The release of Matt Jones on Monday morning may have sent a shockwave through the Jaguars' weight room, which housed several players lifting weights. The Jaguars' offseason strength and conditioning program doesn't officially begin until April 6, but players were at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Monday to undergo physical assessments by new strength coach Luke Richesson and his staff.
"I was definitely shocked," quarterback David Garrard said. "There are business decisions that have to be made and they're made. We support Matt as a person. We are here and getting ready to start the 2009 season, starting our weight program. We just have to move forward."
Jones was released a week after having been found in violation of parole for his drug conviction of last fall. He spent the rest of last week in an Arkansas jail before being released this past weekend to come to Jacksonville for the strength and conditioning assessment.
"We wanted to meet with him face to face," Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said when asked why the team waited to announce the release of Jones. Clearly, it was a decision that had been made last week.
"There's a level of responsibility and expectation of every player who is a part of this team," Smith added.
Smith is in the ongoing process of cleaning up the Jaguars roster. The intent is to eliminate players who are character risks, in addition to executing an obvious youth movement. The release of Jones, who led the Jaguars in pass receptions last season with 65, leaves the Jaguars with a corps of wide receivers that include only three players who caught passes for the team last season: Dennis Northcutt with 44 catches for 545 yards and two touchdowns, Mike Walker with 16 catches for 217 yards and no touchdowns, and Troy Williamson with five catches for 30 yards and one touchdown.
Northcutt emerged as the Jaguars' top big-play receiver after Jones began serving a season-ending three-game suspension. Northcutt, however, is 31 and heading into his 10th season. The other wide receivers currently on the Jaguars roster are first-year players D'Juan Woods and Nate Hughes, neither of whom has ever caught a pass in an NFL game.
"We don't play a game until September," Smith said. "I feel confident we can add to our receiver group. I feel that acquiring a veteran and through the college draft we'll find players who can play at a winning level."
The most prominent of the available unrestricted free agents is former Rams star receiver Torry Holt. Other veteran receivers are likely to become available as training camp approaches.
"Projections take time. There is a place to take every player," Smith said in offering a post-mortem on Jones' career, which never equaled the big-play expectations that were predicted for him when the Jaguars selected him with the 21st overall pick of the 2005 draft. Jones, of course, was a college quarterback who was making the move to wide receiver.
His drug arrest last July seemed to have a positive impact on his playing career. Jones turned in the best training camp effort of his career and played well early in the season, becoming a go-to third-down receiver in the first half of the season. The big play for which he was drafted, however, was mistakenly forecast.
"Evaluating your roster is a continuing process. We want players who play well on and off the field," Smith said.
"It's going to motivate us big-time," Garrard said of the Jaguars' failures in 2008. "Looking at the '08 season in our rearview mirror, it was definitely disappointing and nobody wants to have that taste in their mouth anymore. We are very excited about moving forward and getting back on the winning path. That is what we have to be focused on right now and I know guys in that locker room are doing just that."
They'll be doing it without a lot of the guys who were on the '08 roster.