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4 Jacksonville JAGUARS

Sept. 06, 2010
Sept. 06, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 6, 2010

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

4 Jacksonville JAGUARS

A local product will try to revive Florida's fan-starved franchise

FOR SOME teams 2010 is make-or-break. But for the Jaguars it may well be the end of days—or at least the end of their run in Jacksonville. Though a college football hotbed, the city has been slow to embrace its pro franchise. Over the past few years support has been further stifled by an economic downturn that has hit northeast Florida especially hard. Last year the team lost 17,000 season-ticket holders and suffered weekly television blackouts as a consequence.

This is an article from the Sept. 6, 2010 issue

The Jaguars hoped that slashing ticket prices this year would revive their sleepy fan base, but a dispiriting end to the '09 season, which saw the Jags lose their last four games after a 7--5 start, has curbed enthusiasm. (The team needs to sell 3,000 more season tickets to insure there will be no blackouts this year.) What's more, they moved the needle in the wrong direction—and possibly inched the franchise closer to a shift to Los Angeles—by passing on Jacksonville native Tim Tebow in the draft.

The team needs a savior, went the rare impassioned cry. But the good news is, the Jags may already have one in Mike Sims-Walker. Like Tebow, the fourth-year wideout is a local product. He grew up in Orlando and starred at Central Florida, where as a senior in 2006 he gained 1,178 yards on a school-record 90 catches. Jacksonville selected him in the third round the following spring, but Sims-Walker struggled to reach the field. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a strained left knee and sat out four more games in '08 with a sprained ligament in his right knee, in which he contracted a staph infection that required hospitalization. "I was like, Damn, every time I get healthy, every time I'm feeling good about myself, I get hurt," Sims-Walker says.

But those body shots were nothing compared to the knockout blow that came when he lost two of the most cherished people in his life in late 2008. Just as Sims-Walker's health was rebounding, his best friend, Winfred Ezell—who bunked with Sims-Walker in Jacksonville, took care of his house and helped nurse him back to strength—was fatally stabbed in an Orlando nightclub. While home for the funeral Sims-Walker doted on his father, Michael Sims, who was battling colon cancer; he died the same day Ezell was buried.

Sims-Walker fell into a deep depression, especially over the loss of his father. "He was my best friend, my heart, my everything," says Sims-Walker, who considered quitting football. "There were some mornings when I decided I wasn't even going to go to practice. I wasn't going to go to the stadium. It was like, I'm about to go get a job. This s--- just ain't workin' for me."

What saved his career was his mother, Barbara Walker, who encouraged him to honor his father by persevering through the injuries and the heartache. Heeding her advice, Sims-Walker attacked his rehab, and once healthy he worked to improve his chemistry with quarterback David Garrard. Soon he was feeling like a man reborn.

In '09 the Jaguars found themselves calling that name a lot. In 15 games he caught 63 passes for 869 yards and seven touchdowns while emerging as a complementary big-play threat to the Jags' other hyphenated star, running back Maurice Jones-Drew. "Last year [Sims-Walker] was able to bring his confidence up and get things going," says Jones-Drew, who achieved personal bests in combined touches (365), yards (1,765) and touchdowns (16) in his first year as Jacksonville's feature back. "Now he's bringing everybody else along with him."

Sims-Walker set the tone in training camp, where he mixed a sense of humor (serenading his fellow receivers in drills) with a sense of purpose. Coach Jack Del Rio said in camp that the Jags' passing game, which in '09 ranked 19th in the NFL, was "substantially ahead" of where it was last year, which goes a long way toward explaining the high expectations that Sims-Walker and his teammates have. "We've got a lot of young, hungry guys—a lot of guys who are trying to prove themselves—and we're working extra hard to do it," Sims-Walker says. "I know for me, my new challenge is to be a leader, to be consistent, to be that guy they can count on to make whatever play they need me to make."

