2005 preview: Jaguars

2005 preview: Jaguars
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
July 29, 2005

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
AFC South predictions
   1. Indianapolis
   2. Jacksonville
   3. Houston
   4. Tennessee
Jacksonville Jaguars
Head coach: Jack Del Rio, third season
2004 record: 9-7
2004 rankings: Offense, 21st (313.1 yards/game); Defense, 11th (320.9 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: Seventh
From SportingNews.com: AFC South overview

Jacksonville was on the cusp of the postseason last year, but it disappointed down the stretch, going 6-7 after a 3-0 start. A playoff-crippling 21-0 loss to Houston at home was especially damning.

Despite injuries, the Jaguars pieced together a playoff-caliber defense that was eventually undone by an offense with surprisingly little zip. Quarterback Byron Leftwich missed two games with a knee injury and was erratic at times, while rookie receiver Reggie Williams flopped in his debut.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was heavily criticized all season for Jacksonville's lack of scoring, and he eventually lost his job. This year, the responsibility shouldn't fall beyond coach Jack Del Rio, who is under pressure to produce a playoff berth.

OFFENSE

New coordinator Carl Smith has to find ways to put the ball in the end zone, after the modestly talented Jacksonville offense put up a pitiful 16.3 points per game last season. There may be some problems on the horizon if running back Fred Taylor's surgically repaired left knee doesn't respond well in training camp.

After failing to pull off a trade for Buffalo running back Travis Henry, the Jaguars might send out some feelers to running back-rich teams for another possible trade in training camp. Or they could hope a quality backup shakes loose before the regular season.

Rookie Khalif Barnes will be expected to push for Mike Pearson's starting tackle spot, but Barnes didn't look ready to make it a battle in minicamp. Leftwich will continue to get better, but if Smith is going to improve the unit, he'll need Taylor to come back healthy.

He's also going to need one of the team's young receivers to step up and become a productive alternative to ageless wonder Jimmy Smith. Whether that's 2004 first-rounder Williams or 2005 first-rounder Matt Jones remains to be seen.

DEFENSE

A good defensive unit from 2004 should get even better in 2005. Really, the lone question remaining for the Jaguars is whether a legitimate No. 2 cornerback can be found to play opposite Rashean Mathis. Rookie Scott Starks and veteran David Richardson looked good in offseason workouts and may end up battling for the spot. If either can be a solid second cornerback, the Jaguars have the talent to move into the league's top five in defense.

Defensive end was decimated by injuries last season and got plenty of attention in free agency. Now the position has some quality depth with Paul Spicer and Bobby McCray backing up Marcellus Wiley and Reggie Hayward. Wiley and Hayward are going to love starting next to Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.

That's going to be a difficult foursome to defend, and should produce a far better pass rush than last season, when injuries forced linebacker Greg Favors to be Jacksonville's most productive defensive end.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Coach Pete Rodriguez got great improvement from all the special teams units last season. Young kicker Josh Scobee had a remarkably good season, hitting 24 of 31 on field-goal attempts, including a 53-yard game-winner over Indianapolis. That's not too shabby after nearly getting cut in the preseason last year. He's expected to be even better this year.

Punter Chris Hanson is serviceable. A returner with explosive abilities is needed, and the Jaguars are hoping rookie Chad Owens fits the bill. Owens scored five touchdowns on special teams during his senior season at Hawaii.

PREDICTION

The Jaguars will finish 10-6 and second in the AFC South.

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Jul 29, 2005 12:59 pm, EDT

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