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Time to work


There's a limit to what they can say right now.

Eugene Monroe knows this. Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri do, too. The Jaguars' offensive linemen know although they believe they are a quality group – and that they aren't a one-dimensional unit good at the wrong dimension – now is not the time to prove it.

Now, is the off-season. Now, is the first week of organized team activities.

So, now, is the time to work.

"It's early," Monroe said this week. "We have a long way to go."

Monroe, the Jaguars' left tackle, said that this week when asked if the Jaguars will improve as a pass-blocking line this season. He also was asked if he believed the unit was in fact a better pass-blocking line than many believed a year ago.

He did. And he wasn't alone.

"We definitely feel like we are a much better pass-protecting line than people assume us to be," Nwaneri, the Jaguars' starting right guard, said.

It's not fair to say the Jaguars' offensive linemen are bristling about what they are hearing this off-season. They are a professional, confident group, but yes, they hear the critics.

What the critics say is while the Jaguars long have been one of the league's top run-blocking lines – and while the unit was key to Maurice Jones-Drew winning the NFL rushing title last season – this is now a passing league, and that the line struggled in pass protection.

The Jaguars' offensive line sees it differently.

"We can do both," Meester said. "We can pass block. There's room for improvement. We're continuing to improve, but I think we're a tremendous pass-blocking team.'

Meester, a 13-year veteran center and the line's most-tenured member, said the reason the perception is otherwise is obvious. The Jaguars allowed 44 sacks last season, and while the reasons for that number went beyond the line, Meester and Nwaneri and everyone else associated with the line knows that the line gets the blame.

"People see the quarterback on the ground and they say, 'Offensive line,''' Nwaneri said.

Whatever the reason, Meester said the number must come down.

"Obviously, it's something we want to improve on," Meester said. "It's something we have focused on. No. 1 for us is running the ball. When we run the ball, it makes the passing game easier, so we always focus on the running. But we want to get our sacks total down.

"It's something we've strived for for a while, and it's something we've got to do."

One factor the linemen believe should improve next season: Continuity.

"Once you have everybody healthy and get everyone out there with a level of communication – it doesn't always have to be verbal," Nwaneri said. "That's when you know the line is in sync and you know you're ready to perform at a high level."

The Jaguars last season shuffled the line at times, particularly early. Guard Will Rackley, then a rookie, was in and out of the lineup in September, and right tackle Eben Britton missed much of the season with a back injury.

The Jaguars next season expect to start Monroe at left tackle, Rackley at left guard, Meester at center and Nwaneri at right guard. All started at least 14 games last season, and Britton – a starter at right tackle in 2009 and 2010 – is working as the starter in OTAs.

"Working with the same guys helps you take your game collectively to another level," Monroe said.

New Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said his early impressions of the line are positive. He said the group moves well and has learned the offense "extremely well," but he said assessing the group will come after it works in pads. That's the approach he is taking with the entire roster and in the case of the line, so much will be different – scheme, coaching staff, schedule, practices – that Mularkey said to assess the group before training camp is unfair.

"Let me judge them once we get them to that point," he said this week.

Nwaneri said a reason the line will improve is offensive talent. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has more experience. The receivers are improved. That makes it a more complete offense, which he said in turn should mean a better line.

"Now, we have to be able to put everything together, and as a line, we look at this as an opportunity to assert ourselves as one of the best lines in the league," he said.

Still, the line knows, too, that talk in May is just that, talk. They want to be better, and believe they will be, but for now, Monroe said the approach "is business as usual" with the same goal the unit has every week, every season.

"Finish, dominate – whether it's run or pass," Monroe said. "Regardless of what's being said, it doesn't really matter. None of that is going on in our room. Everybody's positive. Everybody's hungry. Everybody's working. It's too early to judge, but we're working together every day."

The members of the Jaguars' offensive line believe that work will mean being one of the best lines in the NFL next season, and they believe that will be true whether you're talking run or pass.

And until that happens, they know there's a limit to what they can say.

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