Jimmy Smith made a major comeback, John Henderson may be the fastest-rising and most underrated defensive tackle in the game, Tommy Hendricks turned out to be exactly what the Jaguars thought he was when they signed him in free agency, and Josh Scobee rose from the preseason "grave" to become the brightest light of the Jaguars draft class.
They are jaguars.com's Jaguars players of the year: Smith on offense, Henderson on defense, Hendricks on special teams and Scobee as the team's rookie of the year.
"It was an outstanding year from a production standpoint," wide receivers coach Ken Anderson said of Smith, 35, who re-dedicated himself to football in 2004 and it showed. Smith finished the season with 74 receptions for 1,172 yards and six touchdowns. He was 12th in the AFC in receptions and fifth in receiving yards.
"If you look at his average yards per catch it is higher than everybody above him. He was a deep threat for us. He was our big-play, explosive guy," Anderson added.
Smith began 2003 with a four-game suspension. He rallied to have a very respectable year but not a Jimmy Smith-type year. His production fell off in '03 and when spring drills began in '04 Smith was significantly lighter and in the best shape of his life.
As the oldest player on the team, is there any reason to believe Smith has lost something from his game?
"You didn't see it this year. He worked really hard in the offseason and came to camp in tip-top shape. If we get him to have another year like that, I think we'll be a real good football team (next season)," Anderson added.
Henderson may have turned in the most dominant performance of any Jaguars player. He led all defensive linemen with 78 tackles and he tied with defensive end Greg Favors for the team lead in sacks with 5.5 each. Henderson also had five passes-defensed, five tackles for loss, a team-leading 39 quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.
"In the second half of the season he was dominating. At times he was unblockable," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said of Henderson, who teams with Pro-Bowl selection Marcus Stroud at defensive tackle to give the Jaguars a foundation in the middle of their defense like no other team in the league has.
Henderson was at his best late in the season. Against Minnesota he had seven tackles, two sacks and two QB pressures; against Chicago he had six tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss and two QB pressures; against Green Bay six tackles, two tackles for loss and five QB pressures; against Houston six tackles, one assisted tackle for loss, two QB pressures and one sack.
"From the defensive tackle position, to have five sacks in the last six games is impressive," Smith said.
Hendricks led special teams in tackles. He was the most aggressive of the "gunners" on the Jaguars' special teams coverage units.
"He was an all-around good special teams player. He was one of the teams' leaders; smart, tough, physical. He always tries to do things exactly as you want them done," special teams coordinator Pete Rodriguez said of Hendricks, who was signed by the Jaguars from Miami in free agency.
"They told me he was one of the guys they were considering signing and I said yeah," Rodriguez said of Hendricks, who had a top-notch reputation for special teams play in Miami.
"I thought we were fairly consistent. Our coverage units for the most part were good. I thought we had two games in which we didn't play well. In the Detroit game, we were lucky we won. In the first Houston game, we didn't play particularly well. Overall I think we need to improve our return game," Rodriguez said in overall evaluation of his special teams.
"Our kickoff-return early in the year was really anemic. We didn't break the returns we'd like and the same is true of our punt-return game. We need to improve our ability to make plays. The most positive thing this year is we didn't put our team in positions to lose," he added.
Scobee was a major addition to Rodriguez' units. A fifth-round draft choice from Louisiana Tech, Scobee struggled early in the preseason and appeared to be on his way out when the Jaguars brought in veteran kicker Steve Christie for the third preseason game. That's when Scobee caught fire.
He made the roster, kicked well early and then established himself as a big-timer when he booted a 53-yard, game-winning field goal with 38 seconds to play in the Jaguars' 27-24, upset win in Indianapolis on Oct. 24.
Late in the season, Scobee almost beat the Steelers with a 60-yard effort on the final play of the game. The kick had enough distance but fell a couple of feet outside the right upright.
"I'm pleased with him as a rookie, coming in with the pressure he had on him because of the kicking problems Jacksonville had the previous couple of years. There was a lot of pressure on the young man. Physically, he has a chance to be a pretty good kicker for a long time. He gave us an opportunity to cover kicks that were deep. He missed three kicks under 40 yards. You need to be perfect in those situations. He was never fazed by the pressure. I think he has the mental toughness and physical ability that, unless something unforeseen happens, he has a bright future," Rodriguez said of his rookie kicker.
Scobee converted 24 of 31 field goal attempts and 21 of 21 extra-point kicks. His 93 points were 13th among 21 AFC kickers. Most impressively, Scobee helped the Jaguars rank at the top of the AFC in kickoff drive-start average. Eleven of his 62 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, which tied for third in the AFC.
A full list of player-of-the-year winners appears below:
Offensive Player of the Year—2004, Jimmy Smith; 2003, Brad Meester; 2002, Fred Taylor; 2001, Jimmy Smith; 2000, Fred Taylor; 1999, Leon Searcy; 1998, Tony Boselli; 1997, Mark Brunell; 1996, Jimmy Smith; 1995, Mark Brunell.
Defensive Player of the Year—2004, John Henderson; 2003, Mike Peterson; 2002, Marcus Stroud; 2001, Seth Payne; 2000, Gary Walker; 1999, Aaron Beasley; 1998, Kevin Hardy; 1997, Jeff Lageman; 1996, John Jurkovic; 1995, Harry Colon.
Special Teams Player of the Year—2004, Tommy Hendricks; 2003, David Allen; 2002, Chris Hanson; 2001, Chris Hanson; 2000, Mike Hollis; 1999, Brant Boyer; 1998, Reggie Barlow; 1997, Mike Hollis; 1996, Mike Hollis; 1995, Bryan Barker.
Rookie of the Year—2004, Josh Scobee; 2003, Byron Leftwich; 2002, Akin Ayodele; 2001, Maurice Williams; 2000, Brad Meester; 1999, Fernando Bryant; 1998, Fred Taylor; 1997, Renaldo Wynn; 1996, Kevin Hardy; 1995, Tony Boselli and Brian DeMarco.