The Jaguars have what appears to be their best draft class in years and David Garrard has no doubt that he has his best receiving corps ever.
Those are the two obvious observations from the Jaguars' 24-17 win over the Washington Redskins in the preseason finale for both teams. With that behind them, General Manager Gene Smith will spend the weekend cutting the roster and coach Jack Del Rio will turn his attention toward the season-opener in Indianapolis a week from this Sunday.
"We start out with a big challenge on the road and we're looking forward to it," Del Rio said.
Smith's challenge was made easier by a sterling performance by his draft class, the first three picks of which would appear to have nailed down starting jobs. Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, the Jaguars' top two draft picks, are likely to become the first rookie starting tackle combination on opening day in franchise history.
"We felt Eben had come on; Eugene had been solid from the get-go," Del Rio said in explaining his decision to make Britton and Monroe the starters for the Redskins game. Britton replaced veteran Tony Pashos, who was moved to right guard. Del Rio would not comment definitively on future plans for Pashos.
Third-round pick Terrance Knighton is set to be a starter at defensive tackle on opening day. Should fellow third-rounder Derek Cox vault into the starting lineup, the Jaguars would tie their inaugural-season draft class for the most rookie starters in a season in team history.
Cox, in his first action of the preseason, turned in a solid performance that included a tackle for a loss. Might he vault into the starting lineup on the strength of one game?
"We'll have to work through that. He's a quick study. When does he crack the lineup? I'm not ready to discuss that yet," Del Rio said.
Meanwhile, fourth-round pick Mike Thomas, who was also in his first preseason action, caught a couple of passes, ran couple of end-arounds and handled punt returns without incident. Thomas isn't headed for a starting job but, based on his performance against the Redskins, he's likely to be a major contributor this season.
"Mike Thomas, Mike (Sims-)Walker, both of those guys made plays tonight. It was going to be a tough decision. I think they made it easy," Del Rio said.
"Is it your best-ever draft class?" Del Rio was asked.
He paused, then drew laughs with, "It's Gene's best."
Smith was promoted to the position of general manager following last season. He was also given complete authority in all matters regarding personnel, from selecting draft picks to cutting the roster.
How aggressive will Smith be in cutting this roster? Will he favor young players with upside over established veterans? That's the big question heading into the weekend.
Wide receiver may be the best example of the roster re-shaping that's been accomplished under Smith. What's been a position of terrible disappointment and under-achievement has blossomed into one of quality and depth. Thursday night, Troy Williamson's excellent summer continued and Sims-Walker showed the star quality that had been forecast for him.
"Is this your best-ever receiving corps?" Garrard was asked.
"Absolutely," Garrard said. "I've been saying that. Definitely the best receiving corps I've been around so far."
Garrard completed 10 of 13 passes for 95 yards, one touchdown and a 122.3 passer rating in a little less than a half of work. He found Sims-Walker for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that put the game out of reach.
The Jaguars completely overwhelmed the Redskins early in the game. Cornerback Tyron Brackenridge made one of the big plays in the game when he thumped the Redskins' kickoff-returner, forcing a fumble rookie Tiquan Underwood picked up and carried three yards into the end zone. Brackenridge is another player who clearly won a roster spot with his performance on Thursday.
"He's a good fit here. I think he's created a role for himself," Del Rio said of Brackenridge, who came to the Jaguars on waivers after being cut by the Chiefs and Jets.
"It's good to finish with a smile. It's been a real productive offseason, training camp and preseason. I'm really proud of the men in that room. I let them know how much I appreciate that," Del Rio said.
The only frown on this night was for the leg injury running back Maurice Jones-Drew sustained.
"He took one of those UFC shots to the shin. X-rays are negative. I think he was frustrated more than anything that the guy went low there. I think he wanted to get his hands on him," Del Rio said.
Jones-Drew's status for the season-opener will obviously become a major issue next week. Otherwise, the Jaguars would seem to be ready to go.
"I think we are. This is a great game to finish the preseason on. We'll find out," Garrard said.