Jack Del Rio made two bold decisions on the offensive side of the ball and the results were stunning. Now, with a year under Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter's and quarterback David Garrard's belts, Koetter says the best is yet to come.
"I'm thrilled we could keep our staff together," Koetter said of the Jaguars' offensive coaches. "If you can keep your staff together and modify your system, you have a chance to get better and we will get better."
The improvement on offense in 2007 was as stunning as it was dramatic. Del Rio supplied the drama by naming Koetter, who had never previously coached in the NFL, as the team's new coordinator, and then naming Garrard the team's starting quarterback just nine days before the season began.
"To be named the starter just nine days before; it's hard to believe how we were playing offensively late in the year. You look at the (season-opener) and we were horrendous," Koetter said.
By season's end, the Jaguars offense was machine-like. The Jaguars set a team record for points (411, 25.7 per game), touchdowns (50), touchdown passes (28) and yards per play (5.6). The Jaguars ranked seventh in the NFL in total offense (357.4), which tied for the second-highest ranking in franchise history, and gained 400-plus yards in a team-record seven games, including a team-record five consecutive games.
Most notably, the Jaguars scored 24 or more points in 10 consecutive games for the first time in team history. Yeah, that's the big one, points. Nothing speaks louder than points.
Koetter and his offensive staff began their postseason analysis on Monday. It should be a happy week.
"That's the beauty of the technology today. You can look at yourself every which way. We're looking at ourselves play by play. We break down the efficiency of that play and then we talk about how we could coach it better," Koetter said.
Late in the season, the coaching couldn't have been better. Early in the season, Koetter was so disappointed by his own performance that he went so far as to apologize to his players for his ultra-conservative play-calling in the season-opener.
"I definitely grew this year. There was definitely a lot of anxiety," Koetter said of coming out of college football without so much as a day of experience on the NFL level.
"How bad I screwed up in the last two minutes of the first half in Denver, spiking the ball. That was definitely a screw up. We were ridiculously conservative in the first few games. That was me," Koetter said.
"I had some anxiety for what an NFL coach-player relationship is like. I think they found that if they had good suggestions for me, I would listen," he added.
Koetter and Garrard grew together. Garrard got hot early, battled through a high-ankle sprain that caused him to miss three games at midseason, and then stepped back under center to cap the best season of his life. All the while, Koetter was in the process of becoming the league's hot, new coordinator. It was a winning combination.
"We got to a point that we played with a lot of confidence. From that point on, our players felt that in every game we were going to be tough to stop. We got a lot of confidence in the second Indy game; when we got started with that string of scoring 24 a game. We always thought we could run the ball. We were throwing the ball better. We were doing things good offenses do," Koetter said.
• The Jaguars had 10 plays of 50-plus yards, the second-most in team history; established a team record with eight touchdowns of 50-plus yards.
• Fred Taylor (1,202 yards rushing) and Maurice Jones-Drew (768) combined to rank second in the NFL for the second consecutive season, as they finished with 1,970 rushing yards.
• The Jaguars ranked sixth in the NFL with a 45.7 third-down conversion percentage, and tied for sixth in the NFL with 60 plays of 20-plus yards (16 runs, 44 passes).
"David's confidence grew and as his confidence grew the staff's confidence in him grew and we did more things. Not only did he blossom as a quarterback, but he blossomed as a leader," Koetter said of Garrard.
When Koetter was hired to replace Carl Smith last winter, it was ostensibly to reclaim Byron Leftwich's career. To that end, Leftwich made strides in training camp, but Garrard made giant leaps. On Aug. 31, Del Rio took the plunge, naming Garrard the starter and effectively cutting Leftwich. It was a move for which Del Rio was immediately assailed. By season's end, he was being praised.
"The pressure to live up to: Did Jack make the right call? I've never seen David get balled up. He's so even-keeled," Koetter said. "I still think he's got room to go. Now you can really refine things."