He's the Jaguars' star player, but six carries for minus-two yards in the preseason raised concerns about Maurice Jones-Drew's readiness for the start of the regular season. Jones-Drew responded this week by saying there's no need for worry.
"I was just resting. It was just preseason," he said.
On what is expected to be a hot and humid day at EverBank Field for Sunday's season-opener between the Jaguars and the Denver Broncos, the formula for victory for the Jaguars would seem to include handing the ball to Jones-Drew early and often. The Broncos were 26th in the league against the run last season and fell apart up front on defense late in the season during the team's collapse from a 6-0 start.
"It's a lot easier to work on your pass game in the preseason than it is to work on your run game. We need our backs for the season. You don't get any style points for running the ball well in the preseason. Somebody is tackling those backs on every one of those runs," Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter said of the team's rushing performance in the preseason. "I'm confident that we'll be a solid running team."
This and more about the 2010 Jaguars will be scrutinized by what is expected to be the best home crowd in two years. Local excitement for the game has been heightened by the return of former University of Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow. The rookie quarterback is a backup to Broncos starter Kyle Orton.
The vast majority of fans at Sunday's game will be there to see the Jaguars and to decide if this year's version will be an improvement over the team that had the lead for a wild-card playoff berth heading into Dec., but then lost its last four games to fall out of playoff contention.
Will the Jaguars have a better pass-rush? Will they protect quarterback David Garrard better? Will they contend for the AFC South title, which coach Jack Del Rio has made the goal? Will they continue to be the strong running team they were a year ago, when Jones-Drew rushed for 1,391 yards and a team-record 15 touchdowns?
"I don't think anyone shows their hand in the preseason," Jones-Drew said.
The time for showing their hand is now.
"He's got the heart of a champion and I think he's positioned right now to have a big year for us. We're just excited to get started," Del Rio said.
Del Rio was a steady voice of optimism throughout the offseason, despite the dire predictions for his team by the national media.
"The cynic, the critic has very little impact on who ends up winning the game. It's all about preparation and playing well when you get the opportunity," Del Rio said.
Most critics see this as a defining year for Del Rio and his quarterback.
"I think people that don't understand our business might paint it like that. I think anybody that knows our business knows that every year is make or break for players and coaches," Del Rio said.
Second-year Denver coach Josh McDaniels is facing his own kind of pressure. McDaniels has changed the face of the team's personnel, trading quarterback Jay Cutler and star wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The surprise selection of Tebow in the first round is viewed by some to have increased the pressure on McDaniels.
Sunday's opener would appear to be a matchup of two teams with striking similarities. They are two teams coming off late-season slumps, and there is pressure to win for each.