Development at the two tackle positions and within the receiving corps should make the Jaguars a better offense in 2010 than the unit that struggled to the finish line last year.
Quarterback David Garrard and company gave us a preview of the unit's capability in the heartbreaking, 35-31 loss to the Colts in December. Garrard threw for three touchdowns and star running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown, as the Jaguars turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season. Too often, however, the offense sputtered in big games.
With the playoffs on the line, five times in the last six games the offense was unable to score more than 17 points. It was held to three points in San Francisco, to 10 points by Miami and managed just seven and 17 points in the final two games. A late touchdown on the final play of the season only served to soften the cold, hard fact that the Jaguars offense wasn't reliable enough in 2009.
Case in point: Following a 442-yard barrage in a 37-17 win over Tennessee, the Jaguars were shutout in Seattle the following week.
That's what has to change this season. The Jaguars have to be a more consistently productive offense this year and it's this reporter's opinion that they will be more consistent, for two reasons:
- Tackles Eugene Monroe (pictured) and Eben Britton won't be rookies again. They have a year of experience under their belts and the expectation is that they should provide better pass-protection for Garrard in 2010.
- Mike Sims-Walker established himself as a number one-caliber wide receiver last season and from a trio of second-year receivers – Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Zach Miller – one or more should emerge as another weapon on which Garrard can depend.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the constant in the Jaguars offense. Jones-Drew turned in another star-quality season last year, leading the team with 1,391 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. In the prime of his career, Jones-Drew should be even better in 2010.
Sixth-round draft pick Deji Karim brings big-play potential to an offense that is looking for another couple of weapons. Karim offers the potential to keep Jones-Drew fresh without sacrificing a playmaker on the field. Keep your eye on Karim in the preseason. He could turn out to be one of the sleepers of this year's draft.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis has become somewhat of a forgotten man, but Lewis very quietly has put together consecutively impressive seasons and should make it three in a row this year.
The weak spot on offense for the Jaguars would appear to be in the interior offensive line, where there will be an open competition for three jobs. Can veteran center Brad Meester hold on for one more year? Will guard Vinnie Manuwai make it all the way back from his knee reconstruction in 2008? What does guard Kynan Forney have left in his tank? Can newly-acquired guard Justin Smiley grab a starting spot? Will young-and-ascending guard/center Uche Nwaneri turn the corner in his career?
Answers to those questions in the interior of the Jaguars offensive line may determine the degree to which the offense will improve this season. The play of the quarterback, however, is always the biggest factor.
This will be the most important year of Garrard's career. The Jaguars almost certainly will draft the quarterback of their future next spring, in a draft that's expected to feature the deepest crop of quarterbacks since 1983. Garrard's performance in 2010 will likely determine when the "future" begins.
Expect him to play well this year. He was challenged last winter by his coach and by his owner to re-dedicate himself to leading the Jaguars back into the postseason, and Garrard responded with a full effort. He offered no resistance to the prodding.
This is his offense and the talent surrounding him is in ascent. Improvement would seem to be likely.