If records were based solely on a team's
performance at home, the Jaguars would be a top contender. However, in the NFL, or any league for that matter, it's not like that, and unfortunately
for the Jaguars, they had to endure an abysmal 0-8 record on the road, which certainly attributed to their 5-11 performance in 2003. Don't be fooled
by their record, though. In his first year as head-coach, Jack Del Rio assembled a terrific defense, so good, in fact, that it ranked 6th in the NFL,
including 2nd against the run.
Their offense was also surprisingly pretty good, averaging 335 TYPG, ranked 12th in the NFL. Another positive that came out of 2003 was the experience
then-rookie QB Byron Leftwich obtained from playing in 15 games (Started 13 of them), so having adjusted more to the NFL, he should improve on his 16
INTs and mediocre 73.0 passing rating, especially with one of the game's best wide-receivers in Jimmy Smith on his side. Jacksonville also features
star RB Fred Taylor, so with an already-productive runner, an emerging passing-game, and one of the better defenses in all of football, who says the
Jags can't become this year's Panthers? This is definitely a sleeper team.
Byron Leftwich (QB, 2nd year, 6'5", 245 lbs); Fred Taylor (RB, 7th year, 6'1", 234 lbs); Jimmy Smith (WR, 12th year, 6'1", 213
lbs); John Henderson (DT, 3rd year, 6'7", 328 pounds); Marcus Stroud (DT, 4th year, 6'6", 315 lbs); Donovin Darius (S, 7th year, 6'1", 225 lbs)
Ephriam Salaam (OT, 7th year, 6'7" 295 lbs, signed from Denver); Dwayne Washington (CB, 11th year, 5'11", 195 lbs, signed
from Pittsburgh); Deon Grant (S, 5th year, 6'2", 207 lbs, signed from Carolina)
Mark Brunell (QB, signed with Washington); Fernando Bryant (CB, signed with Detroit); Kevin Johnson (WR, signed with
Vince Manuwai (OG, 2nd year, 6'2", 312 lbs); Brad Meester (C, 5th year, 6'3", 300 lbs); Chris Naeole (OG, 8th year, 6'3",
315 lbs); Hugh Douglas (DE, 10th year, 6'2", 280 lbs.
Jacksonville's kicking game was awful in 2003, so the team used a fifth-round pick on Josh Scobee (Louisiana Tech). Initial reports on Scobee were not
good, meaning untested Jeff Chandler was also going to get a shot at winning placement duties. Chris Hanson (43.5 avg.) should give the club some
stability on punts. Jermaine Lewis (9.0 punt return avg., 18.5 kickoff return avg.) is attempting a comeback after major knee surgery, and if he can't
get it done, David Allen (12.0 punt return avg., 20.3 kickoff return avg.) should again be able to step in.
Fred Taylor is a stud. When on the field, he is
one of the most dangerous backs in the league, and has the potential to make a game-breaking play, or take it to the house on any play. Taylor is the
team's most dangerous weapon. Last year, the Jags went 0-10 when Taylor carried the ball less than 23 times, and went 5-1 when he was given more than
23 carries. 1,572 yards in 2004 was a career high rushing number for Fred. This year, he is shooting for 2,000 yards. Fred and the coaches see that as
a realistic goal. Talyor is going to have to improve on the six TDs he scored last year though. The Jags have a decent stable of running backs.
LaBrandon Toefield, a fourth-round pick in 2003, flashed tremendous pass-catching skills, and was being used more and more as the teams third-down
back down the stretch. Florida State running back Greg Jones was drafted to help improve dismal numbers in short-yardage situations. He is a bruiser,
and is expected to lay the wood on defenders. You could make an impressive highlight reel of Jones running over defenders in college. He should help
inside the redzone, and in goal-line situations. Fullbacks Marc Edwards and Chris Fu-amatu Matafala will not get a lot of carries, but still have an
important role in the Jags offense. David Allen was a solid return man, and has a shot at making the team for a second-consecutive year.
The Jags will play five playoff teams in their first seven games, including Denver (9/19 at home), Tennessee (9/26 on the road), Indianapolis (10/3 at
home), Kansas City (10/17 at home) and Indianapolis again (10/24 on the road). If Del Rio's club can weather that period, the slate relaxes a bit with
tilts against Houston (10/31 on the road, 12/26 at home), Detroit (11/14 at home), Pittsburgh (12/5 at home), Chicago (12/12 at home), and Oakland
(1/2 on the road) down the stretch.
Jack Del Rio's philosophy is, run the ball, control the clock, win the field position battle, and stop the run! Del Rio is going to come up with some
very interesting pass rush schemes. Pressuring the quarterback is something the coaching staff needs to improve. It should be very difficult for this
team to live up to Jack's philosophy with question marks at both pass rushing and place kicking. The best-case scenario would be Byron Leftwich
breaking out, Fred Taylor having a Pro-Bowl season, and the Jags making the playoffs. It's definitely a stretch to say this team is ready to make the
post-season, but it is possible. The worst-case scenario would be the Jaguars pass rush completely failing, and Fred Taylor getting injured. The Jags
could finish as high as first, but they could also finish dead last playing in a very strong AFC South.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]