by VA Assassin
Ater finishing the 2002 season with a disappointing 6-10 record, the Jacksonville Jaguars seem to be caught in a dilemma that every team faces eventually. That dilemma is whether or not to rebuild, as the team has several veterans on the team that are hungry for a Super Bowl. Mark Brunell had a very good year last year completing 59% of his passes and having more than two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio; but at 32 it’s unlikely he has too many years left at a high level. Jimmy Smith led the receivers with 80 catches for 1027 yards and 7 touchdown, however, at 33 years old he probably has one more year left at a high level.
The troubling thing on offense is that the second leading receiver was franchise running back Fred Taylor with 49 catches. Easily the most important player on the team, Fred Taylor has the ability to become one of the best running backs in the league. There doesn’t seem to be a dependable backup for Fred, as Chris Fuamatu-Ma’Afala looks to be more of a fullback than a natural running back.
Outside of Jimmy Smith there aren’t a lot of targets for Brunell to throw to. Kevin Johnson seems to have some talent as he is just one year removed from a 84 catch, 1097 yard, 9 TD season. Whether or not he is able to return to that output remains to be seen, since he’s likely to be the second or third option in the passing game. Troy Edwards is coming off a year where he caught just 18 passes in 14 games, and has only had one season where he caught more than 20 passes (his rookie season in Pittsburgh with 61 catches). Jermaine Lewis is one the best return men in the league, but will be looked at to feature in the passing game in Jacksonville this season (he had two 40+ catch seasons in Baltimore). TE Kyle Brady has had several quality season since joining the team in the offseason of 1999, and will certainly factor into the passing game.
Offensive line is one of the clear strengths of the team, and there are several quality players. Chris Naeole and Brad Meester, both Pro Bowl caliber linemen, are the clear leaders of the unit. Maurice Williams and Jamar Nesbit should prove to be very good starters for years to come, while Vince Manuwai looks poised to push for playing time as a rookie. As talented as this group is, there doesn’t seem to be too much depth behind the first five or six players.
Hugh Douglas, signed in the offseason, will give the defense some much needed pass rushing ability on the other end of Tony Brackens. Marcus Stroud and John Henderson form one of the best pashrusing defensive tackle tandems in the NFL today. Rob Meier is more of the run stopper in the middle. Guys like Paul Spicer, Matt Leonard, and Lionel Barnes give the team some decent depth in order to keep the starters fresh.
Keith Mitchell comes over from the expansion Houston Texans and brings another good leader to the defense. Mike Peterson was lured from Indianapolis during the offseason, adding an absolute tackling machine to the defense (326 tackles in four seasons). Until last season Danny Clark was more of a special teamer. After getting his chance to start, he came through with 70 tackles and two sacks on the season. Second year player Akin Ayodele really impressed last season with 59 tackles and three sacks (with just three starts). After those four there isn’t anything to get excited about, but all teams need special teamers.
As strong as the defense is, the secondary looks to have more holes than a slice of swiss cheese. Rookie Rashean Mathis certainly has the measuarables at 6’1″ 200, but ther are concerns about a lack of competition in the C-USA. In his fourth year, Jason Craft has only started a full season once (last season) and has five career interceptions. Ever since starting all 16 games as a rookie, Fernando Bryant has only been able duplicate that feat once. Fernando isn’t known for his coverage, as he seems more comfortable hitting people. The strength of the secondary comes in their safeties. Donovin Darius has been nothing shor of amazing, racking up 313 tackles and eight interceptions in first five seasons in the league. Marlon McCree is coming off a 2002 season where he registered 56 tackles and an impressive six interceptions.
Punter Chris Hanson has a career average of 42.4 yards per punt in his three years so far. Rookie Seth Marler connected on 72.9% of his field goals during his collegiate career at Tulane. The Jaguars are hoping that he can have that kind of success in the NFL. Jermaine Lewis is one of the premier return men in the league, however, his effectiveness could be decreased with his expanded role in the offense.