Like many around the Jaguars' offense, David Garrard wants improvement.
But while the struggles of the offense in general have been much-discussed in recent days, Garrard – the Jaguars' starting quarterback – said he has a specific area on which he wants to work. He said, too, he's excited about the process.
The area is the deep pass. Garrard said while the Jaguars haven't spent much time on the area in the past, that's not the case this season, and he said improving the area between now and the regular season is critical.
"I guess for me, really it's just me and my receivers hitting those deep balls," Garrard said Monday as the Jaguars (1-2 in the preseason) prepared to play the St. Louis Rams (3-0) in the fourth and final 2011 preseason game at EverBank Field Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
"Those are big plays and balls that we haven't really thrown around here in the past, but we've got some guys that can really fly. I just want to continue to throw them. I know they want me to continue to throw them, but we've got to hit them.
"You can't just throw them out there; you've got to be able to hit them, too."
So far this preseason, the Jaguars haven't hit one.
Against the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, Garrard threw a deep pass to Mike Thomas that turned into an early end-zone interception, and against the Bills, he threw several deep passes with varying results. One early deep pass turned into a difficult drop by wide receiver Jason Hill, and two more long passes to Hill turned into interference penalties.
Garrard also threw another incomplete deep pass to Thomas against the Bills.
"The only one that I felt like I really overthrew was Mike Thomas," Garrard said. "I just put a little too much on it. The one to J-Hill, the first one I thought was pretty good. That's something that he was mad at himself, but then the one where the ball just fell over his outstretched arms, he couldn't get to it because a guy was grabbing his arm.
"He said, 'Dave that was a perfect ball, if he's not grabbing my arm I'm almost there anyway,' so he felt like he would have been able to get to that one. I felt like I put it in a good spot, but that's why you had pass interference, because that guy was grabbing him."
Garrard, who set a career-high and franchise-record with 23 touchdown passes last season, said rather than "go-routes" the team in the past has relied on "back-shoulder" routes to bigger receivers.
"We've just got to continue to get more and more reps before and after practice," Garrard said. "We have two weeks of time to work on it. We've hit quite a few in practice; we just need to hit some of them in the games."
Another factor that could help the deep pass is the return of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew has made the last two Pro Bowls, and is a threat for a big play whenever he touches the ball. It's logical that his presence in the lineup causes defenses to commit more defenders to the run.
Jones-Drew has yet to play in the first three preseason games, but is expected to get playing time in the preseason finale and to start the regular-season opener against Tennessee September 11.
"The defenses are going to play things a little different," Garrard said. "They're going to try to take him out sometimes by blitzing a guy, which is going to open up more things down the field. Even though when they try to take him out of the game, he still finds a way to make a lot of big plays.
"He is a big percentage of our offense and when he's back out there I'm sure you will be able to see a difference."
*Garrard said he remained positive about the Jaguars' offense, particularly three scoring drives at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. The Jaguars' offense has scored four touchdowns this season, including three against Buffalo – two on drives led by Garrard at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third and one led by rookie Blaine Gabbert at the end of the third. "The great thing was we got in the red zone and we scored touchdowns," Garrard said. "We did a great job of that last year and we're going to continue to do that. We didn't have those turnovers early with the first group out there, so we played smart and we just continued to persevere. Even though we started off slow we were able to fight back right there at the end of the half and then come out with a scoring drive in the second half, so those are all positive things to look at."
*Jones-Drew said he has seen the timing improve between Garrard and the receivers in the first month of training camp and preseason: "I see a big difference. I see guys catching slants where at first they weren't in the right spot or the ball was too high or this and that. Now it's on target or if they're running short-end routes or (tight end) Marcedes (Lewis) running this option route or whatever it may be the ball is where it's supposed to be depending on what the coverage gives. It's not like we're sitting back trying to figure out where we're going. We know where we're going, we've just got to make sure we catch the ball and do the little things."
*Defensive end Aaron Kampman, like Jones-Drew, is expected to play Thursday after missing the first three preseason games while returning from a knee injury that kept him out at the end of last season. "I'd take every rep that I can get, but I think the reality is that there has been a plan all along," Kampman said. "We're working the plan, the plan is working and the plan has been to get some reps this Thursday in the last preseason game. Barring any changes that's going to be what we're going to do."