1. The Lockout has been an eye-opening experience for me. I’m just now starting to sober up. I have not quit the NFL by any means, but my eyes have been opened to the unrivaled magnitude of the NFL’s offseason coverage and its ability to suck in the fanatics champing at the bit for any kind of football-flavored crumb they can get their hands on in the offseason. Momentum is the key to this machine and make no mistake, it is a 12 months a year juggernaut. The interruption of the Lockout has allowed me to snap out of the routine and take a look around. Think about the media cycle around the NFL: the Super Bowl ends and the next few weeks are filled with retrospect, then preliminary looks at next year’s season begins, then the Combine and the media circus that goes with it begins, then Free Agency speculation begins, players are cut, players are signed, franchise tags are applied, Free Agency signings happen, then there’s more speculation about next year now that rosters are changing, OTA’s are covered, draft speculation begins, value boards come out, mock drafts come out, value boards and mock drafts are adjusted again and again and again, the draft happens, more speculation about next year, OTA’s come up again in June, there’s a very brief “dead zone”, then training camp, preseason, season, playoffs, Super Bowl. The NFL is a beast and complete rapture through every step of the offseason is becoming the norm for average fans, not just the gridiron junkies. I think most of the “tough talk” we’re hearing about hating the NFL now and cries for boycotting games is purely hot air, but the NFL undoubtedly has lost some momentum. From a personal perspective, I’ve been more aware of and engrossed in the goings-on that would have slid under my radar in years past – I’m enthralled with baseball again and it’s become a part of my evening ritual (which hasn’t been the case in at least 10 years), I enjoyed the NBA playoffs and the intriguing storylines that unfolded, and I’ve followed a lot of other sports and entertainment that would have normally been pushed aside by Free Agency or OTA coverage. This is a country where the Combine gets more viewership than the World Series, for crying out loud. That’s unbelievable. I will be happy when the NFL returns, but if the owners and NFL execs ever thought that life wouldn’t go on without football, they were wrong. With that said, don’t get the wrong idea, kids – I still bleed black and teal for this team and I cannot wait to see what this season holds for the Jaguars, but the NFL as a whole has left me a little jaded.
2. I am more confident than I’ve been in a long time that the Jaguars are staying put in Jacksonville. Call it gut feeling, call it blind loyalty, call it slight inebriation as I sip the first beer of this Friday and feel my heart well when I look at my desktop background of the post-game celebration following the Colts’ demise at Everbank last year Scobee’s game-winning ICBM. But what’s makes me confident is our owner. As you’ve known for years, Wayne Weaver is a man that doesn’t just talk about integrity, he lives it. When he led the push to get a professional football team in Jacksonville, he his heart into it. His reputation as a businessman and philanthropist proceeds him and when Wayne Weaver says he is dedicated to the Jaguars and to keeping them in Jacksonville and seeing to it that they thrive in this city, you can damn well believe every word he says. Anyone who doubts that he is doing anything less than everything in his power to make this team and this organization the best it can be has been living next to the power plant for too many years. Weaver has given the franchise a newfound stability with a highly-capable GM and head coach in place and has proven that, despite being one of the smaller and less-endowed franchise, he is not afraid to spend the money it takes to field a competitive roster. Fans can bicker all they want about keeping Del Rio around for yet another year or not signing big-name free agents, but the objective in Jacksonville is sustainable viability for the franchise. Right now, that means youthful potential on the roster, stability in the locker room and front office, and sound business decisions all around. With these in place, the team can grow and win and be held up by an organizational structure that can support a winning team for a long time. Worry not, the pieces will fall into place. The only thing that has to happen is the fans have to buy the tickets. And they will. And professional football will reestablish itself in Jacksonville on a stronger foundation than ever before and continue to grow for generations.
3. David Garrard, Marcedes Lewis, Maurice-Jones Drew, Aaron Kampman. The fate of these four men will determine the outcome of the Jaguars 2011 season. Each of them is a vital cog in our team and each of them must be performing at their maximum potential to guarantee our success, but each of them has a big question mark next to their name. David Garrard is in a situation we haven’t seen him in before, with a young, highly-touted, and expensive quarterback who will one day ascend to the throne nipping at this heels. Things are no longer comfortable for David; this isn’t a story of a backup trying to win a starting job or an unknown rising to stardom or the highly-paid leader of the franchise being called out by his head coach and the team’s owner – this is the story of a guy on the back 9 of his career staving off the competition to keep his job…and that’s not a position we’ve ever truly seen David in and thus have no way of knowing if he’ll be driven to be better or crumble under the pressures. Marcedes Lewis is mired in the uncertainty of the lockout and has to negotiate what will likely be the most important contract of his career – and will it even be with the Jaguars? Can Lewis stay focused on improving upon his breakout season last year, where he was finally recognized as possibly the league’s most complete tight end? The passing game and running game need him in a big way. Maurice Jones-Drew showed a glimpse of vulnerability we had not seen before last year. After getting off to a slow start and having trouble finding the end zone, Mojo exploded in the middle part of the 2010 season, before shutting down and going on Injured Reserve in December of last year. He admitted to playing the entire season on a torn miniscus and as anyone knows, a tainted knee is a scary thing when it comes to running backs. Can Mojo play all 16 games next year? Can he be the force between the tackles and the play maker on the outside that the Jaguars’ running game has always been built on? Aaron Kampman is recovering from his second massive knee injury in as many years. He’s often seen as the savvy, wise verteran, but he was signed at age 29 to a four year contract worth a pretty penny. Make no mistake that he was recruited to Jacksonville to do more than play half of a season and mentor our young linemen – he was paid to be a contributor. I have no doubt that Aaron has worked as hard as he can to recover from these, but is he now proven to be an injury liability? Can he stay healthy for a full season? Will the Jaguars have to limit the amount of snaps he sees per game? Will he still possess the explosiveness that elite Defensive Ends must have to be effective pass rushers? Kampman has only played 8 games in a Jaguars uniform and though he is already a fan favorite, he is still building his legacy at Everbank. This defense needs him in a bad way and of the four listed, the performance of Aaron Kampman might be the most essential to the Jaguars 2011 season. If all four of these players overcome their challenges and turn in the level of play we expect from them, Jacksonville has more than a fighting chance of takign home the AFC South crown for the first time in franchise history.
– Andrew Hofheimer