2 Jacksonville JAGUARS

A new coordinator takes the chains off the offense, installing a quick-strike attack that emphasizes long passes and putting a lot of points on the board
September 04, 2005

IT IS midmorning at training camp, and the offense is working on post routes. Flashing from the right side, second-year receiver Reggie Williams splits two defenders and snares a looping 40-yard pass from quarterback Byron Leftwich. After high-stepping into the end zone, Williams discards the ball and launches himself at the goal post, clutching the padding like a giant, helmeted koala bear. If Williams is unduly excited about reaching the end zone--later he dances after scoring a second touchdown--it is understandable considering the novelty of the act, for him and his team.

In 2004 the offense-starved Jaguars averaged a franchise-record-low 16.3 points per game and ranked 31st in the NFL in red-zone efficiency. The last time Jacksonville scored as many as 30 points in a game was Dec. 23, 2001, or 50 games ago. Likewise Williams, the ninth pick in the '04 draft, was a disappointment, catching 27 passes with only one touchdown. "I hope he dances about 15 times this year," says Leftwich. "Reggie's confident now because he knows what he's doing and he loves the [new] system."

Williams is not the only one. First-year offensive coordinator Carl Smith, most recently quarterbacks coach at USC, is revamping the offense--he estimates that 85% of the playbook is new--by emphasizing a vertical game. So instead of throwing to receivers on short routes, the big, rangy Leftwich will be making deep play-action passes and going for the home run. "Very seldom are you going to see us on those 13-, 14-play drives we had last year," says Leftwich. "Either we're going to punt, or we're going to score a touchdown."

Whether they do more of the former or the latter will depend in part on the durability of running back Fred Taylor, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery and has to keep defenses honest. Then the success of the season will be determined by Leftwich and his receivers. Inconsistent in '04, his second year in the league, Leftwich reported to camp looking noticeably more fit, having paid closer attention to his diet in the off-season. "I'm trying to get rid of the fat-boy thing," he explains. "I learned this is a 365-day-a-year job." Leftwich even worked out on all of his vacations. "I hit the spa in L.A., in Puerto Rico, in the Dominican Republic, in Cabo," he says. "The only place I didn't jump in the spa was Rio de Janeiro."

The well-tanned Leftwich should have an easier time finding an open target. While 13-year vet Jimmy Smith was as steady as ever last season, grabbing 74 balls for 1,172 yards, defenses could key on him because of the absence of a second deep threat. Williams was drafted to fill that role, but he never got his bearings; he had to study a cheat sheet before games to help him remember plays and averaged fewer than two catches in his 15 starts. Ten pounds lighter and better prepared, Williams has impressed the Jaguars with his breakaway speed and big-play ability. "He's more sudden off the line and more sudden off his breaks," says an approving coach Jack Del Rio.

In case Williams reverts to 2004 form, however, Jacksonville has another option in '05 first-round pick Matt Jones, a towering, blond-tressed freak of nature who, though he measures 6'6" and 242 pounds, is the fastest wide receiver on the team (4.39 in the 40) and certainly the biggest target. Jones played quarterback at Arkansas, but the team is clearly ready to experiment by playing him at a number of other spots: On his second day in camp Jones was returning punts.

All of this has Jimmy Smith, the only remaining member of the Jaguars' 1995 expansion team, feeling optimistic. "We were shackled last year," he says. "That offense--the little five-, 10-yard routes--didn't fit what we could do. I'm a vertical guy. Reggie Williams is a vertical guy. Matt Jones is a little vertical and could be an intermediate guy. It will be hard for teams to keep up with us as far as scoring points."

That may be an overly optimistic forecast, but the Jags don't need to turn into the Colts to win more games, merely Colts Lite. The reason: Jacksonville has something Indianapolis doesn't--a powerful defense, led by Pro Bowl tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, that ranked seventh in the NFL in fewest points allowed (17.5). "Our attitude on offense is to help our defense out," says Jimmy Smith. "I feel like this year we can do that. We're loaded across the board." --C.B.

PLAYMAKER

At 5'7" Chad Owens is one of the shortest players in the league, but he could also turn out to be one of the hardest to cover. A rookie out of Hawaii, Owens is the school's alltime leader in receptions (239) and kickoff-return average (29.4 yards), and he set NCAA single-game records for kickoff-return yards (249) and combined return yards (342). After impressing Jaguars coaches with his speed and explosiveness, Owens is likely to see action as a receiver and a kick returner.

