Gene Smith’s Weakness: Wide Receivers
By Luke Sims
I don’t know if you have noticed, but the Jags’ receivers have been subpar as of late. And by as of late, I mean the past three years. Not only have the Jaguars failed to draft or sign an elite wide receiver, nobody on the roster seems eager to even step up and become that man. Since Gene Smith’s arrival in Jacksonville three years ago, we’ve had three different receivers claim the title of “top receiver.” One, Mike Sims-Walker, somehow managed to get his way back onto the roster this past season despite him, rightly, being cut at the end of 2010. Mike Thomas (2010) and Marcedes Lewis (2011) are the other two who have been top targets for the Jaguars quarterbacks.
Can it really be that hard to sign an elite, true #1 receiver that can actually catch the ball? Maybe it’s that a lot of them have character issues…(yes, you Chad Ochocinco and Co.)
But why has Gene Smith been so absent minded when it comes to the wide receivers? (Our tight ends are actually pretty solid, and Marcedes Lewis should return to dominance in 2012)
In 2009, Gene Smith brought in Torry Holt to try and rejuvenate the flagging wide out corps. Remember ’08? Yeah, we were supposed to be moving away from that. Yet we kept Troy Williamson (former 1st round bust). But who else was there to catch balls from David Garrard? (Troy Williamson doesn’t count since he can’t catch) Nate Hughes, Mike Sims-Walker, and Jarett Dillard.
We all know how it turned out. MSW did a good job, earned himself some fame, and was supposed to be our go-to guy for years to come. Torry Holt provided guidance for a mostly young pass catching group. Troy Williamson somehow completed another season on an NFL roster. Nate Hughes looked ok. Jarret Dillard showed flashes (again) and was injured (again).
We finished 19th in passing yards with the 24th ranked overall offense.
Cue 2010. Gene Smith retains MSW (he’s becoming a big deal, remember?), Mike Thomas is moved into the lineup from kick return duties, and Jarett Dillard becomes injured before he makes catch. To solve the loss of Torry Holt as guidance, Gene Smith brings in….nobody. Instead he brings in rookie Tiquan Underwood, speedy (though often ineffective) wideout Jason Hill from San Francisco, and Kassim Osgood (mostly for his special teams abilities).
2010 ended with the Jags losing a spot in the playoffs by losing to the Colts (with Peyton Manning, remember), and sliding to an 8-8 finish. The Jags fortunately punch their way into the top half of offenses at 15th yet somehow manage to become worse at passing, ranking 27th.
Gene’s got to get it right on his third try, right? Unfortunately, 2011 proved to be little different. While the Jags started a rookie quarterback (hence the safety valve TE becoming the top receiver on the team), the receivers failed to generate any form of buzz, confidence, or yards. A large number of drops seemed to plague the receivers all season long.
So, who made up this corps of receivers? Jason Hill, Mike Thomas, Kassim Osgood, Jarett Dillard, all keep their jobs. Smith brings in Chastin West, Taylor Price, Cecil Shorts, and rehires Mike Sims-Walker after cutting him in the offseason and after the Rams jettison him midseason.
See anybody who is regularly regarded as the best in the business? I don’t either.
Even with Dillard, and his great potential, playing in 14 games (finally), the Jaguars somehow failed to even look like a pro receiving group on the field. It was as if they were cursed. The Jags finished 2011 as the worst ranked offense and the worst ranked passing attack.
So, is our problem because we keep trying to build through the draft? Underwood, Shorts, West, and Price, all showed the ability to catch the ball. But none of them showed brilliance. Underwood is no longer with the team and I doubt Price and West will be kept around for next year. Shorts has shown good route running and should develop into a stronger player, so he’ll probably get a shot in 2012.
So, Why doesn’t GM Gene go for big wide receivers from big, high producing offenses and schools?
Why doesn’t GM Gene bring in high-quality talent in free agency rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel of 1st round busts and returning to mediocre talent? (Ernest Wilford, an Ex-Jaguars receiver turned tight end had been on the roster in 2009 and 2010)
Does he not know how to do his job? No, he’s done very well at many other positions, including revitalizing the Jaguars’ defense in 2011.
Does he not know how to approach the wide receiver position? Perhaps, but I doubt a general manager can’t just look at tape and understand who runs routes well and who doesn’t have balls bounce off his hands.
Does he not understand how important the position is? If he doesn’t, he should after this year.
I can only conclude that his philosophy of going after small school, small name, small build players is not the right approach. The tallest wide receiver on the team, Osgood, is mostly known for special teams.
Gene needs to recognize his weakness with the wide receiver position and allow some input from Mike Mularkey (who has worked with some very good receivers in Atlanta) and tweak his approach. Obviously it’s not working. It’s time for a change. Maybe not in the general manager, but in how he approaches what is obviously a weak position for him.
I hope to death he realizes this before the draft, because Blaine Gabbert needs targets and he needs them fast. I don’t care how good someone looks in practice (Jarett Dillard), if they can’t perform on the field then they aren’t worth keeping around.
In Gene We Trust, right?
– Luke N. Sims