Improvement on offense this season would seem to depend on a rebuilt receiving corps and a fortified offensive line that is being counted on to give quarterback David Garrard the pass-protection he needs to return to the comfort level he achieved in 2007.
The Jaguars offense fell from seventh in the league in '07 to 20th in '08, and that's only part of the story. The running game fell from second to 18th and Garrard was sacked 42 times in '08, after only having been dropped 21 times in '07.
So what went wrong? The blame fell on an under-performing receiving corps that was gutted in the offseason, and on a rash of injuries on the offensive line that saw the Jaguars lose both starting guards in the first half of the season-opener.
Gone are Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt, the top three pass-catchers among last year's wide receivers. They have been replaced by esteemed veteran Torry Holt and a trio of rookie draft picks.
On the offensive line, last year's left tackle, Khalif Barnes, was allowed to leave in free agency and it's expected that he'll be replaced by first-round draft choice Eugene Monroe.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars offense:
Garrard slumped in '08. His interceptions climbed from three in '07 to 13 last year and his passer rating fell from 102.2 to 81.7. It is of paramount importance to this young, rebuilding Jaguars team that Garrard return to his '07 form and that his offensive line allow him to stay in the pocket and upright. Garrard is "The Man" and depth at the position is clearly an issue. Heading into training camp, journeyman Todd Bouman is Garrard's backup. Behind Bouman, there are only a couple of young players competing for consideration. An injury to Garrard would undoubtedly devastate the Jaguars' efforts to become a playoff contender.
What the Jaguars lack in depth at quarterback, they would seem to enjoy at running back, despite the loss of the greatest running back in Jaguars history, Fred Taylor. The torch was passed from Taylor to Maurice Jones-Drew late last season, and Jones-Drew provided a preview of what he can do as the Jaguars' premier running back. He combined his rushing and receiving skills to be a do-all dominant figure in the Jaguars offense, and it earned Jones-Drew a rich, long-term contract during the offseason. What about replacing Taylor? Well, fullback Greg Jones is expected to get more carries, but everyone's eyes will be on seventh-round draft choice Rashad Jennings, one of the stars this past spring of a good-looking rookie class. Should Jennings be the steal some think he is, the Jaguars could get back to the workhorse running game that was their identity in '07.
Vinny Manuwai is back from knee reconstruction that cost him all but the first half of the opening game of last season. Manuwai is set to return to left guard and resume his role as one of the most powerful run-blockers in the NFL. Mo Williams returns to right guard after being lost for the season to a pregame biceps tear in the season-opener. Uche Nwaneri established himself in Manuwai's and Williams' absences last season and Nwaneri is pushing for a starting job. The Jaguars even appear to have young "jars on the shelf" at the interior positions, in the form of up-and-coming players such as Cameron Stephenson. Veteran center Brad Meester was re-signed in free agency. The offensive line is lookin' good for the future, especially at the tackles, where the Jaguars spent their first two picks in this year's draft on Monroe and Eben Britton, who is expected to push Tony Pashos for playing time at right tackle. The Jaguars signed veteran left tackle Tra Thomas in free agency. Getting Monroe signed and in camp on time is no doubt a priority.
Draft picks Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood were so impressive in spring drills that General Manager Gene Smith felt comfortable enough to trade Northcutt, effectively gutting last year's wide receiver corps. Mike Walker is in year three and much is expected of him. First-year man Nate Hughes showed well in OTAs. This group will be a work in progress this season, but its promise is distinct. Holt is being counted on to be the dependable target Garrard needs until his young receivers are ready to pick up the slack.
Marcedes Lewis was drafted in the first round in '06 on the strength of his reputation as a deep-seam receiver. Three years later, Lewis' reputation is that of a top in-line blocker. Sixth-round draft pick Zach Miller is making the switch from small-college quarterback to an H-back type role with the Jaguars, and Miller was sensational late in OTAs. He flashed speed and pass-catching ability the Jaguars haven't enjoyed at the position. Expect Miller to be a featured pass-catcher this year. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter likes to use the tight end and he may have a 1-2 punch he can feature.