ENEMY LINES: AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW

Byron Leftwich isn't ready to be a consistent NFL quarterback. He's a big, strong kid with a rocket arm, but he needs a healthy Fred Taylor. If they can run the football, Leftwich can be effective.... When Taylor's at his best, he's one of the top five backs in the league. But he exposes his body to a lot of contact, leaving himself vulnerable to injuries.... Offensive line should be the strength of this unit. Brad Meester and Chris Naeole are tenacious run blockers, and Maurice Williams is the best athlete in the bunch.... John Henderson and Marcus Stroud are monsters. They are strong at the point of attack and very good pass rushers for being so big.... The team hopes Reggie Hayward can be a double-digit sack guy like he was in Denver. He'll certainly see enough single blocking, because teams have to double those tackles.... Donovin Darius is as good a safety as you'll find. He's always been a vicious hitter, but last season he really improved as a playmaker, with a career high in interceptions.... The major issue is at cornerback. Rashean Mathis has a ton of ability but is inconsistent, and they don't have anybody of note after him.

"Marcus Stroud is a monster--strong at the point of attack and a very good pass rusher."

 

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

 

OFFENSE

FRED TAYLOR

POS. RB

PVR 56

ATT. 260

YARDS 1,224

AVG. 4.7

REC. 36

YARDS 345

AVG. 9.6

TDs 3

 

BYRON LEFTWICH

POS. QB

PVR 40

ATT. 441

COMP. 267

% 60.5

YARDS 2,941

TDs 15

INT. 10

RATING 82.2

 

 

GREG JONES

POS. FB

PVR 243

ATT. 62

YARDS 162

AVG. 2.6

REC. 3

YARDS 13

AVG. 4.3

TDs 3

 

JOSH SCOBEE

POS. K

PVR 260

XPs MADE 21

XPs ATT. 21

FG MADE 24

FG ATT. 31

PTS. 93

 

JIMMY SMITH

POS. WR

PVR 43

REC. 74

YARDS 1,172

TDs 6

 

 

KYLE BRADY

POS. TE

PVR 264

REC. 14

YARDS 103

TDs 1

 

 

MIKE PEARSON

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'7"

WEIGHT 297

GMS. 4  

STARTS 4

 

 

VINCE MANUWAI

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'2"

WEIGHT 312

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

 

BRAD MEESTER

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 300

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

CHRIS NAEOLE

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 320

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

MAURICE WILLIAMS

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 310

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

 

REGGIE WILLIAMS

POS. WR

PVR 64

REC. 27

YARDS 268

TDs 1

 

DEFENSE

 

AKIN AYODELE

POS. OLB

TACKLES 93

SACKS 2

INT. 0

 

REGGIE HAYWARD (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. RE

TACKLES 43

SACKS 10 1/2

 

JOHN HENDERSON

POS. RT

TACKLES 75

SACKS 5 1/2

 

MIKE PETERSON

POS. MLB

TACKLES 126

SACKS 5

INT. 0

 

MARCUS STROUD

POS. LT

TACKLES 54

SACKS 4 1/2

 

PAUL SPICER

POS. LE

TACKLES 5

SACKS 0

 

DARYL SMITH

POS. OLB

TACKLES 48

SACKS 2

INT. 1

 

KENNY WRIGHT (NEW ACQUISITION)

POS. CB

TACKLES 7

INT. 0

 

DONOVIN DARIUS

POS. SS

TACKLES 89

SACKS 0

INT. 5

 

DEON GRANT

POS. FS

TACKLES 65

SACKS 1

INT. 2

 

RASHEAN MATHIS

POS. CB

TACKLES 62

INT. 5

 

CHRIS HANSON

POS. P

PUNTS 84

AVG. 42.8

 

2004 RECORD: 9-7

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):

OFFENSE 16/19/21

DEFENSE 11/16/11

COACH: Jack Del Rio; third season with Jacksonville (14-18 in NFL)

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

 

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 SEATTLE

18 at Indianapolis

25 at N.Y. Jets

 

OCTOBER

2 DENVER

9 CINCINNATI

16 at Pittsburgh

23 Open date

30 at St. Louis

 

NOVEMBER

6 HOUSTON

13 BALTIMORE

20 at Tennessee

27 at Arizona

 

DECEMBER

4 at Cleveland

11 INDIANAPOLIS

18 SAN FRANCISCO

24 at Houston (S)

 

JANUARY

1 TENNESSEE

(S) SATURDAY

 

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T13 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .504 Games against playoff teams: 7

PHOTORICK WILSON/THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION/APDEEP SIX After scoring only once as a rookie, Williams has to beat a path to the end zone.
PHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICSSTROUD PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)