When the Jaguars signed Marcus Stroud to a rich, long-term contract in 2005, there was no thought that Stroud wouldn't be with the team three years later. Stroud, after all, was one of the cornerstones of Jack Del Rio's reconstruction of the team's defense.
The turning point to all of that occurred on an otherwise uneventful Wednesday afternoon during the week of the 2006 season-opener. The Jaguars were preparing for a game against the Dallas Cowboys when Stroud sustained a significant ankle injury that would dramatically alter his career.
He played on that ankle, but there was lasting damage that caused him to routinely miss practices and spend all the days between Sundays trying to recover from Sunday so he could play on the next Sunday. Coaches hate that. They are preparation fanatics and the I-can't-practice-but-I'll-be-ready-on-Sunday routine is intolerable.
The situation worsened for Stroud in '07. The ankle continued to dog him, and then came a humiliating four-game suspension for having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and, in Stroud's first game back following the suspension, the ankle gave out on him in Indianapolis and the worst season of his football life was over.
We're talkin' about a good guy here. There isn't anyone in the Jags' locker room, media room or coaches' offices who doesn't like Stroud. He's always had a personality as big as his body, which made the hard decision the Jaguars had to make even harder.
If Stroud didn't understand the hardcore nature of professional football before he was traded to the Buffalo Bills last spring, he gets it now. Yeah, this is a tough game for tough guys. It can slap you across the face when you least expect it. As Tom Coughlin would say, "It's an edge game. I don't want these guys walkin' around here with smiles on their faces."
The Jaguars traded Stroud because they lost confidence in his ankle. The Jaguars had some depth at the defensive tackle position, players who had served them well in Stroud's absence last season, and the extra picks the Bills offered in exchange for Stroud gave the Jaguars draft-day maneuverability. You know the rest.
Stroud will come to Jacksonville this weekend with an edge. He should. It's what you need to be the best you can be at this game, and he's a better player today for having had his edge sharpened by the trade.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are better for having used the picks they got for Stroud to address the team's desperate need at defensive end. The Jags believe those picks, which they packaged in trading up twice to draft Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, will have provided the cornerstone on which the pass-rush of their future will be built.
Hard feelings? Why? It's a trade that worked out for the best for both. Stroud got a new edge and a fresh start to the second half of his career, and the Jaguars got two young players to take them into the future.
Welcome back, Marcus.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bills.
- Be efficient on offense—Given the state of the reconstruction of the offensive line, nobody is expecting an explosion of points. Be patient, capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves and, above all, don't turn it over.
- Deny the big play—The Bills have big-play guys all over the place: Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee, most prominently. Deny them the big play and you win.
- Play better at QB—David Garrard was rattled by the rush in Tennessee and got careless with the football. That has to change.
- Protect the QB—Blame Garrard all you want, but when your quarterback is sacked seven times and knocked to the ground a dozen times more, he's probably not going to have a good day and you're not likely to win.
- Scare somebody—The Jaguars receivers scare no one. As a result, teams are loading up against the run, a trend that will continue until someone shows some big-play ability that must be respected.
- Know what this means—They say every game is a must-win game. Yeah, but this one has a little more "must" to it. Wanna go to Indy 0-2? I didn't think so.
- Be truly special—The Bills' and Jaguars' special teams are each outstanding. If one of these units was to claim victory, it would probably be the deciding factor in the game.
- Play to the crowd—Jack Del Rio appealed to Jaguars fans on Wednesday, asking them to show their support on Sunday. OK, guys, give them something to cheer.
- Respond to adversity—Nothing makes a team feel better about itself. The last two weeks have been nothing but hard times. It's time for change.
- Use the heat—The temperature is supposed to soar into the nineties on Sunday. Hey, the Bills are from Buffalo. They're Canada's team. Long drives and fast tempo; that's the formula for victory.