The preseason is finally over, the roster cuts were been made. All these signs show how close now the regular season is. Once again I have found some reasons to be optimistic about the ’11 Jaguars, but also there are some major concerns with parts of this team.
In the last two seasons the offense carried (or at least tried to carry) this team. Now, I think that will change. There are still issues in the pass rush and pass coverage, but I think the defense is 1 or 2 step further along than the offense. Even injuries hit this part of the roster less than the offense, as D’Anthony Smith is the only loss so far. Also via free agency and a recent trade, the Jaguars have made some major upgrades in all three areas of the defense. I’ll go even further – the Jaguars brought into the team at least 1 veteran who will even start in all three areas: Matt Roth on the D-line, Paul Posluszny and Clint Session at LB, and Dawan Landry, Dwight Lowery, and Drew Coleman in the secondary. Also, Tyson Alualu and Jeremy Mincey seem ready to step up big in ’11. Terrance Knighton is finding his ideal shape and it looks like Aaron Kampman is once again fully healthy. I expect that the Jags D will be great against the run, which is essential for a team that faces Chris Johnson and Arian Foster twice a year and will play the entire AFC North this season, who like to run the ball and run it well.
There are still some question marks in the pass rush/pass defense. Other then Jeremy Mincey and Tyson Alualu, I’m not seeing enough pressure on opposing QBs. Aaron Kampman can change that perception, once he plays more than the 10 or so snaps he got against St. Lous, but we’ll need to see more from the 2nd and 3rd stringers, as they are expected to play a big role this year rotating in and out of the D-line. Austen Lane was the star of training camp early on, but was at times invisible in the preseason games (but did play very well against the Rams). I need to see more from Matt Roth, as well; I’m still unsure if he fits in the Jaguars 4-3 system, after playing mostly in the 3-4 in Miami and Cleveland.
Another area where I have issues in the defense is the pass coverage. Other then the Atlanta game I saw the same old (bad) secondary time after time. No matter if the opposing QB was Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Thaddeus Lewis; they had pretty good success making pass plays again. I know Dawan Landry, Drew Coleman, the LBs (and now Dwight Lowery) need a little time to be on the same page with their new teammates, but that learning curve must be short as possible. And not just the new Jaguars must step up. Although Rashean Mathis had a great camp, and had a pretty good game against Roddy White versus Atlanta, one week later against the Bills he reminded me of the ’10 version of himself(which I think even he don’t want to see again). He and Derek Cox must switch into the higher gear. Now they will not play together with 2 very young players at safety, but experienced veterans in Landry and Lowery. They can focus now on their job alone. Maybe (just maybe) the pass defense has a little luck with the schedule early. The Jaguars will face only New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees in the first 5 games from the premium QBs (perhaps with the exception of now Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck who not so long ago tore the Jaguars defense apart with broken ribs in the 0-41 bloodbath in Seattle in ’09) so they might have a little more time to make the little corrections. But the secondary must be completely ready in Week 6, because then they will meet almost every week a premium passer. If they can’t do that, I fear stopping the run quite well will not help so much on this team…
Turning the attention to offense, I will take a very bold statement: Maurice Jones-Drew is facing the toughest challenge of his career in 2011! Here are three seasons why…
- 1.) Without him, the passing game won’t work. Don’t you agree with me? Did you saw how the offensive line played against St Louis in EVERY pass attempt? Even the biggest Garrard critics must agree that the staring QB of the Jaguars had no time, and if Jack Del Rio might ask him doing one more drive, he could’ve been seriously injured. That wasn’t pretty, and Eben Britton absence doesn’t have this much impact for the rest. Right know I must say the offensive line cannot protect the QB no matter who he is. Because of that, the running game must be more than good, and must force opposing defenses to load the box, and focus on stopping the run first. That could give a break for the offensive line and the QB to make some plays in the passing game.
- 2.) It looks like he’s the lone runner the Jags are counting on. Until recently everybody was relaxed about how the RB situation was looking for the Jaguars. Rashad Jennings looked like a true Nr. 2 back, who can took some pressure and carries of from Maurice’s shoulder. But in the preseason he and Deji Karim suffered a concussion, and later Jennings had a knee injury, which was so serious, the team put him on IR. And the front office and the coaching staff decided to go with just 2 RBs into the season, with Deji Karim will be the Jones-Drew’s only backup. Although Karim is a very explosive back, but he is still consider an unfinished player in the professional level, also he had injury issues in the past and even this year as well. The FBs who help the running backs out are most likely will take a little pressure off from Drew. Greg Jones, despite being one of the best (blocking) fullbacks of the game hasn’t carried the ball much in the past seasons. Montell Owens is more of a special team ace then a real back. That leaves Brock Bolen as the only legitimate candidate, who can carry the ball a few times, but I don’t expect much (4-5 carries/game – mostly in short and manageable situations) from it. That means Jones-Drew must be once again a Steven Jackson type of workhorse/’do it all’ back. This leads straight into the third point.
- 3.) Is his knee 100% healthy? That is the real 64000$ question for me. That is the most important question right now. Not the “who should start at QB?” or “how the defense will improve?”, but this one. If that knee is really ready to roll, and Jones-Drew can repeat what he had done in 2010 with the hurt knee in the middle of the season (6 100+ yard rushing games in a row) I think the Jaguars can be really optimistic about their ’11 campaign. But if we’ll see signs that the knee is still holding back the best weapon of the offense, I think the Jaguars are in major trouble. Because that means, the running game won’t work, which forces offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to put the ball in the air, which will lead to opposing teams will focus on rushing the passer and the pass defense. And right now other then Marcedes Lewis and maybe Mike Thomas (Cecil Shorts is not proven anything yet) there is nobody who is considered (and covered) as a major threat in the passing game. Also I must remind everybody, since he is this team’s Nr. 1 back (’09), Maurice Jones Drew never had not 16 but even 12 good games! In ’09 other then 1 game vs. The Colts in late December, he disappeared most of the time in the second part of the season. And in ’10 he started very slowly (because of the injury) and had average at best game in Week 15, and then he missed the last 2 games. Until the offensive line and the QB improve and perform consistently, they will need him in a bad way. Because if he will, I think this will be a long season…
I will skip the whole QB situation, offensive lines, and wide receivers, for now. I will be speaking about that plenty in the upcoming game preview for the opener against the Titans. With that, I want to wrap up the Preseason Diary series, because we have thankfully reached the end of the ever-boring Preseason. From now everything gets really serious and I can’t wait for it. So bye-bye preseason – hello, real football!
– Zoltan Paksa