3 Jacksonville Jaguars

In the eternal pursuit of the Colts, the defense will do its part and the run game should be solid--and it still won't be enough
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> To startwith, good health. Quarterback Byron Leftwich's left ankle, middle linebackerMike Peterson's left pectoral muscle and Pro Bowl defensive tackle MarcusStroud's right ankle all have been surgically repaired, restoring three of theJaguars' cornerstones. "The fact is, a team's health is such a big factorin the NFL," says coach Jack Del Rio. "We are very energized rightnow."

Leftwich missedfive games in 2005 and 10 last year before undergoing surgery to remove bonespurs. "It's been a long time since I wasn't playing in pain," he says.Peterson, the ninth-year vet in the middle of Del Rio's Cover Two,played only five games in '06; the 6' 6", 306-pound Stroud, who combineswith 6' 7", 325-pound John Henderson to form the NFL's best run-stuffinginterior line, played 11 games, all in pain, before microfracture surgery.

Also,Jacksonville added slot receiver Dennis Northcutt and right tackle Tony Pashosthrough free agency, and Del Rio--under pressure to get to a Super Bowl inhis fifth season--brought in six new coaches, most important offensivecoordinator Dirk Koetter from Arizona State and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula,late of Alabama, with the promise of a more open offense.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> The Jaguarsare one of a dozen teams whose realistic goal is to win the NFL title. Now.They were 12-4 two years ago and lost in the wild-card round to New England,then fought through injuries last year to finish 8-8, including a split withthe eventual-champion Colts. "What we want around here is to win achampionship," says 10th-year running back Fred Taylor.

The defense isamong the best in the NFL, moving up in the rankings from sixth in 2005 tosecond, behind Baltimore, last year. Henderson and a healthy Stroud are almostunblockable in the middle gaps; Peterson anchors a linebacking crew that goessix deep; corners Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams are solid; and while bothsafeties are in their first year as full-time starters--Gerald Sensabaugh, an'05 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina, and rookie first-rounder ReggieNelson from Florida--they're promising. This defense will not yield bignumbers.

"The goal isto intimidate," says Peterson. "We want to be one of the great defensesin the league, like the '85 Bears or Baltimore in 2000, where teams arethinking about playing us two weeks ahead of time. They come on the field, andrunning the ball is out of the question; they just throw up Hail Marys. We wantto help the offense by giving them the ball on the 30-yard line."

That's thecentral question in Jacksonville: How much help will the offense need? Therunning game should be very good again. A year ago 5' 7", 212-poundsecond-round pick Maurice Jones-Drew, out of UCLA, became one of the NFL'sbiggest surprises when he produced nearly 1,400 combined rushing and receivingyards and 16 touchdowns. The underappreciated Taylor rushed for 1,146 yards ona career-high 5.0 yards per carry. "People are saying there won't beenough balls for both of us," says Taylor. "Don't worry about that.Maurice is going to make my career longer, and he's going to be one of thegreat players in this league, in the category of a Barry Sanders."

Yet the offensewill need increased production from Leftwich, the No. 7 pick out ofMarshall in 2003. In four years he has a 24-20 record as a starter--hardly abust but not nearly up to expectations for such a high draft choice. (TheJaguars could have selected Brady Quinn in April but passed.) This yearLeftwich has dropped 12 pounds, down to 242 on a healthy ankle. "The onlything that held me back was my ankle," he says. "Now I've got theopportunity to go out and show people that I can play this game."

Shula has workedwith Leftwich on his footwork in the pocket and tried to quicken his release.Koetter, who was fired after six years as coach at Arizona State, will give himmore shots at throwing downfield. A good offensive line, however, was dealt ablow when veteran center Brad Meester broke his right ankle early in trainingcamp; he will miss at least the first month of the season.

Even if Leftwichis substantially improved, it remains uncertain if Jacksonville has thereceiving personnel to worry defenses. Former first-round draft picks ReggieWilliams (ninth in 2004 out of Washington) and Matt Jones (a quarterback atArkansas before being taken 21st in '05) are expected to be sitting behindNorthcutt and Ernest Wilford at the start of the season. "All our receiversknow what we need and what we expect," says Del Rio. "It's theirresponsibility to get on the field and make plays."

