AFC South: Derek Landri

David GarrardGary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Jacksonville Jaguars history. On Monday we featured Morten Andersen’s missed field goal in the 1996 regular-season finale that sent the Jaguars to the playoffs. On Tuesday we featured Mark Brunell’s touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith to clinch the 1996 AFC divisional playoff game over the Broncos.

Score: Jaguars 31, Steelers 29
Date: Jan. 5, 2008 Site: Heinz Field

The Jaguars have won just one playoff game since their run to the 1999 AFC Championship Game, and it came thanks to a gutsy play call, a couple of good blocks and a holding penalty that wasn’t called.

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Which is the most memorable play in Jaguars' history?

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    14%
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    56%
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    30%

Discuss (Total votes: 24,526)

The Jaguars appeared headed for an easy victory over Pittsburgh in a 2007 AFC wild-card game after beginning the fourth quarter with an 18-point lead and the Steelers facing a fourth-and-12 at the Jacksonville 37-yard line. But Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes hooked up for a touchdown, and Pittsburgh’s comeback got jump-started.

The Steelers eventually took a 29-28 lead with a little more than six minutes to play. After the teams traded possessions, the Jaguars drove into Pittsburgh territory but faced a critical fourth-and-2 from the Steelers' 43 with 1:56 remaining.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter didn’t choose a pass play or a run by Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew. He called a quarterback draw out of the shotgun formation, putting the season on David Garrard’s feet.

Four players threw key blocks: Center Brad Meester sealed linebacker James Farrior on the inside, left guard Vince Manuwai drove defensive end Brett Keisel backward, right tackle Maurice Williams took down nose tackle Casey Hampton and tight end Marcedes Lewis turned safety Troy Polamalu outside.

That opened a huge hole for Garrard, who put a move on safety Tyrone Carter and ran by him at the 30 before Carter finally ran him down at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. That play set up Josh Scobee’s 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining, and defensive end Bobby McCray sacked Roethlisberger and forced a fumble that defensive tackle Derek Landri recovered with 20 seconds to play to give the Jaguars a 31-29 victory.

Except it shouldn’t have happened.

Officials missed a pretty blatant hold by left tackle Khalif Barnes on linebacker James Harrison. Barnes got his feet crossed as Harrison went outside and then back inside and grabbed Harrison’s jersey by his shoulders. By the time Barnes let go, Garrard was already past the first-down marker.

Steelers players and fans were irate about the noncall. Their complaints were eventually validated when the NFL’s head of officiating admitted the following spring that the crew working that game missed the holding call.

There was obviously nothing the NFL could do about the outcome. That remains the last time the Steelers lost a playoff game at home.

In general, we expect too much from late-round picks. (And from overall draft batting averages.)

In a recent conversation with former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist, he pointed to an article he once read in Ourlads by Joe Landers. Apologies, I couldn’t find the link.

“Using some common sense and a little investigative research, you'll find that it's rare, at least according to Landers’ study, to find a cornerback or running back or wide receiver that's really going to help you in the last three rounds,” Sundquist said. “And yet you'll find teams constantly take a reach on one of these positions.

“Evidence shows you're more likely to find a defensive tackle, offensive lineman, safety or tight end in the later rounds. Why? Most conventional wisdom says don't draft a safety or tight end high due to escalating rookie salaries and the going market at the position. As for defensive tackles or offensive linemen, it’s probably because of the greater numbers at the position. Both circumstances force down talented players at those positions.”

I went back and combed over the AFC South drafts since 2002, to see how many picks they spent on each side of the ledger Sundquist sets forth and how often the Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans did well with a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round pick at those spots. This is, of course, highly unscientific. Metrics guys can probably shred it. But I thought it worth fiddling with.

Notables are players who played significantly, even if it’s been with another team, or recent picks who appear on track to contribute.