A man on a mission? That's just what a team desperate for a boost needs.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH JACK DEL RIO

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 18

QB DAVID GARRARD

G 16

ATT 516

COMP 314

PCT 60.9

YARDS 3,597

TD 15

INT 10

RATING 83.5

RB MAURICE JONES-DREW

G 16

ATT 312

YARDS 1,391

AVG 4.5

REC 53

YARDS 374

AVG 7.1

TTD 16

FB GREG JONES

G 13

ATT 4

YARDS 23

AVG 5.8

REC 5

YARDS 14

AVG 2.8

TTD 0

WR MIKE SIMS-WALKER

G 15

REC 63

YARDS 869

TTD 7

WR MIKE THOMAS

G 14

REC 48

YARDS 453

TTD 1

TE MARCEDES LEWIS

G 15

REC 32

YARDS 518

TTD 2

LT EUGENE MONROE

G 15

HT 6'5"

WT 320

LG KYNAN FORNEY

G 3

HT 6'3"

WT 302

C BRAD MEESTER

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 311

RG UCHE NWANERI

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 330

RT EBEN BRITTON

G 15

HT 6'6"

WT 310

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 23

DE DERRICK HARVEY

G 16

TACKLES 57

SACKS 2

INT 0

DT TERRANCE KNIGHTON

G 16

TACKLES 45

SACKS 1½

INT 0

DT TYSON ALUALU (R)

G 13

TACKLES 65

SACKS 7½

INT 0

DE AARON KAMPMAN

G 9

TACKLES 42

SACKS 3½

INT 0

LB DARYL SMITH

G 16

TACKLES 107

SACKS 1½

INT 1

LB KIRK MORRISON

G 16

TACKLES 133

SACKS 2

INT 0

LB JUSTIN DURANT

G 13

TACKLES 98

SACKS 1

INT 1

CB DEREK COX

G 16

TACKLES 72

SACKS 0

INT 4

FS REGGIE NELSON

G 16

TACKLES 69

SACKS 0

INT 0

SS GERALD ALEXANDER

G 15

TACKLES 55

SACKS 0

INT 2

CB RASHEAN MATHIS

G 10

TACKLES 33

SACKS 0

INT 3

SPECIAL TEAMS

P ADAM PODLESH

PUNTS 72

AVG 41.9

NET 38.3

K JOSH SCOBEE

FG 18--28

XP 30--31

POINTS 84

PR SCOTTY MCGEE (R)

RET 18

AVG 5.4

TD 0

KR DEJI KARIM (R)

RET 14

AVG 30.9

TD 1

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 7--9

September

12 Denver

19 at San Diego

26 Philadelphia

October

3 Indianapolis

10 at Buffalo

18 Tennessee (M)

24 at Kansas City

31 at Dallas

November

7 BYE

14 Houston

21 Cleveland

28 at N.Y. Giants

December

5 at Tennessee

12 Oakland

19 at Indianapolis

26 Washington

January

2 at Houston

(M) Monday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 5

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .535

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 5

ANALYSIS

A team looking to reverse its slide isn't going to get much help from a brutal road schedule. The Jaguars struggled on the West Coast last season, losing big in Seattle and San Francisco; this year they visit San Diego in Week 2. Jacksonville also travels to face the Cowboys and the Giants, and the Jags are away for their final three games in the division. Ouch.

SPOTLIGHT

Tyson Alualu, Defensive tackle

JAGUARS COACH Jack Del Rio has built his reputation in Jacksonville on strong defenses. He has fielded units that have ranked sixth or higher in three of his seven years and directed the NFL's second-best defense in 2006. But last year his rep was seriously damaged by a unit that finished 23rd overall.

The '09 group was especially bad against the run, allowing 116.4 yards per game—including a woeful 154.5 over the last four games. To help stanch the bleeding, the Jaguars went hard after tackles in the draft. They selected Cal's Alualu 10th overall, then snagged Louisiana Tech's D'Anthony Smith with their next pick, in the third round. (The consecutive selections marked the third straight year in which the Jags used their first two draft picks on the same position: In '09 they took offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, and in '08 they drafted defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves.) Add to that mix free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman—a two-time Pro Bowl pick who is rebounding from reconstructive knee surgery—and the Jags will field a far more athletic line than they did last year.

Alualu might be their most versatile lineman. Although listed as a tackle, he has tweener size (6' 3", 304 pounds) and his high motor and explosiveness make him a natural at end. No matter where Alualu, who had a team-high 7½ sacks as a senior at Cal, lines up, the Jags will be counting on him to help turn up the pressure after having a league-low 14 sacks in '09. "We feel our front is a whole lot better, and it has to be," says Del Rio. His reputation—and his job—may depend on it.

PHOTOGRAY QUETTI/CAL SPORT MEDIA.COMREFOCUSED After nearly quitting, Sims-Walker found motivation in his father's memory.PHOTOBILL FRAKES