Locking Down the Backfield

In the 2006 season, the Jaguars rushed for a team-record 2,541 yards, a 158.8 average per game that ranked third in the league behind Atlanta (183.7) and San Diego (161.l). The Jaguars also established a team-best ever average of 5.0 yards per carry.

The combination of Fred Taylor (1,146 yards) and Maurice Jones-Drew (941 yards) combined for 2,087 yards, the second highest total by a duo in the NFL that year, and also setting a team standard in Jacksonville. Jones-Drew came within 59 yards of making the Jaguars just the fifth team in NFL history to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

And while Taylor and Jones-Drew accounted for 80 percent of Jacksonville's rushing totals that year, an unknown fullback named Derrick Wimbush was in at fullback when the team used one. Wimbush was acquired as a rookie free agent the year before and ended up playing in 12 games including six starts at fullback during the 2006 season.

All of which brings into question Greg Jones' signing for nearly $6 million a year for the next three seasons. If the Jaguars can rush for a franchise record 2,500 yards with an unknown second-year player providing most of the blocking at fullback, is it necessary to cough up those types of dollars to Jones to serve basically as a blocker?

With Jones in at fullback all 16 games this year, the Jaguars team rushing total was 150 yards less than what it produced with Wimbush. There wasn't much difference in the offensive line. It actually might have been stronger this past season with the acquisition of Tony Pashos, who was signed as one of two unrestricted free agents by the club during the offseason.

But the Jaguars thought enough of Jones to pay him one of the highest figures ever accorded a fullback. He showed his dedication through his rehabilitation during the '06 season when relentlessly worked at strengthening the knee in order to be ready for the start of fall training camp.

Jones is also a team player. He came out of Florida State as the featured running back for the Seminoles, yet saw more action at the fullback spot than at halfback the first two years with the club prior to his injury in 2006. Even on signing his new contract, he indicated that he was willing to help the team in any number of ways.

"I just want to get on the field anyway possible -- running back, fullback, special teams," he said. "You put me on the field and I am going to go out there and make plays. I had an opportunity to play fullback for a couple years when they first drafted me and I told them I would play it. I'm still learning and I am getting better each year."

Ironically, Jones-Drew has received raves for his blocking exploits, highlighted by his pancake block on San Diego Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman that helped result in a Jaguars touchdown on the play when the two teams met last season. The Jaguars could use Jones-Drew as an effective blocker, but they don't want to wear him too thin as his value as Taylor's replacement is too important.

Bottom line is that the Jaguars are now one signing away from locking down their backfield for the next two, three, four years with Taylor, Jones-Drew and Jones. All that remains now is the off-season contract for quarterback David Garrard that will be coming out shortly.

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