When Sean Dawkins joined the Jaguars last spring, he talked glowingly of playing for one of the best quarterbacks and in one of the best offenses in the league. He dreamed of pass receptions coming in bunches and of triple-digit receiving-yards games. Hmmm, maybe that's all still possible.
Through the first four games of the season, Dawkins has caught just five passes for 36 yards, but he's not the only Jaguars pass-catcher whose numbers are down. Keenan McCardell, who caught 94 passes last season, is at just 14 this year. Kyle Brady, whose 60 catches last season made him one of the elite tight ends in the game, is tied with Dawkins at five catches. Only Jimmy Smith has prospered in this year's offense, as Smith ranks second in the AFC in catches (30) and yards receiving (371).
So, what's the problem? Why is one of the best quarterbacks in one of the best passing offenses in the league struggling as the 18th-ranked passing attack in the league?
The answer lies in the running game, the one that is missing Fred Taylor. For opposing defenses, no Fred means no problem.
"It just makes it easy for the defense. They just dropped in coverage. You see the importance of the running game," Smith said following the Jaguars' loss in Seattle.
In the locker room today, Taylor smiled as he pulled on his socks. "Couldn't do that two weeks ago," he said.
The star running back's groin injury is healing on schedule. He may be ready to play on Oct. 28 in Baltimore. It can't happen soon enough.
"I understand my importance to this team. Statistically, you can see. It's all tied together. The passing-game production compares differently with the threat of the long run," Taylor said.
With Taylor in the lineup in the season-opener, the Jaguars scored 21 points against a Steelers defense that is currently ranked third-best in the league. Since suffering his groin injury early in the second quarter of the win over Tennessee a week later, the Jaguars offense has scored only three touchdowns in three games.
"The way I feel is, 'Fred, if you're playing, we might be 4-0; Fred, if you're playing, you might be leading the league in rushing,'" Taylor said.
Fred, please hurry back. The passing game needs you. It needs the threat you pose to opposing defenses, who have to be every bit as concerned about stopping you as they currently are about stopping Mark Brunell.
"This has been one of the most successful offenses since 1995. We haven't gotten off to a flying start. We need to establish the running game, then it will be easier to pass the ball," Dawkins said. "I've been on teams that struggled early, then became pretty good offenses. I still believe in this offense."