BOOK IT: Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp, Offense Edition

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I’m still crossing my fingers that these clowns put a deal together in time to have some semblance of training camp, so teams can back get in shape and learns some plays. If I wanted to watch a bunch of overfed, unfit, sunburned “athletes” executing a simplified playbook with maddening imprecision, I would watch the annual PGA Tour Beach Volleyball Tournament – if such a thing existed, that is. Dear God, just give me some football again!

This week, we explore the BIG questions and the BIG positional battles for the Jaguars’ offense heading into training camp, whenever that may be. Now, on with it!

The BIG Questions:

  • Can Jarrett Dillard stay healthy? Many have anticipated the all-time NCAA TD receptions leader becoming a crucial piece of the Jaguars since Gene Smith drafted him in the 5th round of the 2009 draft. Dillard was insanely productive in college and his scouting tape reveals impressive vertical ability and sharp route running. Health concerns have held Dillard back though – he went on the IR in 2009 with a broken leg after netting only 6 catches and a stress fracture in his foot sidelined him for the season in 2010. If Dillard can’t stay healthy and be productive in “underwear practice”, his end may arrive in Jacksonville before he ever got started.
  • Can Zach Miller stay healthy and can he block? It’s obvious by the way they talk about him that GM Gene and the coaches would love to get Zach Miller more involved in the offense, but there have been some hurdles to that. The first has been borderline-chronic foot problems that have kept him from having a full offseason and gaining the field knowledge, experience, and quarterback rapport to become a big part of the offense. The second has been Miller’s lack of blocking proficiency – this isn’t a surprise, since he switched to TE from his former role as quarterback, but without at least the threat of a block, having Miller on the field either tips defenses off to the pass or is like trying to execute a running play, 10-men-on-11. If he wants to be involved, he’s gotta be healthy and he’s gotta at least be able to slow his man down when blocking.
  • Is Maurice Jones-Drew fully recovered from his miniscus injury and ensuing surgery? I’m not gonna waste anyone’s time by saying how important MJD is to this offense – he’s vital. The circumstances surrounding his injury were very fishy last year. We’re not exactly sure when it started or if there were any clandestine surgeries during the pre-season and we’ve heard him and Jack Del Rio say both how bad it was and that it wasn’t that big of a deal. The only question that matters is if he’s 100% heading into this season – and it matters A LOT.
  • Will Marcedes Lewis be there? I’ve argued before that Marcedes is as crucial if not moreso than Mojo to the Jaguars’ offense. His contributions both to the passing game and running game cannot be quantified by mere statistics, despite having a breakout year of production last year. He is the 7th offensive lineman, a primary redzone target, and because of his size and agility, is a mismatch for whatever linebacker, safety, or (gulp) cornerback is forced to cover him. The new CBA will determine whether the franchise tag the Jaguars slapped him with in spring will matter or not, but either way, it looks like they’ll be some pushing and shoving when it comes to contract negotiations to keep him here in Jacksonville. Chances are this will eat into at least a few days of practice.
  • Will David Garrard build on his leadership from last offseason? David was called out in a not-so-flattering way by both Jack Del Rio and owner Wayne Weaver last offseason to step up and do more as the quarterback and leader of the franchise. He responded with dignified humility and a commitment to be better. Garrard spent more time with his receivers and did more of the “little things” to build upon the raw athletic potential he’s always been praised for – with his athletic peak already behind him, Garrard will have to continue doing the behind-the-scenes work if he wants to break into the next tier of quarterbacks.
  • How good can Jason Hill be when he has rapport with his quarterback? Jason Hill is one of the most interesting players heading into training camp and the preseason, in my eyes. The Jaguars jumped all over him when he became available on the waiver wire last season and even with almost no time to learn the playbook or get comfortable with Garrard, he made some artful catches and big plays. He was supposedly a front office favorite during his draft year and it’s been said that he never got enough playing time in San Francisco and due to quarterback and coordinator carousels, was unable to get comfortable and show his talents. The Jaguars quickly resigned him and believe he has the potential to be a #1 receiver in Jacksonville. Have we finally found our successor to the great Jimmy Smith?
  • Are Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton ready to step it up in their third year? After years of Genius Smith clout and tales of the mystique and bravado surrounding the man, the rubber finally hits the road in 2011. GM Gene’s first draft class as the Jaguars’ personnel autocrat turns three this year and that’s when we can start judging them. His first two picks, Monroe and Britton, are supposed to become the “bookends of the Jaguars’ offensive line for the next decade”. We’ve seen the potential, so this year we need to see the consistency. Eugene needs to lock up even the best pass rushers from attacking David’s blindside and Britton needs to become a more disciplined blocker to keep rushers at bay and pave some major lanes for the running backs. The future starts today for these two.
  • Can Will Rackley become a contributor in his rookie season? Guard is one of those positions where a guy with good technique and strength to spare can step in and be a contributor. All of the coaches, including O-line coordinator Andy Heck, are very high on Rackley – he’ll be a big part of this offense sooner or later. Can he make it sooner?
  • What is the offensive line going to look like on Kickoff Weekend? There is an interesting mix of young and veteran talent along the line and from what we’ve heard from the coaches, the potential for a lot of versatility. Eugene Monroe is the only player “set in stone”, at left tackle. Uche Nwaneri and Eben Britton will both be starters as well and both have been mentioned as potential candidates for playing center, an unideal scenario, but Brad Meester’s age may finally catch up with him in 2011, despite a bounce-back season last year. How much does Vinny Manuwai have left in the tank? Is Rackley good enough to go ahead and start? Does Justin Smiley have a role on this team? Will any raw “jars on the shelf” (Daniel Baldridge, Kevin Haslam, John Estes) pan out?

Who’s battling for a bigger role in the offense? Who’s hanging on to a roster spot? Click “next page” to find out…