It would be easy to look at the Jaguars&39; tight end position and assume the presence of a Pro Bowl selection made it a strong area.
That would be correct.
What it wouldn&39;t be necessarily is the entire story.
Gene Smith, now entering his third season as the Jaguars&39; general manger, said while the presence of Marcedes Lewis indeed gives the Jaguars a versatile, strong player at a very important spot in the offense, the team&39;s tight end position is about more than the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.
And for the Jaguars, that&39;s a good thing.
"It&39;s a winning group," Smith said recently in an interview for this story on the Jaguars&39; tight ends, part of a position-by-position series that will run on jaguars.com in the coming weeks.
"You have an every-down guy who can play on the line in Marcedes Lewis and then Zach Miller is a guy who really has developed."
For Smith, winning at tight end in a very real sense is about versatility, depth, improvement and experience.
And it indeed does start with Lewis.
Lewis, the Jaguars&39; first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, has improved steadily in five professional seasons, and Smith said he has developed at a particularly rapid pace in the last year and a half. He impressed coaches with his leadership, focus and drive in training camp before the 2010 season, and continued to emerge during the season as a critical player not only on the field but in the locker room.
Lewis became an unrestricted free agent following last season, and the Jaguars placed the exclusive franchise tag on him in late February with the idea of signing him to a long-term deal.
"He&39;s one of the best players on our team," Smith said. "He really has grown as a player and as a person."
Lewis, after averaging just over 30 receptions for 381 yards and scoring a total of seven touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons, finished 2010 with a career-high 58 receptions for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also continued to be one of the team&39;s most-durable, reliable players, starting 16 games for a third time in four seasons.
The 10 touchdowns tied the franchise record for the position, and established Lewis – long critical to one of the NFL&39;s best and most-consistent rushing offenses – as one of the league&39;s premiere players at the position.
It was, Smith said, another step in a steady development – and it led to what Smith said was a well-deserved first Pro Bowl appearance.
"He&39;s a leader on our team," Smith said. "He&39;s one of the better blocking tight ends, for sure, in the NFL, and he emerged this past year as a trusted receiver for (quarterback) David (Garrard)."
Lewis, Miller and backup blocking tight end Zach Potter give the Jaguars a tight end trio that Smith said forms one of the team&39;s most reliable, stable areas.
Miller, Smith said, gives the Jaguars a slightly different element at the position than does Lewis.
Miller, who played quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha, entered the NFL as a sixth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2009 NFL Draft, and caught 21 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He caught 20 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown this past season.
Smith said Miller has the potential to continue to develop, and in a more pass-oriented offense could put up numbers on the scale of some of the NFL&39;s better receiving tight ends. In the Jaguars&39; scheme, Smith said he adds an underrated element to an already productive, potent offense.
"He&39;s an off-the-line guy more than an on-the-line guy at this point, but he has an outstanding skill set for a No. 2 tight end," Smith said. "He has special qualities. It goes back to availability is the most important ability. He has to stay healthy."
The presence of Lewis and Miller not only gives the Jaguars a strong tight end group, Smith said it very much helps the Jaguars&39; wide receiving corps. Because although the wide receiver group is young and features just one player who caught more than 20 passes last year, the tight end group helps give the offense balance, and productivity in the passing game.
When judging the team&39;s wide receivers, many consider it a young, unproven group and assume the Jaguars could struggle in the passing game. Smith said that&39;s a myopic view.
"What you&39;re not taking into consideration is you have a Pro Bowl tight end, and behind him you have one of the best run-and-catch No. 2 tight ends in the whole NFL," Smith said. "We&39;ve got some guys in the running back group and the tight end group who can compliment the wide receivers.
"If Zach Miller was with another team, he&39;d be doing what Dallas Clark does with the Colts. He just doesn&39;t get many opportunities to get on the field. He&39;s 6-4, 248 and runs a 4.5-(second) 40-yard dash. He&39;s a tremendous athlete in terms of ball skills, and that combination really helps our receiving group."