JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the first play in the exhibition game for the Jacksonville offense, when all the planning and teaching from months of offseason workouts and classroom study are supposed to show a glimpse of hope for what's to come in a month, the Jaguars got a reminder of one big limitation.
In this case, the Philadelphia Eagles ran a simple play, bringing one of the safeties down on the offense's right side, occupying the primary area where the Jags were planning to throw. To most coaches, there is an automatic thing the quarterback is supposed to do: Throw it to the left.
Don't get fancy. Don't overthink the situation. Just make the read and go left, where there's likely to be one-on-one coverage. Or at least one less defender.
Garrard threw right. The ball fell incomplete, which was lucky for Garrard. The pass should have been picked off.
"Yeah, I probably should have gone to the other side," Garrard said, somewhat sheepishly. His voice drifts off as he defends his decision. It is, to say the least, unconvincing.
This is part of the pressure that has come to bear on Garrard as he enters his fourth season as Jacksonville's starter. Over his first three years, Garrard has gone from helping the Jaguars get to the playoffs with an impressive 18 TD passes compared to 3 interceptions in 2007 to being the focus of ire up and down the shores of the St. John's River.
Garrard hasn't necessarily been bad. But at a time when quarterback play is statistically better than ever, he has been ordinary at best.
From owner Wayne Weaver saying that Garrard needed to work harder and be more vocal like Indianapolis Colts counterpart Peyton Manning(notes) to coach Jack Del Rio tepidly endorsing him as the reigning starter to the obvious discontent among the fan base, Garrard is under fire.
"I want to see him get back to the 2007 approach in 2010," said Jaguars general manager Gene Smith. "He's asserting himself more … [but] he's at a stage where he needs to take a step."
Either that or the Jaguars could be looking to draft one of the top guys from what is expected to be a quarterback-heavy draft next year. Led by the University of Washington's Jake Locker, there are roughly a half-dozen juniors and seniors who could be available in April. That includes Andrew Luck of Stanford, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Christian Ponder of Florida State.
And no matter what the Jaguars say, they could easily be in the market for one of the top guys, particularly a signal caller who can make more consistent decisions.
"David is a guy who can make plays with his arms and his legs, do things to really help us out, but we need to do it as a unit," Del Rio said.
Del Rio meant that sincerely, but it's still damning with feint praise. The knock against Garrard, even from those who think he's capable of being a successful starter, is that he needs the team around him to play at an extremely high level for him to succeed. In 2007, the Jags running tandem of then-starter Fred Taylor(notes) and Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) was one of the best one-two punches in the league and the Jaguars were phenomenally successful on fourth down.
Over the past two years, as Taylor declined before departing and the receiving corps went into meltdown (the trio of Matt Jones(notes), Reggie Williams(notes) and Jerry Porter(notes) are all currently either out of the league or hanging on by a thread), Garrard's performance has withered to mediocrity. In that time, he has thrown 30 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions as the team has failed to make the playoffs either year.
Garrard has a respectable career QB rating of 84.9 and can run enough to be effective out of the pocket. Then again, this is an era defined by quarterbacks and doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. From Tom Brady(notes) to Drew Brees(notes) to Peyton Manning to Ben Roethlisberger(notes), the NFL is loaded with talented passers.
"The quarterbacks are as great as any time," said Del Rio, who knows firsthand. He played during the heyday of Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, Brett Favre(notes) and Troy Aikman. "You look around and everybody is trying to get a great one."
Right now, Garrard is a long way from that company.
Furthermore, Jags fans are desperate for a game-changing quarterback after being teased by Mark Brunell(notes), Byron Leftwich(notes) and now Garrard, three guys who showed enough to be interesting but not enough to actually be long-term solutions.
Garrard has been sacked 84 times since 2008.
(Scott A. Miller/US Presswire)
This offseason, fans hit the airwaves with pleas for the team to draft local product and nearby University of Florida star Tim Tebow(notes). After the Jaguars passed on Tebow and all the work that goes with making him an NFL quarterback, the fans have since moved their hope to Luke McCown(notes), a guy who looks the part but has yet to play it since entering the league in 2004.
McCown was impressive in Friday's exhibition, going 11-for-15 for three touchdowns against Philadelphia, including a 73-yard TD pass to Troy Williamson(notes). That said, most NFL talent evaluators see McCown as purely a backup.
Garrard knows criticism is intensifying. Pete Prisco, a Jacksonville sports talk radio host and CBS Sportsline NFL reporter, summarized his and a segment of the fan base's feelings about Garrard.
"He stinks," Prisco said on air recently.
Said Garrard, "I have friends who call me and tell me what's being said. They say, 'You should go on with Prisco and say this and this.' I'm like, 'What good is that going to do? He doesn't like me anyways, so what does it matter?' "
Instead, Garrard tries to remain focused
"It's about doing whatever I can within the scheme of our offense," Garrard said. "You can't fall into that trap where you say, 'This is a big year for me, therefore I have to make the big throws or throw the long touchdown.' You have to stay within what works for our team."
Starting with better decisions would help.