're all about."

The Jaguars special teams were a detriment last season, as their coverage units were among the worst in football, and they assisted in more losses than they did victories. One year later, and one new coordinator in Joe DeCamillis, the Jaguars coverage units were in the top 10, and they added an explosive punt returner in Dennis Northcutt to go along with the explosive Maurice Jones-Drew. In 2007, the Jaguars special teams unit outplayed most of their opponents, and finally became a weapon rather than a liability. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio spoke highly of DeCamillis-

"I think the other guy that we added this year, Joe DeCamillis on special teams, you can see that Joe's got a lot of passion, he's willing to take some risks which really fits more to my personality. I think Joe is a great fit for us here in Jacksonville and so we just want to build on the positives."

The Jaguars have had the identity of a physical, top rated defense for a long time, and most people felt that the Jaguars defense would hold up this year despite their injuries. Statistically, they weren't bad, finishing 12th overall, and 10th in scoring defense. Their play on the field, especially against the pass, was not up to par for a legitimate championship contender. With a great pass rush, Ben Roethlisberger carved up the secondary in the Jaguars first playoff game, and Tom Brady barely had to move at all on his way to that fantastic, record breaking performance of last Saturday. Jack Del Rio addressed the areas of improvement for his team-

"A lot of areas, really. I think first of all we've established a standard here defensively. This is the first time in our five years that we didn't finish in the top 10 defensively, finishing at number 12. We did finish in the top 10 points-wise, but it wasn't the type of dominant defensive play that I like to have, that I'd like to continue to have, that we've basically established a standard that you come to expect, which I love. And we'll address that. We'll look at that, look at why. Obviously, we've had our share of injuries on the defensive side, we've had guys plug in so I think with that you can turn it into a little bit of a positive that we're getting experience with some guys that were really brought here to be in supportive roles that end up playing a lot, that get great experience and so you should be better for that going forward. But we'll take a good look at that in the offseason. We want to get back to being dominant on defense. We recognize there are some things we've got to do better and the most obvious one is defensively. We've established such a high standard here. Believe me, we're not content with being 12th in defense."

The phrase "wait 'till next year" is one that most teams in most sports that fall short tend to utter, following a final playoff or regular season shortcoming. No team in the NFL has Pro Bowl caliber talent at every position, not even the undefeated New England Patriots. This Jaguars team is very close and they have better than $30 million of cap spending money to try and improve the team. If the Jaguars can fill a few key needs, next year could be their year.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.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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