We are just one day away from the first game of the 2011 preseason, starring our own Jacksonville Jaguars against the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Now that training camp and the annual team scrimmage game are behind us, I have formed my impressions on the team’s strengths and concerns and overall, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season. Because playing actual opponents may change those perceptions, I am beginning a diary, where I will share my impressions, hopes, and fears about the Jaguars, during the entire preseason. I’ll also have a couple of points about the upcoming games and what I will be examining very closely during those games.
Let’s start with what look to be the Positive Developments thus far with the Jaguars. First of all, I’m really glad to see the improvement of the second year defensive linemen. Austen Lane, Tyson Alualu and Aaron Morgan came into camp in shape and ready to pick up where they left off, powerful and full of energy, and so far, their dedication has been noticed. Larry Hart, however, needs to get it together as he has appeared out of shape and behind his colleagues, thus far. I must gave a ton of credit to Aaron Kampman – he took a leadership role in offseason workouts and it seems to have helped these guys really improve and they are looking more competitive then ever. This is great news, as Tyson Alualu and Austen Lane were starting to receive praise, even from the critics who spoke out against drafting them. Lane is making a legitimate run against Jeremy Mincey (who may have lost a step) for the starting DE position opposite Aaron Kampman, which is great news. Tyson is leading the DT’s right now, mainly because of Terrance Knighton’s issues, and is showing great form. If everybody can stay healthy (*Kampman*) and Knighton can get back in shape and return to his near-elite level of play of last year, the D-line will change the face of this defense and make life for the massively upgraded linebacker and defensive backs squads much easier.
There are a few other developments that we can all be very excited about – if they pan out, the Jaguars will have had a very, very strong offseason. Early indications suggest they may have drafted: a franchise quarterback, a powerful, road-grating interior lineman, and a sharp D-III player, who could be the sleeper of the draft at wideout. When free agency opened, the front office kept its word and signed three starting-caliber players to the defense – Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, and Dawan Landry – and two players who will make solid contributions in Jason Spitz and Drew Coleman. Most importantly, they kept Marcedes Lewis in Jacksonville for the next five seasons and I hope he silences every last short-sighted critic, who thinks he’s a one year wonder and only played well because he was in a contract year. I hope his words - “We’re starting something big right now” – will be true not only for him, but the whole team, for 2011 and beyond.
One more observation, which could possibly have some great implications – last Wednesday on “Jaguars This Week”, Jeff Lageman mentioned that CB Rashean Mathis looked good so far in training camp. The former Jaguars lineman said he hadn’t see Mathis in this good of shape and form since 2007. I hope that’s true for a couple of reasons. 1.) The Jaguars really need somebody at the cornerback position to have a great season. We haven’t had a high level of play there, since probably Rashean’s 2007 season 2.) Mathis is in contract year. In 2010, he held out during OTAs because he wanted more money and an extension and he ended up what many called a bad season. But I want to remind everyone that the Jaguars fans and press wanted to cut center Brad Meester not long ago, after a similarly bad season in ’09. Meester bounced back in 2010 and it became apparent that poor guard play probably was the cause of much of his perceived troubles and going into this year, he is considered a lock to start. I hope something similar happens to Mathis this year.