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Manuwai paving the way, again


The Jaguars have a hot running back running behind a road-grading left guard. It's like 2007 all over again.

That was the formula for the Jaguars' late-season success in '07, as the Jaguars got on a roll that carried them into the playoffs and back to Pittsburgh, where they won twice in three weeks.

"I do think they're related," coach Jack Del Rio said on Wednesday of the success Maurice Jones-Drew has enjoyed in recent weeks, running behind a rejuvenated Vince Manuwai. "I don't think you can be a good back without the line blocking for you."

Manuwai led the charge in December of '07. He was the best run-blocking guard in the league then and he's returned to that high level of play in recent weeks this season.

You may know his story. He suffered a torn ACL in the '08 season-opener and struggled through his recovery year in '09. In training camp this past summer, there was concern Manuwai wouldn't even make the final roster. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they kept him.

"We're a balanced offense. That's our identity," Jones-Drew said of the Jaguars, as they head into Sunday's game against AFC South rival Tennessee.

With five games remaining in the season, Jones-Drew is just nine yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing. He's on a four-game, 100-yard rushing streak and he's on pace for the best season of his career. It's not a coincidence that Jones-Drew's surge is coinciding with Manuwai's return to the ranks of the league's elite run-blockers.

"Vince is back to where he was prior to his ACL injury, in terms of showing dominant traits as an in-line run-blocker," Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said.

In short, Manuwai looks like the guy who knocked down defensive linemen late in '07.

"That's a good way to put it," Smith said.

Jones-Drew will likely put a saddle on Manuwai and ride him on Sunday in Nashville. It's a game that should provide a classic showdown between Jones-Drew, who rushed for 177 yards in this game a year ago, against Chris Johnson, who trumped Jones-Drew with a 228-yard rushing performance.

May the best rushing team win.

Jones-Drew didn't get the ball as much as he would've liked to have gotten it last Sunday, in the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the Giants. He's likely not to be disappointed by his workload this week.

"You always want to be on the field but you don't want to be a distraction. You speak to Michael Irvin and he demanded the ball. They said Jerry Rice was one of the biggest me guys but he didn't show it," Jones-Drew said. "I always want to run the ball. We have to do whatever it takes to keep our offense rolling."

Is he getting that '07 feeling?

"We were rolling. It seemed like everything we called worked. Guys were believing," Jones-Drew said.

"(It) was a different year, not a different type of year. We're starting to get our flow on offense. We're dictating what we want to do," he said. "I just want to win. I just want to go to the playoffs and win. Let us go to the playoffs and see who wants to tango."

You could say the same about this Sunday's game. Who wants to tango?

"We're all playing each other in the last month of the season. How we fare in these divisional games will be hugely important for all of us," Del Rio said of the four AFC South teams, who are separated by a game in the division title race.

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