Complacency shouldn't be a problem on the Jaguars' offensive line this season. The addition of free-agent tackle Ephraim Salaam underscores head coach Jack Del Rio's intent to maintain a competitive atmosphere at all positions, even on the offensive line, which was the most productive area of Del Rio's team in 2003.
Salaam was signed to a contract today, and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau immediately announced an open competition for the two starting tackle spots. Mike Pearson at left tackle and Maurice Williams at right tackle were last year's starters on an offensive line that set a franchise record for fewest sacks allowed and fell just a few yards shy of a Jaguars record for most yards rushing.
"I'm going to give (Salaam) every opportunity at each position," Boudreau said of the tackle spots. "If (Pearson and Williams) win the jobs, then obviously we know we potentially have three starters. They're young and their futures are bright, but I don't want them to get too comfortable."
It was that competitive spirit in last summer's training camp that was the catalyst to the Jaguars' dramatic development along their offensive line. Del Rio praised that group throughout the season, referring to it repeatedly as the most impressive area of his football team.
"That's something we've done since day one," Boudreau said of promoting competition. "We're in the business of proving. You have to prove you belong on this football team. When you earn something, you have more respect for the job and the position."
The Jaguars signed veteran guard/center Mike Compton early in the free agency period, and Compton was also promised an opportunity to compete for a starting job. If the Jaguars offensive linemen thought their performance last season was reason to feel secure at their positions, they were wrong.
"I don't want them to think that way. It's a new year. He has to prove, again, he belongs and deserves that job. If you have a team full of that attitude, you have a better football team," Boudreau said. "That's why we brought Mike Compton in. Mike said, 'Tell me the truth, do I have a chance to compete?' I told him he can compete. That's all he wanted to hear. If I had said those three guys are etched in stone, he wouldn't be here."
Salaam, 6-7, 295, will be in his seventh season. He was a 16-game starter as a rookie seventh-round pick by the Falcons in 1998. Though he's a seasoned veteran, Salaam will only turn 28 in June. He was a 16-year-old freshman at San Diego State, the result of having skipped two grades in elementary school because he was academically advanced.
"He's been a starter in the league for Atlanta and Denver and he's played both tackle positions," Jaguars Director of Pro Personnel Charlie Bailey said of Salaam. "He's a very athletic player, still young and right at the prime of his career. He brings athleticism and experience to our offensive line."
Salaam was Denver's starting left tackle last season, after having come to the Broncos in unrestricted free agency in 2002. Salaam was a salary cap casualty in Denver at the start of this year's free-agency period. The Broncos cut Salaam to avoid paying a $5 million roster bonus.
"When you put on the tape you keep looking for him to get beat and he keeps playing well. He's a big, tall guy and you keep looking for someone to bull-rush him down, but he's got a pretty good anchor for a tall guy. He almost looks like a basketball player. He doesn't have a lot of girth on him, but he gets the job done," Boudreau said of Salaam.