More Jaguars: Offense no longer offensive
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One thing that Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is particularly pleased with is the number of players who showed up to training camp saying they were "in the best shape of their lives," as Del Rio put it.
"I think guys got a taste of it last season by going to the playoffs, but the way we lost to New England (in an ugly 28-3 affair) kind of shocked them," Del Rio said. "I think a lot of guys went into the offseason knowing they'd have to put in all the effort if they're going to make the most of this opportunity."
Aside from quarterback Byron Leftwich, offensive lineman Mike Williams has also lost a serious amount of weight. Williams, the former No. 4 overall pick by Buffalo in 2002, said he dropped 37 pounds since June. At the time, he was more than 400 pounds and headed for the waiver wire. Williams at least has a chance now, but it's still slim. That's what happens when you really don't like football all that much.
Wide receiver Matt Jones is a surprisingly graceful runner despite being 6-foot-6. Jones said he spent much of the offseason watching tall receivers such as Chad Johnson of Cincinnati to learn techniques about getting in and out of cuts.
What he has improved most is his speed in the first five steps of a pattern. "I can just feel that I'm not thinking anymore. I'm just moving and playing instinctively," said Jones, a first-round draft pick last year who played quarterback at Arkansas.
Don't be surprised if you see the Jags put in a package of plays specifically for rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The 5-foot-7, 208-pound Jones-Drew has sensational quickness and speed and could come up with some game-breaking plays if used correctly.
Speaking of running back, don't be surprised if fourth-year veteran LaBrandon Toefield doesn't make this team. Between Fred Taylor, Alvin Pearman, Greg Jones and Jones-Drew, the Jags look pretty loaded at running back.
Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams, the No. 9 overall pick in 2004, was off to a good start in '05 before suffering two concussions that slowed him until the end of the season. Williams said he had problems with his balance and that simply running took a lot of effort at one point.
"It was weird, really weird," Williams said. "It's like you've been eating breakfast your whole life and then one day you can't even get a Cheerio on a spoon."
It's still early, but one very good sign about Williams this year is that he's running out all of his routes this season, even when he is clearly not the primary receiver in the play. "You never know when the ball is coming to you," Williams said.
Del Rio has put Williams in with Jones and Ernest Wilford to compete for a starting job. "Right now, we want Reggie out there knowing that all the hard work he has put in has earned him a chance to be out there," Del Rio said. "Reggie has put the work in. We just want to make sure he doesn't get frustrated."
Speaking of Williams, he does have an odd way of signing autographs. Not the actual signing, but just the method. As Jaguars players leave practice, they go through a gauntlet of fans on either side. Most players simply stand in one place for five or 10 minutes and sign for fans. By contrast, Williams darts from side to side with no apparent rhyme or reason, signs three or four and then moves to the next spot.
Wilford might be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and his enthusiasm for football is pretty obvious when you watch him practice. "I love everything about this game. I really do," he said. "I love this game. I even love the smell of Flex-All."