The Jaguars struggled without a legitimate threat to team up with wide receiver Jimmy Smith on the outside. Rookie Reggie Williams was just short of non-productive in his first season, and veteran Troy Edwards struggled against top-notch defensive backs.
Defensively, the Jaguars were well-balanced, not being overly strong in any specific category statistically. They were effective against the run and pass and were impressive in their ability to keep teams off the scoreboard.
Lacking a pure pass rusher at defensive end, the Jaguars relied on their scheme to create pressure on the quarterback. Starting defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson enjoyed solid seasons, and starting middle linebacker Mike Peterson stood out. Defensive backs Rashean Mathis and Donovin Darius were solid in the secondary.
The Jaguars must find a complementary receiver for Jimmy Smith in the draft – or via a bargain deal in free agency – after striking out on free agent Derrick Mason. This is not an indictment of second-year receiver Reggie Williams, but Jacksonville lacks an explosive presence outside of Smith.
With the hiring of Carl Smith as offensive coordinator, the Jaguars are expected to become more of a vertical passing, placing an emphasis on the slant-in routes. It's believed that those changes would play to Leftwich's strengths.
An already tough Jacksonville defense has improved with the addition of a pure pass-rusher in Reggie Hayward. The former Bronco should be a significant addition to a defensive line that already boasts the talents of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. He will also be a big help to a defensive secondary that has seen two of its top three cornerbacks released.
Replacing defensive backs Dewayne Washington and Juran Bolden must be a priority for the Jaguars, although neither had an overly impressive 2004 season. Depth is a significant issue in the defensive backfield, so look for the Jaguars to explore their options in free agency where there is a deep pool of available cornerbacks.
The starting offensive left tackle position could prove to be an issue if Mike Pearson is unable to return following a serious knee injury. Free-agent offensive lineman Brent Smith, a former New York Jet, has been signed to provide insurance and depth.
The Jaguars applied the franchise tag on starting strong safety Donovin Darius when a contract agreement couldn't be reached. Not wanting the situation to become a further distraction, they have accepted Darius' request to seek a trade, though the interest has been modest. With Deke Cooper, a restricted free agent waiting in the wings to replace Darius, the timing may be right for the Jaguars to move the hard-hitting safety.
SALARY CAP STATUS
The Jaguars approximately have $7 million under the league-mandated 2005 salary cap.
Cornerback – With two of their top three cornerbacks released in the offseason, the Jaguars are in need of quality and depth in the defensive backfield. The Jaguars signed free agent Terry Cousin in what should be considered a depth move at this time. Jacksonville has not been an overly aggressive player in free agency, but expect the team to make more moves as the market price for defensive backs begins to drop off.
Linebacker – Outside of middle linebacker Mike Peterson, the Jaguars are very ordinary, with inconsistent play coming from the outside linebackers. A starting quality outside linebacker is essential, as well as further depth.
Wide receiver – With veteran Jimmy Smith on the downside of his career, the Jaguars are closing in on a very critical time in their building process. Reggie Williams was inconsistent and struggled throughout his rookie season and Troy Edwards is best suited for the third receiver slot. The team is in dire need of a deep threat to take the pressure off Smith.
FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON
KEY ACQUISITIONS: DE Reggie Hayward (Denver), DT Martin Chase (Giants), DB Terry Cousin (Giants), WR Troy Edwards (re-signed), RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (re-signed).
KEY DEPARTURES: CB Juran Bolden, FB Marc Edwards, CB Dewayne Washington.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Donovin Darius.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Akin Ayodele, S Deke Cooper.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: KR David Allen.