Players will report on Sunday for the Monday, Aug. 3 start of a training camp that will launch the Jaguars into a second beginning in the Jack Del Rio era. A season that is at best a reset or at worst a rebuilding, will feature several position and roster battles and at least one major philosophical decision on defense. The following is one reporter's opinion of the top five issues confronting the Jaguars in training camp 2009.
- Defensive line—When Del Rio was the Jaguars' rookie coach in 2003, the Marcus Stroud/John Henderson one-two punch at defensive tackle Del Rio inherited was the rock on which Del Rio would build the team's future. Now, as Del Rio embarks on a rebuilding of the Jaguars, defensive tackle in particular and the defensive line in general would seem to be his area of greatest concern. Henderson is the central figure. Following a spring flap with Del Rio, the veteran tackle professed to be fully committed to Del Rio's program of recovery. Now we'll know for sure. The Jaguars desperately need Henderson to get back to his dominant stature of a few years ago. If he does, concerns on the defensive line will be eased. If he doesn't, the Jaguars will have major problems. Derek Landri has bulked up and is fully committed to becoming a full-time player. Rob Meier may need to return to the part-time status in which he was previously successful. Atiyyah Ellison is still attempting to establish a career in the NFL. Third-round draft pick Terrance Knighton could turn out to be the team's best run-stuffer. On the outside, everything hinges on Derrick Harvey developing into a premier pass-rusher. Henderson and Harvey would seem to be the keys up front. One has to get back to where he was and the other he has to become what he was drafted to be, or the Jaguars will have trouble stopping the run and rushing the passer, and that's a bad combination.
- Safety—This is a critical position for the Jaguars because it could have a major impact on the shaping of the Jaguars' starting lineup and the team's roster. Free safety Reggie Nelson and strong safety Sean Considine, a free agent who is coming off a blockbuster performance in the spring, appear to be in the depth chart lead. The Jaguars, however, would seem to have announced their concerns at the position when they signed veteran Marlon McCree and traded for former Lions' 2007 second-round pick, Gerald Alexander, who the Jaguars might have drafted had they not picked Nelson in the first round in '07. The competition at safety would also seem to involve the competition at cornerback between incumbent Brian Williams and third-round pick Derek Cox, for whom the Jaguars traded a 2010 second-round pick to acquire. If Cox wins the competition at corner, does Williams move to safety, where he has been a starter in his career? Is Alexander, who's experience has primarily been at free safety, competing with Nelson and Considine or just Nelson? Those are questions that'll be answered in training camp and in the preseason.
- Defensive scheme—You're probably starting to get the idea the Jaguars have issues on defense. You're right, they do, and one of the major issues involves the scheme on which Del Rio and new Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker will settle. Del Rio is a diehard 4-3 guy and Tucker has coached under Nick Saban, who is also a 4-3 coach, but Tucker has some 3-4 in his background, too, and given the Jaguars' concerns on their defensive line, nothing would seem to be written in stone. We'll keep a close watch on what the Jaguars do schematically on defense in training camp.
- Offensive tackle—Let's start with getting eighth-pick-of-the-draft Eugene Monroe signed. With six days left before camp begins, Monroe remains unsigned and it's important to note that Harvey, the eighth pick of last year's draft, went unsigned through all of last year's training camp. Monroe was impressive in spring drills. He appears to be ready to play now. That, of course, will probably hinge on how quickly the Jaguars can get him signed. Tra Thomas is poised to be the team's swing man. Second-round pick Eben Britton would appear to be the future at right tackle but when will that future begin? Veteran Tony Pashos kept Britton at arm's length in spring drills. What happens at the two tackle positions is critical to the Jaguars' overall rebuilding efforts on the offensive line, which was a major trouble spot last season. Any hope of a revived running game and a rejuvenated David Garrard would seem to rest with improvement up front, and that would seem to begin at tackle.
- Wide receiver—Are the Jaguars' three rookie receivers as good as they appeared to be in the spring? That's a question training camp and the preseason will answer. Fourth-round pick Mike Thomas appears to have run-after-the-catch ability the Jaguars have lacked for a long time. Fifth-rounder Jarett Dillard appears to be the possession receiver the Jaguars have been seeking since Keenan McCardell left the team. Seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood flashed big-play ability on which the Jaguars used a couple of first-round picks. The real thing or just a tease? We'll find out. Also, can Torry Holt be a go-to guy and is Mike Walker ready to be a full-time player?
These are not the Jaguars' only issues. Garrard's recovery from a disappointing year and depth at the quarterback position are as well. You might make them numbers six and seven.