’08 Preview: Jags position self for big step

Jack Del Rio keeps denying it, but based on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offseason and draft-day actions, Operation Super Bowl XLIII is in full effect.

Jacksonville was aggressive in addressing the offense through free agency, and the Jags then pulled off a couple of draft-day trades to land a pair of coveted edge rushers. The perception now is that the Jags are ready to compete for a title.

“I don’t subscribe to that,” Del Rio says. “You can look and there are a host of teams that were supposedly stacked to win it all and didn’t ever come close (last season). I believe you build your team strong, you do all you can to be as competitive as you can, coach them up and go let it rip on Sundays.”

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

With its quarterback situation finally settled, Jacksonville owns the key ingredient to attaining consistent success. The addition of free-agent wideout Jerry Porter and the trade for receiver Troy Williamson give the club the element of speed it has been missing to complement a bruising ground attack.

Combine that with the moves made on defense (Jacksonville acquired cornerback Drayton Florence and drafted defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves), and it appears the Jags have positioned themselves to give Indianapolis a legitimate battle for the AFC South title, in addition to making a deep run in the playoffs.

Offense

Going into Year 2 with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, expect the Jaguars to tweak their play-action-based passing attack to accommodate new personnel. The Jags employed more vertical routes in the passing game last year, but expect even more following a drastic upgrade in the speed of the receiver corps.

Because of quarterback David Garrard’s mobility and the strength of the rushing attack, the Jags are able to employ lots of rollouts and bootleg action. Hoping to exploit one-on-one matchups, they will continue to do that, so look for Koetter to also try and incorporate a greater role for tight ends in the passing attack.

Defense

Expect to see some subtle differences in this year’s defense under new coordinator Gregg Williams. Known for exotic schemes that hinge on applying pressure up front, Williams will work with Del Rio to install somewhat of a new system.

Del Rio expects to keep most of the terminology and core elements from his original defense, which has been one of the best in the NFL over the past five years. Del Rio’s philosophies meshed with Williams’ knowledge should provide a fresh system that will give opponents fits in making their adjustments.

The book on: Maurice Jones-Drew

A rival sizes up the Jaguars’ third-year running back:

“The problem with stopping (Jones-Drew) is you can’t see him coming through the hole until the very last second. When you finally do see him, he puts you in a hard spot. You’ve got two choices, and either one can make you look like a fool. One, you can break down, get your body under control and try to take him down that way. But if you do that, he’s such a load that he can get under your pads, run you over and make you look real bad.

“Believe me, you don’t want a guy like that running you over. The second thing you do is just try to fly in there and take the kill shot. But if you do that, he’s got the speed and agility to make you miss. That’s embarrassing, too. He’s tough, man. The best thing you can do is read your keys and try to get to where he’s going before he can get a head of steam going and before he gets his shoulders turned to the line.”

Bottom line

Perhaps this is the year the Jaguars supplant Indianapolis as the AFC South champions. The pieces certainly are in place.

After a critical self-analysis in the offseason, Jacksonville targeted its pass rush, receivers and secondary as areas that needed improvement. The club then aggressively moved to make the necessary changes. Fielding its strongest roster in recent years, Jacksonville believes stability at quarterback is its most critical advantage moving forward.

It certainly appears that way, judging from the team’s success last season once it made Garrard the full-time starter. By providing Garrard weapons at receiver, along with the new defensive acquisitions, the Jaguars are in position to make a serious run at the Super Bowl.

Their best scenario to do so is win the division and play host to a couple of playoff games. Jacksonville has the personnel and coaching staff to accomplish those goals.

SN prediction: 12-4, second in AFC South.

Michael C. Wright covers the Jaguars for the Florida Times-Union and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008