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In a winning mood

Posted Apr 8, 2013

Jacksonville Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri: "I'm seven years in, and for me, I want to win games"

JACKSONVILLE – Uche Nwaneri doesn’t know exactly when he will be ready.

But the Jaguars’ veteran guard – who’s very much a veteran and very much likes what he hears about the direction of the offensive line – knows he will be ready some time soon, and knows he can’t wait for that time.

He knows this, too:

While it’s difficult during an uncertain time to know exactly what the future will look like for the Jaguars, he is very much among those who don’t believe uncertainty must be a bad thing.

“Being a player who’s been here from a time where we were successful until now, my mood is, ‘I want to win,’’’ Nwaneri said this week, the first week of the Jaguars’ nine-week 2013 voluntary offseason program.

“Rebuilding, it’s really never factored in for me.”

That’s the mood around the Jaguars as the offseason program begins – that while this time of transition means uncertainty, it also means new direction, new vision, new hope.

Nwaneri, a seven-year veteran and longtime starter at guard, said he believes he and the offensive line can be critical to that direction, and he believes that the unit can be improved this season for a couple of reasons.

One is he thinks the transition to a zone-blocking scheme won’t be a difficult transition at all.

The Jaguars under new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and offensive line coach George Yarno will implement a line scheme based largely on zone-blocking techniques. But Nwaneri said while that move has received a lot of attention, the reality is that most teams in the NFL use the techniques and that Jacksonville certainly used them under former line coach Andy Heck.

“We’ve always done zone blocking,” said Nwaneri, who will miss the team’s veteran minicamp April 16-18 after undergoing knee surgery in January. “We would use more double teams in our zone-blocking rather than one guy on a path and another guy on a path, so we understand that concept. The guys who have been out there for us understand how it works.

“People are talking like, ‘Oh, we have to get all new linemen...’ We’ve been zone-blocking. We just weren’t doing as much cutting as a team like Houston does.”

Nwaneri said from a personal point of view, he is looking forward to the approach. Houston’s zone-blocking approach is typical to that formerly used in Denver under then-Head Coach Mike Shanahan and Nwaneri said he played in a similar style at Purdue.

“That’s what we did,” he said. “Our run game was almost strictly zone, Denver-style. This definitely will be a change, but it’s not a steep learning curve.”

Another significant change? For the first time in Nwaneri’s seven NFL seasons, he and the Jaguars’ line will play not for Heck, but for Yarno, a 23-year coaching veteran with a hard-nosed reputation that Nwaneri said could be a positive.

“Change is good, and change is always something meant to progress,” he said.

Nwaneri said perhaps the biggest change that could benefit the line is if, for once, the unit could go through a season with very little change – i.e., go through it healthy. The Jaguars played last season with uncertain situations much of the seasons at both left guard and right tackle. Left guard Will Rackley missed the entire season with a foot injury, and Eben Britton, Herb Taylor, Mike Brewster and Austin Pasztor combined to start 16 games.

At right tackle, Cameron Bradfield started the season, but Guy Whimper – who was released this offseason – finished the season as the starter. Bradfield remains on the roster, but the position is an unknown entering the offseason.

Nwaneri also played through injuries much of the season, a situation he said hampered him significantly but one he wanted to play through.

The first goal for the line, Nwaneri said? Stability, and the second objective is to be healthy enough to turn that stability into a consistent performance.

“If we can shore up our right tackle and left guard and be consistent, it will be fun – it will be a lot of fun,” he said. “I always think back to 2009. That was a fun year because our offensive line was there the entire season. We haven’t had that in a long time. I’d love to see Cam take those steps at right tackle, but whoever it is, we need to be consistent across the board. We all rely on each other. That continuity is going to be huge for this line.

“We’ve got to be healthy. We’ve got to be on the field. That, to me, is the start of everything. You’ll get the best out of us when we’re a unit.”

The Jaguars’ offensive line, with the exception of Whimper and Britton, is relatively intact from last season. But while the same is not true of much of the rest of the roster, and while that has created a bit of what Nwaneri called “a weird feeling” this week, Nwaneri in that weirdness also is a positive.

Like most veterans, Nwaneri said there is a sadness with players such as Greg Jones, Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox not returning.

“A piece of you goes with them, because you’ve been there with them when we were going well,” he said.

At the same time, the past is the past and the future is now. And Nwaneri said there’s no reason that future can’t be bright.

“I’ve never really looked at things like, ‘Well, this season’s a wash,’’’ Nwaneri said. “I’m seven years in and for me, I want to win games. You look at a team like the 49ers: two or three years ago they had talent but they weren’t winning much because they couldn’t find the right formula. (Head) Coach (Jim Harbaugh comes in and almost instantly, they’re on the same page, the philosophy is set and players are following that philosophy.

“They turned that franchise around in no time at all. For us, we have that same group of talent guys, but maybe everyone wasn’t on the same page and the record we had kind of spoke to that. We are rebuilding, but rebuilding, that doesn’t mean you throw seasons away.

“Rebuilding means getting the most out of what you have while adding on to get a more polished product.”

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