Last spring, Dirk Koetter was surrounded by rookies he had to work into the Jaguars offense. This spring, there will be few changes in Koetter's offense.
As the Jaguars head into the start of OTA (organized team activity) practices on Monday, Koetter discussed the state of his offense and his goals for the spring in an interview with jaguars.com. Koetter is in his fourth year as the team's offensive coordinator.
"I love OTAs. They're like spring football in college. It's the purest form of coaching. You get to coach without the timeline of a game on Sunday. You can slow down and script more stuff. When you're in game week, you're on such a tight schedule that when you're done, you're done," Koetter said as he looked ahead to a 14-practice schedule that will conclude on June 22.
"Last year at this time, we didn't know what we had or how to use some guys. We had the three rookie receivers, the question marks of Troy Williamson and Nate Hughes. What can Zach Miller do? We didn't have Luke McCown here. The nice thing about this year is we didn't add many guys. We have a feel. It helps us to find roles for these guys and expand their roles. I think we can take a real jump there," Koetter said.
He also had two rookie offensive tackles, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, who were the team's top draft picks and with whom Koetter would open the season against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the best one-two pass-rush punch in all of football. By season's end, quarterback David Garrard would be sacked 44 times.
"We have to cut that sack number down. We were in the bottom third of the league. For all of our offensive goals we want to be in the top 10 of the league. When you break down those 44 sacks, the wealth was shared. Teams that made the playoffs were around 30. The franchise record is 28. The low in the league was 13," Koetter said.
Wide receiver was a major trouble spot the Jaguars addressed in 2009 by drafting Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwod. Miller was picked in the sixth round to be a hybrid tight end. This year, the Jaguars added wide receiver Kassim Osgood in free agency, but did not select a wide receiver or tight end in the draft. Sixth-round running back Deji Karim is the only offensive player in the Jaguars' 2010 draft class.
"At least we know what we have," Koetter said of his receiving corps. "We subtracted Torry (Holt) and added Kassim. We didn't even have a quarterback school last year because none of those guys (last year's rookies) were even here.
"Todd's got good and bad (video clips) for every guy," Koetter added of wide receivers coach Todd Monken. "Here's what you did good and here's what you did bad. Teams that keep their guys together do pretty well."
The big question on offense heading into the OTA season is: Who will be the Jaguars' number two receiver?
"In my opinion, Mike Walker, when healthy, can be a number one receiver. We know Mike Thomas has a chance to be, at the least, a very good slot receiver. We have to find out if Mike can do more than that. Our big question is who's the two right now? Mike and J.D. (Dillard), are they the number two?" Koetter asked rhetorically.
Miller could end up being the equivalent of the number two receiver, from a production standpoint. The pass-catching tight end had a breakout game in the 2009 regular-season finale and Miller has the kind of speed that creates mismatches against linebackers and big plays. It was a mismatch against Texans rookie linebacker Brian Cushing last year that resulted in a 62-yard reception by Miller.
"We've got to play better around Dave (Garrard)," Koetter said. "If you look at the elite passing teams in the NFL, the quarterback and the receivers are thinking one step ahead of the defense. We've been really trying to eliminate the gray. If it's this, we're doing this. For Dave, he's clearly 'The Man.' He's got hungry receivers. Dave's been doing a great job in quarterback school and in mini-camp of communicating. With that said, our bread and butter is 32. We all know that."
Thirty-two is Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars' one true star-quality player. Jones-Drew rushed for 1,391 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and caught 53 passes for 374 yards and a touchdown.
The Jaguars have moved away from the two-tight end, run-the-ball style of play that was successful for them in 2007, as NFL offenses continue to trend more toward the passing game.
"We're moving from a jam-it-down-your-throat team to a more balanced team. We have to be based on our personnel. The whole NFL has gone that way," Koetter said.
Another major issue heading into OTAs is depth at quarterback. McCown is number two. Can he push Garrard?
"Even though Luke was our number two last year, he didn't take many reps. We haven't had much chance to see him operate in our system. Mini-camp was his first chance to get equal reps. This is a time for Luke to show he can compete with Dave. He's athletic, he's sharp. Can he push Dave when they're hitting you for real? We like what we see out of Luke in the meeting room and what we saw of him in mini-camp," Koetter said.
Gone from the meeting room are coaches Mike Tice and Kennedy Pola, influential members of recent years' staffs that moved on to jobs in Chicago and Tennessee respectively. It's thought that Koetter will face less opposition to his ideas and philosophy of offense this season.
"I don't know where all of that comes from. We lost two really good coaches on offense. I learned a lot from Mike Tice; I learned from Kennedy Pola. Rob Boras coming in here and Earnest Byner, they bring in new ideas from Chicago and Tennessee," Koetter said.
So, as the Jaguars head into an OTA season in which the reconstruction of the team's defense will be the feature attraction, Koetter has his own goals for his unit.
"Our goals are to be clearly defined in our assignments. We've shrunk the pass routes to be more precise about them and grow in playing to our strengths," he said.