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Meester anchors future


In training camp, they were a much-maligned group. Even though coach Jack Del Rio repeatedly said the offensive line had become the most stable and productive area of the team, there were few believers at that time.

But there's no doubting the guys up front now. It's one of the best young offensive lines in the game, and its development this season was spearheaded by Brad Meester's move from guard to center. He is the symbol of the offensive line's emergence, for which Jaguars Inside Report has selected Meester as the Jaguars offensive player of the year.

"It's been a really good year for me. I was really happy to be able to move back to center. It's more of a natural position for me. I've definitely enjoyed this season," Meester said.

Fred Taylor has had a good time, too. Taylor enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2003 and, of course, a good deal of the credit goes to the guys up front.

"It's a group of guys who work hard. That started in the offseason workouts. We made every workout. We were always there. We've been together all year; no injuries," Meester said of an offensive line that includes Chris Naeole and rookie Vince Manuwai at the guards and Maurice Williams and Mike Pearson at the tackles.

Naeole is the only member of that group with more than four years of experience. They're all locked up contractually at least through next season, and there's every reason to believe the Jaguars have established the offensive line of their long-term future.

"I see a lot of good things for the offensive line. We're going to have the same guys back, which is the first time that will have happened since I've been here," Meester said.

In 2003, that offensive line was eighth in the league in sacks allowed per play, while the Jaguars' running game was also the league's eighth-best. Those are numbers that steadily and dramatically improved from the beginning of the season to the end, and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau gives Meester a large share of credit.

"He was really concerned about making the position move. But I said, 'You were scouted by a lot of people who thought you would be a pretty good center in this league,'" Boudreau said. "He's played with the attitude we want, I want. People are starting to look for him as a ball-hawk down field looking to get that extra hit."

The Jaguars made an effort at the Pro-Bowl voting time of the season to publicize Meester's play. Del Rio said he believed Meester was one of four Jaguars players, including Taylor, Donovin Darius and Marcus Stroud, who was worthy of selection to the Pro Bowl.

But that's not likely to happen for a player in his first year at a position, and it didn't. Meester admits it's a goal of his, and he holds out hope for the future.

"There are guys on that Pro Bowl roster who make me shake my head. I've had Pro Bowl centers and this guy doesn't take a back seat to any of those guys. At his age, if he stays healthy, I'm looking at the anchor of this line," Boudreau said of Meester.

In 2000, when he was drafted by Tom Coughlin, Meester was a missing puzzle piece. Coughlin needed to plug a player in at guard, and Meester was drafted to make the move from center, and he did. He started 16 games at left guard his rookie season, then 32 more before his move to center this season.

Meester has started 48 consecutive games. He has never missed a practice or a game at the pro, college or high school level. That kind of consistency qualifies him to be a leader, and when the Jaguars signed Meester to a contract extension this past fall, they emphasized their request that he embrace a leadership role.

"Since coach Del Rio got here, he said, 'I need you to step up as a leader of the offensive line.' I enjoy being a leader, but I never had to do it before. We always had guys like Tony Boselli and Zach Wiegert. I'm not a big vocal guy. I'm going to lead by my actions," Meester said.

That's what he did in 2003. He stepped into a new position - actually, an old position - and played the best football of his professional football life. It inspired those around him to play their best football, and they did.

"We're right there," Meester said of his goals for making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. "If we keep building the way we are, who knows what'll happen next season."

Previous offensive players of the year are: Fred Taylor, 2002; Jimmy Smith, 2001; Taylor, 2000; Leon Searcy, 1999; Tony Boselli, 1998; Mark Brunell, 1997; Smith, 1996; Brunell, 1995.

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