Houston Texans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 9

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 14

Most: Six safeties, four receivers, corners and defensive tackle

Notables: Colts

WRs, RBs. CBs: 7

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 13

Most: 13 offensive linemen

Notables: Jaguars

WRs, RBs. CBs: 12

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 9

Most: Five receivers, four offensive linemen

Notables: Titans

WRs, RBs. CBs: 14

DTs, OL, S, TEs: 16

Most: Seven offensive linemen, six wide receivers

Notables:
Of the notables from the division drafted since 2002, 73 percent (19) have been from the positions Sundquist says teams should concentrate on late while 27 percent (seven) play positions he believes should generally be avoided.

I'd be fine with the Titans not wasting yet another late pick on a receiver and with the Texans using late-rounders on something other than corners and receivers for sure. But it's not like Houston's spending late picks on safeties or the Colts use of such selections on offensive linemen have paid huge dividends either.

I'd love to read your thoughts.

Quentin Groves just didn't work

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
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Quentin Groves tweeted this at about 2:30:
Duval County....I LOVE U GUYS...thanks for all your support...New Starts=New Beginnings...OAKLAND HERE I COME!!!!

Chris Mortensen reported he believes the Jaguars got a fifth-round pick for Groves.

Groves told me in an e-mail that it's done “pending a physical.”

The deal gives the Jaguars, who are without second- and seventh-round picks a total of seven selections now, with two in the fifth and two in the sixth. The move is another example of Gene Smith’s willingness to admit the franchise’s errors, acknowledge a non-fit or both.

Among the others disposed of or allowed to walk: Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Khalif Barnes, Gerald Sensabaugh and Derek Landri.

They were all drafted when James “Shack” Harris was running the front office, but this isn’t about a divide between old leadership and new.

Smith needs all the good players he can get; he’s not clearing out guys he believes can help. It’s to his credit that he’s not compelled to give guys more time than he thinks they need to be sufficiently evaluated.

The Jaguars couldn’t figure out how to get production out of Groves, who was part of the reason they dabbled with a 3-4 last year and was part of the reason the team had only 14 sacks. They started him at linebacker, they started him at end and they shuffled him way down the depth chart.

It just didn’t work.

Now new defensive line coach Joe Cullen’s had time with him and I feel sure his input was factored in.

A team looking to revamp its pass rush now goes with Derrick Harvey and free-agent addition Aaron Kampman as starters with Reggie Hayward and a to-be-drafted player in the mix.
Houston Texans

The Texans' investment in pass-rush help -- Bill Kollar, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin -- hasn’t paid off yet, says Dale Robertson.

Brian Cushing was defensive player of the month, says John McClain. I think he’s making quite a case for defensive rookie of the year.

Steve Slaton leads this Pete Prisco piece on sophomore slumps.

Key matchups for the game against the Jags from Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

Is a perfect season really a big deal when the goal is the Super Bowl? Phil Richards examines the question.

A look at the five games ahead.

Phillip B. Wilson’s thorough matchup page.

The Colts are ready for Chris Johnson.

Robert Mathis was recognized for a big November, says Mike Chappell.

Old-timers are getting it done, says Wilson.

Johnson rates as the biggest concern for the Colts, says John Oehser.

A look at how the defense has gotten better, from Deshawn Zombie.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Derek Landri is gone and James Wyche was promoted off the practice squad, says Vito Stellino.

The Jaguars' receivers have a different attitude, says Stellino.

The Texans have found a lot of ways to lose, says Michael C. Wright.

Repositioning the umpire would be good, but how would he call holding, asks Vic Ketchman.

The rise and fall of Landri, from Big Cat Country.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson is gunning for Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, writes Jim Wyatt.

The Titans' defense has gotten better as Chuck Cecil settled into his job, writes David Climer.

Mike Heimerdinger is what’s happened to Vince Young, says Clark Judge.

Kenny Britt’s given the Titans a lift, says Gary Estwick.

In case you missed it, my gigantic column on Young from Thursday.

Is LenDale White back in good graces?

The Titans aren’t thinking playoffs, says Terry McCormick.

