They finished the season a beaten bunch. Brad Meester had biceps surgery and missed the final month of the season. Mo Williams struggled with a sore shoulder that left him defenseless against Willie McGinest in the Jaguars' playoff loss. Khalif Barnes capped his stunning rookie season by breaking a bone in his lower right leg.
Then it really got bad. The Jaguars offensive line was harshly criticized for its performance in the playoff loss to the Patriots, and shortly after that game line coach Paul Boudreau was fired.
Andy Heck has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach and head coach Jack Del Rio hired Mike Tice to be the team's assistant head coach. Tice, one of the game's experts on offensive line play, will focus his efforts on installing a power running game.
All of a sudden, the Jaguars offensive line doesn't look so bad. Meester, Barnes and Mo Williams are all healed, and Mike Williams, the fourth pick of the 2002 draft, was signed in free agency as insurance and competition at tackle and guard.
"We have a tremendous offensive line. Look how deep we are. There's going to be a lot of competition in training camp. It's a long year and you have to have guys step in," Meester said.
Everything looks better during the first week of offseason conditioning workouts. Bodies and minds are rested. Hope springs eternal, especially for a 12-4 team on a three-year ascent.
"The ultimate goal is to get deeper in the playoffs," Barnes said on Thursday, prior to a group run for offensive linemen.
Barnes was the Jaguars' most pleasant addition in 2005. He surprisingly lasted until the 52nd pick of last year's draft, then stepped into the starting lineup in just his fifth pro game and helped solve a major pass-protection problem.
"For coming in and trying to learn everything, it was fine," Barnes said of his rookie year. "This year is the second year and the expectations are for getting better. You're not a rookie anymore and you know what to expect on Sunday."
Barnes met Tice a year ago at the Senior Bowl. "He's a cool guy. I like him. He's a straight guy; tells you like it is," Barnes said.
It sounds as though Tice may have already told Jaguars offensive linemen that he likes to run the ball.
What needs to be improved the most?
"I think it's our run-blocking. If you establish the run, everything else comes with that. It opens everything up. We know that's something we need to work on," Meester said.
The fans' lingering memory of the Jaguars offensive line is the offense's performance against the Patriots, which included three points, six sacks allowed and near abandonment of the running game.
Healthy bodies, added depth and a new coach are expected to change all of that.