The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2011 season after a disappointing 2010 season that saw them have the AFC South division title in their grasp and finish the season on three straight losses. Coming into the 2011 season, it has a feel of a "Playoffs or Bust" vibe from the Jaguars front office, but from the looks of it it very well likely could wind up on the "or bust". I don't want to hit the panic button for Jaguars fans for the 2011 season, but it looks like a tough go of it to make the playoffs. For me personally and what I've seen in practice and the preseason, my guess would be this football team finishes with a 7-9 record. I'm not going to spend the time parsing through wins and losses on their schedule, because a lot can change, but the team has yet to show any significant progress in the areas of dire concern all preseason.
The team traded up in the first round to draft Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. With that move, one has to believe incumbent quarterback David Garrard's leash will be exceedingly short. So far in the preseason, Garrard has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has a rating of just 60.8. The team's offense has been without star runningback Maurice Jones-Drew all preseason, but I'm not convinced that's going to make a night and day difference for a team that's struggled passing the football even with him in the game. Couple that with the fact that the team's starting right tackleEben Britton is on the mend with a disc issue in his back and the team will be starting a rookie at left guard, it's hard to envision the offensive line jelling by the first week of the season. One would expect the leash on Garrard to be rather short, so he'll have to break away from his typical Jekyll/Hyde routine.
Defensively, the Jaguars spent quite a bit of cash in free agency to improve what was one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2010. The team upgraded it's linebacker corps in picking up Paul Posluszny from the Buffalo Bills andClint Session from the Indianapolis Colts. While both players upgrade the unit as a whole, and allow linebackerDaryl Smith to play without babysitting, neither is a significant upgrade to the pass defense. Both are good stoppers in the running game and Session has big play potential, but both with struggle in coverage with anything deep. The team also upgraded the train wreck that was the safety position by picking up former Baltimore Ravens starter Dawan Landry. Landry is slated to play the free safety position, but he's more in the mold of the traditional strong safety. While Landry is adequate in pass coverage, like Posluszny and Session, he's going to take his lumps in that area and will give up some plays.
The Jaguars pass rush was supposed to be fixed in 2010 with the pick up of defensive end Aaron Kampman, but Kampman tore his ACL in practice early in the season. He's back in 2011, but he's yet to really participate fully and hasn't played a snap in the preseason yet. The team's pass rush has been up and down, netting exactly zero sacks through three preseason games. While the team is able to generate some pressure on the defensive line, even with Aaron Kampman back we don't know how effective he will be. The team improved on their sack total last year from an abysmal 2009 season, but it was still second to last in the NFL. One player who could put a nice dent in the sack total on the defensive line however is second year defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. He's been a dominant force all through training camp and has wreaked havoc in the preseason, collapsing the pocket from the inside.
As I mentioned before, barring massive improvement in some critical areas that are largely manned by the same players, my outlook for the team is a 7-9 record and once again missing the playoffs. It's difficult for a team to make the playoffs in the situation the Jaguars are in, having a rookie quarterback behind a guy in David Garrard who typically is up and down week to week. Those situations generally don't lend themselves to productive seasons.
Fantasy Football Outlook
Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcedes Lewis are likely to be the stars on offense once again, and really the only Jaguars players of any fantasy merit. The team is banking a lot on the progression of wide receiver Mike Thomas and the emergence of Jason Hill, who was picked up on waivers late last season. Hill struggled early in camp dealing with the Florida humidity, but settled down and has been solid. Rookie fourth round pick receiver Cecil Shorts however, looks like he could be the best receiver on the Jaguars by the end of the season. He's solidified his spot as the team's third receiver in my opinion, and could wind up starting on the outside at some point in 2011. If you're looking for a fantasy football quarterback on the Jaguars, I'd advise to stay away. Far, far away. While David Garrard is a good play as a back up or in a pinch, he's too wildly inconsistent to rely on week to week, not to mention there's a chance he could get pulled for a rookie at any given moment.
Best Game On The Schedule
A game to circle on the Jaguars schedule this season would be October 16th, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. By then, the team will have played 5 football games and we should have a good gauge of where they're at. We should know by then how the quarterback situation will play out. The team will have played some teams they should have beaten and should have a tough time beating.
Best Player To Follow On Twitter
If you're looking for a defensive player on the Jaguars to keep track of on Twitter, your best bet is second year defensive end Austen Lane (@A_Train_92).
If you're looking for an offensive player on the Jaguars to keep track of on Twitter, I'd highly recommend guard Uche Nwaneri (@chukwu77). He's entertaining and will often give insight to past weeks games.