If they do, andif Leftwich is effective, the Jaguars are a threat to unseat the potentiallyvulnerable Colts in the AFC South. If the passing game sputters, they willfall short.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH JACK DELRIO (34-30 in NFL), fifth season with Jaguars

OFFENSE

DENNIS NORTHCUTT"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS WR

REC 22

YARDS 228

TD 0

FRED TAYLOR

POS RB

ATT 231

YARDS 1,146

AVG 5.0

REC 23

YARDS 242

AVG 10.5

TD 6

BYRONLEFTWICH

POS QB

ATT 183

COMP 108

PCT 59.0

YARDS 1,159

TD 7

INT 5

RATING 79.0

GREG JONES*

POS FB

ATT 151

YARDS 575

AVG 3.8

REC 10

YARDS 65

AVG 6.5

TD 4

ERNESTWILFORD

POS WR

REC 36

YARDS 524

TD 2

TONY PASHOS

POS RT

HT 6' 6"

WT 320

G 16

CHRIS NAEOLE

POS RG

HT 6' 3"

WT 330

G 16

DENNIS NORMAN

POS C

HT 6' 5"

WT 323

G 16

VINCE MANUWAI

POS LG

HT 6' 2"

WT 325

G 16

KHALIF BARNES

POS LT

HT 6' 5"

WT 325

G 15

MARCEDESLEWIS

POS TE

REC 13

YARDS 126

TD 1

DEFENSE

CLINT INGRAM

POS WLB

TACKLES 71

SACKS 1 1‚ÅÑ2

INT 1

PAUL SPICER

POS LE

TACKLES 47

SACKS 3

MARCUS STROUD

POS LT

TACKLES 21

SACKS 2 1‚ÅÑ2

JOHNHENDERSON

POS RT

TACKLES 51

SACKS 3 1‚ÅÑ2

REGGIEHAYWARD*

POS RE

TACKLES 33

SACKS 8 1‚ÅÑ2

DARYL SMITH

POS SLB

TACKLES 88

SACKS 3

INT 1

RASHEANMATHIS

POS CB

TACKLES 63

INT 8

REGGIE NELSON (R)"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS FS

TACKLES 51

SACKS 0

INT 6

MIKE PETERSON

POS MLB

TACKLES 32

SACKS 0

INT 1

GERALDSENSABAUGH

POS SS

TACKLES 44

SACKS 0

INT 2

BRIANWILLIAMS

POS CB

TACKLES 55

INT 1

JOSH SCOBEE

POS K

FG 26-32

POINTS 119

ADAM PODLESH (R)"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS P

PUNTS 56

AVG 42.9

NEWACQUISITION

(R) Rookie(college statistics)

*2005 Stats

> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 3/24/10 DEFENSE 4/10/2

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

9 TENNESSEE

16 ATLANTA

23 at Denver

30 Bye

OCTOBER

7 at Kansas City

14 HOUSTON

22 INDIANAPOLIS (M)

28 at Tampa Bay

NOVEMBER

4 at New Orleans

11 at Tennessee

18 SAN DIEGO

25 BUFFALO

DECEMBER

2 at Indianapolis

9 CAROLINA

16 at Pittsburgh

23 OAKLAND

30 at Houston

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank T11

Opponents' 2006winning percentage .508

Games againstplayoff teams 5

(M) MONDAY

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PHOTORICHARD C. LEWIS/WIREIMAGE.COMStuffed A healthy Stroud means bad newsfor opponents testing the Jaguars' middle PHOTODEHOOG/TDP ILLUSTRATION PHOTOPhotograph by Simon Bruty TheJaguars' ground game, third best in the league last year, is loaded withplayers who made the King 500.
(264) G Vince Manuwai
(380) C Brad Meester
(204) QB Byron Leftwich
(181) G Chris Naeole
(257) RB Fred Taylor

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)