The Jaguars are in the final days of training camp and though the team appears to be in a fine-tuning mode at most positions, wide receiver continues to be a position of uncertainty.
"I'm definitely concerned because these are the guys we need to make plays down the field. It's been like an attack on our receivers," quarterback David Garrard said, referring to a rash of injuries at the position. "It's something that definitely concerns us. We definitely need our core guys to get back as soon as possible."
Both starting wide receivers, Jerry Porter and Reggie Williams, are recovering from surgeries and are not expected to play in the preseason, though the prognosis for both players is that they'll be recovered for the start of the regular season. Number three receiver Dennis Northcutt has battled back soreness in training camp, and Troy Williamson, one of the stars of the spring practice season, remains sidelined by an unspecified injury.
"He's getting close. He's got soft tissue with his legs," coach Jack Del Rio said of Williamson on Tuesday when Del Rio was asked what the injury is.
Matt Jones has made the most of his opportunity to improve his status, but Jones is facing an Oct. 10 trial date for felony drug possession charges in Arkansas. Meanwhile, Mike Walker, a late-spring standout, hasn't been bothered by the knee that caused him to spend his rookie season on injured reserve, but Walker dropped a couple of passes in Saturday night's preseason opener and hasn't delivered on the promise he showed in the spring.
"His role has yet to be determined," Del Rio said of Jones. "His job is to come out every day and grind at it; show grit and determination. What role he has will be determined through competition."
The best thing about the Jaguars wide receiver corps is their quarterback, Garrard, who continues to perform at the consistently high level he set in last year's training camp. No training camp sore arm, no decline in his performance; Garrard is the Jaguars' most steadying influence.
"To me, it matters to just get out there and make plays," Garrard said of the preseason. "Get our timing down; show we're moving in the right direction for the start of the season."
Porter was signed in expensive free agency to provide Garrard with a number one-type receiver and, early in OTAs, it appeared Garrard and Porter were establishing that kind of QB-WR relationship, but then came the hamstring injury and then the surgery and Garrard is back to looking for somebody, anybody who might be open.
"I've never had a go-to receiver. We definitely have a system here that every guy can get open and I like that more. I like spreading it around," Garrard said. "(Porter) is definitely going to be more attractive. You will tend to lean more toward his side, but I think we can count on all of our guys. I just like having a bunch of guys who can make plays."
"Our dominant guys are in our backfield," Del Rio said, referring to running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. "They're the ones who dictate how defenses are going to play us."
The Jaguars remain healthy at running back and another position of strength that hasn't been compromised by injury is linebacker.
"We've got some really good, young outside linebackers," Del Rio said. "Daryl Smith is on the verge of becoming a Pro-Bowler. Clint Ingram isn't going down without a fight. Who's going to be number three? We'll let that play out," Del Rio added of the battle between Ingram and Justin Durant for the third and final starting spot. Durant is in the lead.
Middle linebacker Mike Peterson is in the final year of his contract and has expressed dissatisfaction at not being offered a new deal.
"You appreciate guys who do it the right way, but there's a reality you have to deal with. You never know how these things are going to work out. He's under contract and he's playing well," Del Rio said of Peterson.
Behind Garrard are Cleo Lemon and Todd Bouman and Del Rio made it clear that Lemon is number two and Bouman is three. "Cleo is our backup," Del Rio said.
The situation at defensive end isn't desperate, but it sure would help if the Jaguars could get first-round pick Derrick Harvey signed. Del Rio said there is nothing new to report on that front.
"I'll let the negotiators do the negotiating. I'll just coach," Del Rio said.
Journeyman defensive end Mkristo Bruce, signed as a roster body the day camp began, is still a longshot to make the team, but he made gains with his 2.5 sacks performance in the preseason opener. Bruce was originally told he would be cut as soon as Harvey signed, but that's changed.
"I would say that if Derrick walked in right now, we'd find a way to keep Mkristo around here," Del Rio said.
Del Rio added that strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh turned in a top tackling performance against the Falcons, which speaks well for Sensabaugh's recovery from double-labrum surgery. Meanwhile, starting strong safety Brian Williams has returned to practice after sitting out last week with an undisclosed injury.
On another front, Garrard said he sent former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich a congratulatory text message following the announcement that Leftwich had signed with the Steelers to replace Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger's backup. "I'm happy to see him back out there," Garrard said of Leftwich.
Garrard, of course, won the Jaguars' starting QB job at about this time a year ago, in a sudden and stunning reversal by Del Rio.
"They know who's going to be leading the huddle," Garrard said of the benefit of a stable situation at quarterback. "I'm the quarterback for the team and everybody knows it."