Every year, we, the fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars are told by our dear GM Gene, Head Coach Jack Del Rio, and Owner Wayne Weaver, that we will make the playoffs, that we will win the devision, that our young players are developing. And every year, despite constant evaluations here on B&T and the mainstream media, we take a leap of faith and dream up scenarios where our Jaguars perform admirably, strike fear in opponents, manage to squeak by, or in some way perform a Cinderella type season (Again). Do we have a basis for this leap of faith? Do the statistics ever really renforce our optimism? This week in “What’s Next” we’ll evaluate whether or not they do.
We’ll address whether we should take a leap of faith or a healthy dose of reality by looking at a few key positions and statistics, and a coach from past seasons to gauge our optimism for 2011.
Receiving – Are our receivers really as far along their development as we are told, or are we just hoping that the players we have will suddenly find a new level and put it in high gear? We’ll look at three receivers almost sure to make the team or start and at our dear Marcedes Lewis.
- Cecil Shorts: The man is easily the biggest question mark coming into the season. We don’t have any NFL statistics to base any facts on for our speculation, and I’m not going to delve into how awesome he was in his small school league (while eye-popping numbers, there’s a big step up to the NFL). The fourth round pick has a ton of upside, or so we’re told, and could be the slot receiver for the Jags in 2011. Unfortunately with the lockout, we haven’t sen much of the man and we’re basing our entire speculation on Gene’s review (which he is good at finding small school gems) and….that’s it. While I’m willing to look favorably on Cecil Shorts coming into the season, the truth is we’re speculating at best. While this may sound anti-climactic, it’s a healthy dose of reality at this point. We simply don’t have much to look at outside of Division III statistics, and we shouldn’t overvalue that.
- Jason Hill: It’s quickly becoming apparent that Jason Hill, acquired from the 49ers midway through last season, will be one of the starting wide receivers this coming season. But should we be excited for that? Jason had 11 catches last season while learning a new offense and had a very impressive 22.5 yard average. Five catches were over 20 yards and he had two 48 yard bombs head his way. While his sample pool is small, I think it is a fair extrapolation that the six foot receiver will do decently or better in 2011.
- Mike Thomas: Mike had a very solid season in 2010 and should be expected to improve. He had 66 receptions for 820 yards (12.4 yard average) and managed to move fluidly through defenses all season. Of the three wide receivers looked at, it is readily apparent he is the most game-ready and consistent among them. I’m excited for his next season and think that even if he doesn’t improve he will have a solid campaign. Did I mention he did this opposite an underperforming “prototypical” number one receiver?
- Marcedes Lewis: Lewis became a dominant tight end in 2010. He brought in 58 receptions for 700 yards (12.1 yard average) and found the endzone ten times. He has become a key to the offense through his ability to get yards and being able to block better than most tight ends in the league. If you aren’t stoked about this man you either haven’t been watching the Jags, or you’re living under a rock.
I think that it can be safely assumed that the Jaguars’ passing attack, while not dominant, will be respected by opposing defenses. But this will be reliant upon another stellar season from Lewis, another solid Mike Thomas showing, and continual bright spots from Jason Hill. Not to mention solid slot play from Cecil Shorts if he gets the spot. Lots of speculation, yes. But I think that the reports and prior stats of the players testify to the abilities of the players on the roster.
Interior offensive line (G,C,G) - The Jags’ running attack is dominant, we all know this, but David Garrard gets hit what seems like every other play. 111 times to be exact (38 sacks). So, what can we expect from our three starters from last year?
- Vince Manuwai: Last season, we were worried that Vince would lose a step. He responded by playing well but not exactly destroying his man as he was apt to do when he was a tad bit younger. While I have faith in the man, it’s important to recognize that he is 31 and may be approaching a decline in his career.
- Brad Meester: I love Brad. I think he is a very solid center, as evidenced by his impressive tenure with the Jags. But his ability to perform was called into question before the start of last season, and I think it’s fair to ask the same questions again. Like Manuwai, he is getting up there in age (34) and may lose a step. The best part? Despite being questioned last year, he performed admirably throughout the season and anchored the center position for all 16 games last season. But will he stay hot for 2011?
- Uche Nwaneri: Nwaneri played quite well last season. He started all 16 games and played very well for his first starts with the team. He should be good enough to earn his spot back next season. The coaches are high on him, the Jaguars’ media is high on him, so why shouldn’t we be?
While it’s grand that our interior line was hot last season, and they did a great job of paving the road for Jennings and Drew, but they still allowed 111 hits to our QBs last year. Perhaps it’s time Gene and Jack stop comparing our linemen to each other and start comparing them to other teams’ players now.
Speaking of Jack….
Head Coach – Jack Del Rio has been coaching the Jags since 2003 and has amassed 65 wins…and 63 losses (.508). He’s been above .500 three times and has only been substantially above .500 twice (2005, 2007). Now, I like Jack, really, I’ve promoted him for years, but let’s ask some abstract questions here. Would you keep a linebacker that made 50 percent of his tackles? Would you keep a lineman that started 50 percent of their games? Would you keep a running back that got positive yards 50 percent of the time? Now, these are abstract. But, even if these players had two very good seasons over eight years with the team they would be traded, released, or in some other way disposed of. Jack is a players’ coach. I love his philosophy, I love his attitude, I like his game plans, and even his play calling. But maybe it’s time he passed his clipboard onto someone else.
Is this list complete? Heaven’s no. There’s more to come. But, just with these offensive positions being looked at, would you take a leap of faith?
- Luke N. Sims