Even the Jaguars Are a Contender in May

I could sense some definite optimism in the air as I spent much of minicamp baking in the Jacksonville sun watching another exciting rendition of the Jaguars practice (and I use the term exciting very loosely).

A year ago, the optimism was replaced by arrogance, as the Jaguars, their fans, and many of us who cover the team were pretty much convinced that this was an ascending franchise with an elite young quarterback, stars on defense, and a running game that was unstoppable. Then reality hit.

The harsh reality was that the team swung for the fences with expensive free agents which their former teams didn't even try to retain. The quarterback that everyone though was elite needed a great running game to succeed, stared down his receivers, and never mastered the art of throwing the deep ball. The perceived depth on the offensive line was tested just one quarter of one game into the season, and the depth proved itself to be more shallow than deep. The Jaguars tried to get one more productive season out of their defensive veterans, but many of them were long past their primes and were rendered ineffective.

Many spoke about the playoff victory over Pittsburgh at the end of the 2007 season being a sign of things to come, but it was far from that. The signs of what was to come in 2008 were all there in that game, as David Garrard threw three terrible interceptions, the defense gave away a large lead, and it took a near kickoff return touchdown, an interception return touchdown, and a missed holding penalty on 4th and two to win the game over a Steelers team that had been crippled by injuries.

Getting back to the present, the Jaguars seem to have a more cohesive unit in 2009, although I'm not convinced they're more talented, despite what many are saying.

"I really feel like Coach and Gene Smith have done a great job of bringing in talent here to help us get back to the playoffs," Quarterback David Garrard said.

The quarterback has lost significant weight, but that speaks more to me about a lack of commitment a year ago after being granted a big money deal and having his competition taken away. We still don't know what to expect out of Garrard, as he has all the tools to be a Pro Bowl passer, but routinely makes mental mistakes and comes up small in big situations.

There's no guarantee that the wide receivers will be much better, as the team is depending on a pair of 32-year olds, in Torry Holt and Dennis Northcutt, a guy who is talented, but has never stayed healthy in Mike Walker, and a fourth and fifth-round pick in Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard respectively.

Defensively, the team needs a defensive tackle and who knows if a player that many draftniks never heard of from Temple can be that guy? The starting secondary could include Sean Considine, who was jettisoned from Philadelphia in the offseason, and Reggie Nelson, who was routinely out of position a year ago.

Still, there are plenty of things to like about this Jaguars team, as they have a young, talented offensive line and the potential for a great backfield. The team could win a few more games as their schedule appears to be a little softer, but make no mistake that this is a rebuilding process. If things go well, this team could take a step in the right direction. But don't start saving up for playoff tickets just yet.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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