1. Jack Del Rio is coming back next season and deservedly so. The only legitimate reason for firing Jack Del Rio is for the fans. Well guess what? Firing him isn’t going to be the x-factor that convinces people to buy more tickets. Hiring a big name coach isn’t going to be the x-factor that convinces people to buy more tickets (and would have zero chance of happening). Listen to the language of the players in their interviews or read their Twitter page – they respect Jack, they believe in his vision, and they like playing for him. The buy-in, the commitment to all of the season’s preparations, the unwavering willingness to carry out their leader’s mission – I promise you, that is how the locker room feels about Del Rio. His style is extremely aggressive and this is what he is most criticized for when his strategy falls short, but I believe it’s also what it will take to make the push to a Super Bowl.
2. Don’t believe anyone who says they know the quarterback position will look like on opening day 2011. Yes, Jack is in “win or else” mode according to Wayne Weaver’s words and David Garrard is his best shot to get enough wins to enter the postseason. I can make two guarentees: 1) Gene Smith drafts a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft and 2) Trent Edwards will not be a Jaguar. The talk coming out of Everbank in the last few days suggests that Garrard will still be the quarterback and will have a rookie waiting in the wings as his backup/quarterback of the future. But if the Jags draft a QB that is leaning towards the “pro-ready” side and he performs well in training camp, can you really put it past Gene Smith to deal Garrard? He’s fearless when it comes to plugging rookies into a starting role Week 1 (Monroe, Britton, Knighton, Cox, Alualu) – it’d be his boldest move yet, but it’s not unthinkable.
3. The secondary needs a lot of work and will get a patented Gene Smith overhaul. Derek Cox will be back and finished the year playing at a good level for our #2 cornerback position – he plays good zone, decent man-to-man, makes plays on the ball, and is a solid tackler. I was also extremely impressed with the growth I saw in Courtney Greene; with only special teams work before this season, this was essentially his rookie year. He got a ton of experience and proved to be a physical presence and sure tackler. Mathis play was suspect throughout much of the year – he still avoids contact and it’s obvious he’s lost his elite speed, which diminishes his ability to cover the top wideouts in the league. The Jaguars have him under contract through next year, so his return will likely be determined by what value can be recouped from a trade and/or what the Jaguars are able to acquire in the draft. Don Carey is not the answer at free safety – too often he was out of position and missing tackles. I don’t expect the Jaguars to draft a free safety in the first half of the draft but I think this is the position that could be targeted for an Aaron Kampman-like signing. Gene has hit on his free agents so well that Wayne Weaver might give him the funding to go after someone that can really make a difference in the defensive backfield.
4. The pass-rush still needs work. The Jaguars finished the year with 26 sacks, 12 more than last year, but only good for 30th in the league. According to ProFootballFocus, we had the 23rd overall-ranked pass rush with 26 sacks, 49 QB hits, and 131 pressures. There wasn’t marked upward progression throughout the year and Aaron Kampman was the only rusher that was truly dominant. Mincey, Lane, Hart, Alualu, and Knighton were all able to register double-digit pressures, which is encouraging. Mincey’s effort is unquestionable and he played extremely well against the run, which makes me think he’s a great candidate to start next season at left DE (typically the better run-stopper). Kampman will be recovering from his second ACL in as many years and in as many knees and is already over 30. Lane and Hart’s year two development will dictate a lot, but it’s likely that a premier pass rusher is on top of Gene’s board when he picks in the 1st or 2nd round because we all know he values the big guys. Derrick Harvey, obviously, is toast.
5. Knighton and Alualu will become the cornerstone of the future defense. This duo is gonna have a sweet nickname before too long and they are already getting lots of recognition league-wide. The strength of both Terrance and Tyson is their athleticism and ability to penetrate and make plays. Shutting down the run and collapsing the pocket from the inside – well, that defines disruptive. The shortest distance to the quarterback is straight line, which gives pass-rushing defensive tackles a huge advantage if they can exploit their blockers. As these guys continue to improve, the Peyton Manning’s of the world will have less and less time to sit comfortably under center and make their reads.