Uche Nwaneri understands the concern.
But Nwaneri also has the benefit of experience. That, and recent history, is why the Jaguars' starting right guard said he's not worried about the team's offensive line entering the regular-season opener.
No, Nwaneri said, the group wasn't perfect in the preseason. And yes, there were issues.
But Nwaneri said he and the rest of the offensive line remain convinced that when it comes to their unit, many factors dictate success and failure – and a lot of those factors make preseason success difficult to attain.
"I'm sure it's going to be different," Nwaneri said as the Jaguars prepared to play the Tennessee Titans in the 2011 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It always is once you get into the regular season.
The Jaguars' offense struggled at times during the preseason, with the first unit scoring one touchdown – a scramble by former starting quarterback David Garrard. And without question improvement is critical against Tennessee, with the regular-season opener expected to be a battle of teams wanting to establish the run offensively.
Many issues contributed to the preseason offensive struggles, the absence of Garrard in the opener and the absence of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Maurice Jones-Drew for three games among them. The receivers also had issues with drops, and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert played extensively as he gained early NFL experience.
The team also struggled for consistency at quarterback, enough so that Garrard was released this past Tuesday and replaced with eight-year veteran Luke McCown.
But among the most concerning issues to many was the offensive line.
The Jaguars during the preseason rushed for 402 yards on 104 carries, and whether it was Garrard, McCown or Gabbert playing, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said on multiple occasions there simply was too much pressure on the quarterbacks.
"We've obviously got some stuff we have to correct," Jaguars center Brad Meester said. "There's no doubt about that. But we're not jumping off a bridge. We're going to continue to work hard out there. It's little things here and there we need to correct and we're going to do that.
"We're working to correct those things and get ready for Tennessee."
With McCown making his eighth NFL start, protection will be critical against a Tennessee defense that historically can consistently generate a pass rush. The pass protection had good moments and bad in the preseason, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said the team can&39;t have a repeat of the performance early in a preseason-ending loss to St. Louis.
"We've got to protect better than we did in those first two series," Koetter said. "But if we protect like
we did those first two series then we'll have some serious issues in every game."
And while there is little question the team must run more effectively than that in the regular season, history suggests they will. The Jaguars during the 2010 preseason rushed for 267 yards on 87 carries, with Maurice Jones-Drew rushing for minus-two yards on six carries.
The Jaguars finished third in the NFL in rushing last season and Jones-Drew rushed for 84 or more yards in four of the first five games en route to a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.
"One, we don't try very hard to run it in the preseason," Koetter said. "You've got to run the ball and try to run it and repeat some runs. You can wear a defense down a little bit if you're running it successfully. If you repeat some runs more than once in a game, the offensive line, the fullbacks and the tight ends will get used to the look and they'll get better at blocking them as the game goes on."
Said Jones-Drew, "You have to think, in the preseason you're going to play a quarter, maybe three quarters, but you're not going to play a full game and for the most part all of us weren't together. So it's tough to get that rhythm that we get throughout the season. . . . We're going to get in a rhythm. We're a rhythm offense. We're going to get into a rhythm, we're all going to play. We'll be alright and we've just got to keep working and fine-tuning the little things and get ready to play."
The offensive line historically is a position at which it takes time for continuity to develop, and the Jaguars in the preseason dealt with several issues slowing development. Not only did first-round left tackle Eugene Monroe struggle at times, left guard Will Rackley is a rookie third-round selection from Lehigh still adjusting to the NFL.
At right tackle, starter Eben Britton missed the preseason with a back injury and is questionable against Tennessee. Sixth-year veteran Guy Whimper would start if Britton is unavailable.
"The offensive line, it takes cohesiveness and it takes timing, OK?" Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "Maurice is not in there. We all work together. We're all gelling. We'll get it right. It just takes time.
"You don't just hop on the field and expect everything to be perfect."
Said Nwaneri, "The offensive line, really, you're in the one position where everything depends on everybody knowing what's going on at the same time and understanding what's going to be done in certain situations. Guys have to be comfortable with the guy next to you. And you have to trust the guy knows what he's doing, the way you react to it out on the field had to be in unison.
"That's a hard thing to get. It's like playing the guitar. Your fingers have to work the frets here and you have to be able to strum at the same time. It takes time, but we've been progressing. We've been getting things together, It's just a matter of being consistent with it.
"I think it's going to be a much better, cleaner result than you've seen in the preseason."