One of the reasons the Jaguars have been so dreadful down the stretch the last few seasons is the disappointing play of quarterback David Garrard. (Scott Boehm/Getty)
John Crist: The Jaguars are seemingly always in playoff contention in November, but the last few seasons have been highlighted by terrible collapses in December -- sometimes even sooner -- that gift-wrap the AFC South for the Colts. What's your best explanation for this team struggling to get to the finish line?
Charlie Bernstein: The last three seasons, Jacksonville has had the misfortune of playing Indianapolis in December, and not only have they lost all three meetings, they haven't won a single game following those losses. The Colts are definitely in their heads, and they should be -- they've been the better football team. As far as the December collapses, the Indianapolis games have taken so much out of the team that they've been deflated afterward. Quarterback David Garrard has routinely played his worst football in the team's biggest spots, and at times the team hasn't looked ready to play with a potential postseason berth on the line. If I had to assign blame for those late-season collapses, Garrard, Peyton Manning and Jack Del Rio should all be culpable.
JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of Jacksonville's picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?
CB: I loved the Jaguars' aggressiveness early to trade up to select quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars are going nowhere quickly with Garrard, and the move to grab Gabbert, who I had rated as the top quarterback in the draft, at least shows the fans and the league that they are trying to improve and not content with just being postseason contenders through November. If none of the team's other picks work out and Gabbert does, it will still be deemed an excellent draft.
As far as my least favorite Jaguars selection, wide receiver Cecil Shorts in the fourth round was a question mark to me. I scouted Shorts during his week at the East-West Shrine Game, and he was mediocre at best. To be fair, Shorts injured his hamstring early on in the week, but he showed inconsistent hands throughout. With receivers such as Niles Paul and Jeremy Kerley still on the board, I would've gone a different route.
As for the rest of the Jaguars' selections, offensive lineman Will Rackley in Round 3 was solid value at a position in which they were desperately trying to get younger. Safety Chris Prosinski at the end of the fourth round is an interesting selection, as he has great athleticism but plays a little stiff. Round 4 may have been a bit of a reach for him, but it came at the position of greatest need for Jacksonville. Middle Tennessee State's Rod Issac was a bit of an eye-opener in the fifth round, as myself, along with many other drafniks, had never heard of him. Issac will compete for time at the nickel position.
JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see the Jaguars address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?
CB: Jaguars fans saw some of the worst safety play in league history a season ago, and that is a position where the team is in desperate need of help. Eric Weddle, formerly of the Chargers, would be a very solid pickup as he could shore up a shaky secondary. Don't be surprised if the Jaguars go after not one but two starting-caliber linebackers in free agency. The team is unhappy with the play of both Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant, and a makeover is likely. It's tough to name names yet, as we don't know what the situation with restricted/unrestricted free agency will be.
JC: On the offensive side of the ball, the receiver position has been a problem pretty much since Jimmy Smith hung up his spikes. First-round picks like R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones were all busts, and Mike Sims-Walker may have been a one-year wonder. Is there any hope for 2011?
CB: The Jaguars have decided that they will not retain Sims-Walker, and that in my opinion is a huge mistake. Sims-Walker has battled injuries, but when he plays he's the best the team has had since Smith -- and it's not even close. The 2011 wide receiving corps will likely consist of Mike Thomas, Jason Hill, Jarett Dillard and Shorts. There's very little positive experience amongst that group, and if the team doesn't grab a prominent player in free agency, that will make for one of the most mediocre receiving corps in the league.
JC: Defensively, this unit lacks star power, which hurts tremendously in a small market like Jacksonville that has an unreliable fan base. Putting pressure on the quarterback consistently appears to be the bugaboo, but is the problem deeper than that?
CB: The Jaguars need more defensive talent on all three levels. The team's young duo of defensive tackles, Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, look stout. But there are major questions at defensive end, as Aaron Kampman will try to recover from his second torn ACL in as many seasons. Opposite Kampman, Derrick Harvey has been a major disappointment and lacks work ethic.
The only linebacker the Jaguars have that would be a sure-fire starter on any other team is Daryl Smith. Other than Smith, there are no playmakers on the second level.
In the secondary, Rashean Mathis is clearly the team's best corner, and he is still an above-average player. Opposite Mathis is cornerback Derek Cox, and Cox simply hasn't been good. Both safety positions were terrible last year, and Don Carey was the worst safety that I've ever seen on any level of football. The Jaguars must find more of a pass rush, but an offense that controls the football more will help keep that secondary from being exposed.
Defensively, Jacksonville didn't win enough man-on-man battles last season, and that's why their statistics were as bad as they were.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Jaguars, visit JagNation.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Charlie Bernstein is the publisher of JagNation.com.|