All thoughts are on the team's passing game as the Jaguars prepare for the start of training camp. Can the team significantly improve its ability to throw and catch the football? The answer to that question will probably determine how high the Jaguars reach in 2007.
The Jaguars made their passing game the focus of their offseason efforts, following a season in which the team's pass-offense fell to number 24 in the league and committed critical turnovers in a three-game losing streak to end the season that caused the Jaguars to miss the playoffs. On a team that had the league's number three running game and number two overall defense, it was clear to see where the finger of blame was pointing.
So head coach Jack Del Rio reconstructed his offensive coaching staff. The Jaguars have two new wide receivers coaches, a new tight ends coach, a new quarterbacks coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new philosophy for throwing the football.
Significant additions were made at wide receiver, too, as the Jaguars signed veteran Dennis Northcutt to a pricey free-agent contract and drafted Mike Walker and John Broussard.
The Jaguars didn't stop there. They also signed right tackle Tony Pashos to a big free-agent contract, with the hope Pashos will improve the Jaguars' pass-protection, and added good-hands tight end Jermaine Wiggins.
Everything has changed about the Jaguars' passing game; everything except one thing, the quarterbacks. Byron Leftwich was reinstated in February as the team's starting quarterback, David Garrard is back in his familiar backup role, and Quinn Gray continues to wait for his chance to prove he can be something more than a number three.
The possibility exists the Jaguars might sign Daunte Culpepper, once he's released by the Dolphins, but Del Rio has already said Culpepper would come to the Jaguars in a support role, not as a replacement. In other words, Leftwich's status as the team's starting quarterback is safe.
Do the Jaguars have what it takes at sports' most important position to become a Super Bowl contender?
"I think he's ready to have a big year," Del Rio said of Leftwich.
Whatever success Leftwich can be expected to have will directly depend on his ability to stay healthy. He's missed 16 of the Jaguars' last 22 games, after sustaining a broken ankle late in the 2005 season. That injury caused him to have season-ending surgery last year. This spring, Leftwich pronounced his ankle fully repaired and better than ever.
Leftwich will certainly have every motivation to make this season the best of his career. He's in the final year of his contract.
Former first-round draft picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones will begin training camp as the Jaguars' two starting wide receivers, but they will be pushed by veteran Ernest Wilford, spring sensation Charles Sharon and Walker, the team's third-round draft choice. Northcutt had an impressive spring and is entrenched in the role of the team's number three receiver and slot receiver. Broussard, a seventh-round pick, offers the potential to be used as a field-stretching deep receiver.
"I feel like we have a young, talented group," Del Rio said of his wide receivers. "We're at a stage in our development where we're just looking for the guys that can help us win and there's enough depth, there's enough solid competition, that the cream will rise to the top and we'll go with those guys."
At tight end, it's hoped 2006 first-round pick Marcedes Lewis will develop into the deep-seam receiver the team drafted Lewis to be. He'll be pushed by George Wrighster. Wiggins is an extra pair of hands. Keep an eye on first-year man Greg Estandia.
The offensive line is one of the strengths of the team. Pashos and Khalif Barnes are set at the tackles, guards Chris Naeole and Vince Manuwai opened a lot of holes for the running game last season, and center Brad Meester remains one of the team's steadiest players. There is quality depth and young players on the rise behind the starting five.
Running back Fred Taylor is on the verge of reaching the 10,000-yard rushing mark, and the Jaguars' depth at running back would seem to be adding years to Taylor's career. Maurice Jones-Drew is coming off a storybook rookie season, fullback Greg Jones is back from knee reconstruction that caused him to miss all of last season, and LaBrandon Toefield, Alvin Pearman and Derrick Wimbush provide fantastic depth. Keep an eye on special teams star Montell Owens, who had a strong spring and showed distinct pass-catching and blocking skills.
"We just want to be good and we're looking to be explosive. Clearly, any good offense is going to center around the quarterback position and that position playing well. So that's obviously integral to us in our success," Del Rio said.
Keep your eye on the passing game.
Next, we'll take a look at the defense.