So far this offseason, all the hype has been on the defense. And I must say I’m excited. Heck, even Del Rio spends all day coaching the defense and leaving the offense to their own devices. But really, without a solid offense, there’s no way the Jaguars can win. As good as Maurice Jones-Drew is, without the big guys up front, the 5-7 bowling ball isn’t going anywhere.
Following 2007, the Jaguars were looking hot. They had a ferocious running attack, their passing was near perfection statistically, everything was riding high. And then suddenly offensive linemen’s names started to appear on the injured list. Chris Naeole, Maurice Williams, and Vince Manuwai were all on Injured Reserve by the end of the year. To make matters worse (as if to foreshadow the rest of the season), offensive lineman Richard Collier was shot 14 times on September 2nd. And like that, a shadow descended on the 2008 season. And due to the shock to the offensive line, first the offense, and then the team sputtered to a 5-11 record.
But now, after some solid drafting and good pick ups through free agency, the Jaguars’ offensive line is looking fierce once again. I may actually be more excited about the offensive line than the entire defense, if I must be honest. See why I’m excited on the next page.
Yesterday, the official Jaguars site quoted Jack Del Rio as saying, “Brad’s (Meester) had a nice start at center. I think Uche’s proven he’s going to be in one of those (guard) spots. We’re looking for the other guy.” This can only mean one thing, the offense is starting to come together. Strongly.
I must say, I didn’t think that Uche Nwaneri would be starting at one of the guard spots this year. My money had been on Vince Manuwai and Kynan Forney. With the signing of guard Justin Smiley, I though Uche was almost guaranteed to be a backup behind Meester at center and Manuwai at guard. The coaches obviously believe that he has the talent to move past consistent starter Vince, and ex-Miami starter Smiley. This is all well and good, but it leaves Smiley, Manuwai and Forney to compete for the final guard spot. This is only a good thing. Unless Manuwai has lost a step (which I doubt), these four guards are competing at a very, very high level.
Justin Smiley has proven himself worthy of a starting spot in the past, and Vince has been a constant on the Jaguars front in recent years. But I’m really quite high on Forney. As Terry has been saying all summer, this guy is just mean. In a good way. His attitude is tough, he plays hard, he practices hard, and he’s big. But he’s smaller than every other guard on the roster in weight. Despite this, based on what I’ve been reading all summer, I think his 6′ 3″, 302 pound frame provides him with more athleticism which should be good for the Jaguars offense, especially if the goal is to avoid having David Garrard eat dirt as frequently as he did last year. If Forney gets the other guard spot (and this is just wishful thinking on my part), it will mean that he has outplayed two starters from previous years. This will speak wonders about both his skill and Nwaneri’s. It also guarantees fantastic depth on the line with two ex-starters as backups at guard.
So, in summary, according to Del Rio, two of the three spots that were in question up front are settled, leaving one left to be decided. Monroe, Nwaneri, Meester, _______, and Britton will be up front for us this year. No matter who fills in that blank, I have faith that the line is returning to 2007 form. It’s starting to look fierce.
Excited? I am.
- Luke N. Sims