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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) fell victim to the panic last year.

It was one of those frustrating moments typical of a lost season. As the 2008 Jaguars careened from possible contender to also-ran under a mixture of tragedy, injury and bad character flaws, Jones-Drew felt the pressure as well.

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Jones-Drew could factor more into the passing game this season.
(Phil Coale/AP Photo)

In a game against Tennessee, Jones-Drew saw a rookie offensive lineman go one-on-one with then-Titans tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes). Instead of Jones-Drew staying back to do his job and guard against a possible blitz from the right, he gambled, thinking that the rookie lineman needed help.

"I go to the backside of the play to help and guess what? My guy blitzes and kills the play," Jones-Drew said, while shaking his head slightly.

These days, the Jaguars are a decidedly less talented team, on paper. What the team is preaching, however, is that individual responsibility will overcome what talent couldn't do last year as injuries toyed with the team's psyche.

"It was like that all year," Jones-Drew said. "We were trying to do too much and then, by the end of the year, we started worrying about our own selves and taking care of what we needed to do [individually]. At the beginning of the season, we pretty much went into a panic. Our whole interior line … our guys we're all down.

"We lost too many guys and then we were overdoing it, trying to do too much. That's why we're focusing on just doing our job [this year] and making sure everybody is ready to step in, regardless of the situation. We have rookie receivers, they have to be ready to come in and make plays. We have [rookie running back] Rashad [Jennings], he has to be ready to make plays. The two tackles we drafted, they have to be ready. … There is no learning curve anymore. You can't make mistakes and think it's OK. If you make mistakes, it's going to be costly because we won't be able to move the ball."

The Jaguars, who finished 5-11 last season, have opted for an interesting path, getting rid of a lot of veteran talent for unproven guys. Gone is running back Fred Taylor(notes), who combined with Jones-Drew to form a strong tandem. The top three receivers on last year's depth chart (Matt Jones(notes), Reggie Williams(notes) and Jerry Porter(notes)) have been flushed from the roster (not to mention the rest of the NFL for now).

The only proven players to join the team were veteran wide receiver Torry Holt(notes) and left offensive tackle Tra Thomas(notes).

Holt, 33, is coming off his worst season since his rookie year – scoring a career-low 3 touchdowns and producing just 796 yards for the Rams last season. While Holt can still play, the rest of the receiving corps is a bunch of question marks. That's not good considering quarterback David Garrard(notes) still isn't exactly the greatest pure passer.

That's where things come back to Jones-Drew. The 5-foot-7 rusher is going to be the offensive centerpiece this year. Over his first three seasons, playing primarily as a backup, Jones-Drew has averaged 844 yards rushing, almost 470 yards receiving and 12.6 total touchdowns. With Taylor gone, it's easy to project an increase in those numbers.

"You look at what he's done as a backup and you think about him as a starter and he could be special," backup running back Greg Jones(notes) said.

But the numbers only speak to part of what the Jaguars need from Jones-Drew. After last season, the team needs a calming influence in the locker room as the leader. As last season disintegrated quickly (the center and both guards were gone by the first game of the season and top backup lineman Richard Collier(notes) was shot before the season), a number of players jumped ship mentally.

Linebacker Mike Peterson(notes) and coach Jack Del Rio feuded. Matt Jones and Williams became problems (Jones was suspended for violation of the substance-abuse policy and Williams has been arrested twice this offseason in incidents involving drugs).

Porter stood out as a guy who is now roundly loathed throughout the Jacksonville organization because of his attitude. Even one good-natured Jaguars employee who rarely says anything remotely negative about anyone said he "hated" Porter.

Said one player: "Full-blown bad guy … when the ship was going down last season, he took one of the life boats all by himself."

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Jones-Drew and the Jaguars took a pounding last season.
(Matthew Emmons/US Presswire)

Now, the idea is that Jones-Drew will be the beacon for the team. For his part, Jones-Drew has been around plenty of situations to understand the dynamic.

"I've been on teams," he said, "from high school to now, where we'd be winning and it was the worst team to be on. But as long as we were winning, guys put all their differences aside. Everybody has a common goal that they want to win. When you start losing, guys start going into shells, not wanting to talk."

For his part, Jones-Drew spent the offseason again in South Florida to partake in a strict regimen he follows to stay healthy and prepare for the increased workload.

"A guy can take the pounding; the thing you have to do is cut out some of the other stuff, like going out and drinking alcohol," Jones-Drew said. "You have to eat right, drink a lot of water, do your daily routine every day, don't skip a day. If you're going to be a physical runner, you have to do that. The only way it takes a toll on you, takes days and years off your life, is when you're playing a physical game and you're not taking care of your body."

With offseason preparation over and the preseason now in session, the focus is on taking care of business on the field.

"We have to find a way to hang together when things get rough," he said. "Right now, I feel good about it and we'll see how it goes during the season. But that's our biggest goal. Just do what we're supposed to do and we'll be all right."

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