Byron Leftwich is likely to get significantly more playing time next week in game three of the preseason, as Leftwich and the first team offense hope to declare themselves ready for the start of the regular season. Through two weeks of the preseason, however, the Jaguars offense is still struggling.
"I'm aware that there are well-oiled machines out there and we are not one of them. I believe we have a good core of players we can develop into a solid offense. We do have a deadline coming up. We do need to see things working much more efficiently," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said following Saturday night's 17-10 loss to the visiting Carolina Panthers.
The start of the regular season is the ultimate deadline, of course, but next Saturday's preseason game against Tampa Bay is a more realistic deadline because it's the last time in the preseason starters will see significant playing time. The final preseason game is usually a loosely-played tune-up in which the starters will exit by the end of the first quarter, at the latest.
Del Rio chose to only give Leftwich two series worth of work against Carolina, even though the rest of the Jaguars number one offense played into the third quarter. Del Rio had announced earlier in the week that David Garrard would quarterback the number one offense through most of Saturday's game, and that created the perception that Garrard had stepped into a possible competition for the starting job. That perception no longer exists.
"David struggled a little bit; balls on the ground and balls put into dangerous positions. He's capable of playing better," Del Rio said of Garrard's performance, which included two interceptions and a fumble forced by Julius Peppers that was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Michael Rucker. That play staked Carolina to a 17-3 lead at halftime.
"Good defensive battle early in that game. At the end of the first half, we blinked," Del Rio said, referring to the fumble and touchdown return. "It marred a pretty solid start; slugging it out with a pretty good team."
Leftwich was four of four for 52 yards and a 118.8 passer rating, but two sacks ruined his night. The second one killed a promising drive.
"It was good to see Byron hook up with Reggie," Del Rio said, referring to a couple of sharp throws to Reggie Williams, who turned in what might've been the most promising performance in his three years with the team.
"I think he was ready to do some things if we had given him more time (to throw)," Del Rio said of Leftwich. "He asked, 'Coach, may I please go back in?' No."
Leftwich said he did not perceive Garrard's playing time with the first team offense as an audition for the starting job. "I didn't look at it that way. I don't worry about that stuff," he said.
He also said, however, that he can't "look over his shoulder" and expect to play his best football. "You can't. I know that for sure. I really don't believe that was the situation. I feel like I had my best camp ever," Leftwich said.
Del Rio continues to applaud his team's effort, but that fast-approaching deadline for production is becoming a worry for Jaguars fans. Next Saturday's game against visiting Tampa will include heightened expectations.
"I like where we're headed. I like our direction," Del Rio said. "This is a process to prepare for the regular season."
Leftwich had been experiencing some shoulder soreness during the last half of training camp, and Del Rio held Matt Jones (ankle) and Josh Scobee (leg strain) out of action to facilitate their recoveries.
"I think we were smart in what we did. We held out a couple of guys. Byron should be better. We're out of double-days so he won't be throwing as much," Del Rio said.
Williams caught three passes for 54 yards and was the bright spot of the game for the Jaguars. They'll hope his performance against the Panthers will lead to more of the same.
Fred Taylor and Greg Jones each had one impressive, though short, run. The Jaguars running game, however, also appears to need more work, as it has yet to crack the 100-yard mark in two games.
Garrard was seven of 11 for 86 yards, two interceptions and a 48.1 passer rating. He bore no resemblance to the guy who threw for 172 yards, two touchdowns and a 139.2 passer rating in the Jaguars' win in Miami in week one.
Quinn Gray did some positive things, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Estandia and posting a respectable 81.5 passer rating. Several of Gray's throws, however, were considerably off the mark.
The offensive line will be an area of scrutiny in the next game. It committed nuisance penalties and allowed three sacks, but Del Rio remains supportive of his guys up front.
"I believe in that group. A timely penalty or a timely technique error is marring some good work. The whole thing about offensive line play is consistency," Del Rio said.
"In the preseason you want to get better every week and I think we have done that today. I feel good about what I am seeing from everybody. Preseason is just like another way of practicing and sometimes you make mistakes to make sure you don't make them when they count," Leftwich said.
That deadline, however, is nearing.