Michael Griffin intends to play with pain, says Wyatt.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling
Landri

1. Derek Landri, Jaguars DT: Expected during camp to be a crucial part of a defensive line with a lot of opportunity, he’s fallen down the depth chart.

A fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2007, Landri was healthy but inactive for the second game, and second win, in a row for Jacksonville.

2. Colts pass defense: Indianapolis was yielding 5.79 yards per pass play before the game against the Patriots, then allowed Tom Brady an average of 8.3. The Colts had allowed only one team to top 300 yards passing all season (Houston) and Brady had 375.

It was a combination of a pass rush that wasn’t as effective as it had been and secondary issues that let Randy Moss get free too often.
White

3. LenDale White, Titans RB: He had just three carries against the Bills and just seven carries for 9 yards in the past two weeks, when the Titans have won with Chris Johnson getting the bulk of the touches.

A slimmed down White’s been a team player this season. But a year after he scored 15 touchdowns , he has just oneand is on pace for just over half the 200 carries he had in 2008.

Rising
Johnson

1. Chris Johnson, Titans RB: Is anyone's stock in the league hotter than his right now?

He’s been running wild during the Titans' three-game winning streak, benefiting some from opponents' concerns about Vince Young.

To make things worse on defenses, he just added his first 100-yard receiving game to his resume. Catch him if you can.
Wayne

2. Reggie Wayne, Colts WR: In a giant prime-time matchup, when the Patriots slowed Dallas Clark and when Pierre Garcon struggled a lot and Austin Collie struggled a little, Wayne was a rock.

Targeted 12 times by Peyton Manning, he caught 10 passes, including the game-winning touchdown on a slant he signaled Manning to switch to from a fade.
Del Rio

3. Jack Del Rio, Jaguars coach: Whether you like the strategy of milking the clock to win with a field goal on the final play or not -- and most people seem to -- you have to credit Del Rio for knowing what he wanted to do, and for getting the message to Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Jaguars are inconsistent, but Del Rio’s got them believing and generally overachieving.

MJD took a knee at the 1 rather than scoring to set up the scenario Del Rio wanted, and it worked.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


The situation: The Colts are up 7-6 with 10:11 on the clock in the third quarter, facing a third-and-9 from their own 30-yard line.

Peyton Manning lines up in the shotgun, between tight end Dallas Clark on his right and running back Donald Brown on his left. Reggie Wayne is in the slot to the left with Austin Collie outside of the numbers left and Pierre Garcon spaced the same to the right.

Against three-wide and expecting pass, the Jaguars are in dime personnel, with Tyron Brackenridge (who lines up near the line between the left end and defensive tackle) and Scott Starks on the field along with only one linebacker, Brian Iwuh, who starts off to the offensive left.

Here’s what I saw unfold after the snap:
  • Manning fakes a handoff to Brown who heads up the middle.
  • Left tackle Charlie Johnson rides right defensive end Derrick Harvey wide and right guard Ryan Lilja arrives to help make sure Harvey has no chance to recover and get in position to influence the play.
  • Right tackle Ryan Diem gets chip help from Clark, whose contribution actually puts left end Quentin Groves on the ground. Clark then draws the attention of Brackenridge.
  • Right guard Mike Pollak and center Jeff Saturday team up to stymie defensive tackle Derek Landri.
  • Brown cuts right near the line of scrimmage and has a step on Iwuh who is in pursuit. A bit deeper, Wayne has cut behind Brown on a similar cross.
  • Manning delivers the ball to Brown in stride and he catches it, continuing to the right but dipping his left shoulder to angle for yardage before safety Reggie Nelson arrives and cuts him down.
Result: Ten-yard gain, first down.

Ultimate outcome: The third-down conversion makes Manning five-for-five throwing in such situations. The Colts go 60 more yards in five more plays, pulling ahead 14-6 when Manning hits Wayne with a 35-yard touchdown strike.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


INDIANAPOLIS -- One of Jacksonville’s big issues coming into the season was pass pressure. The Jaguars didn’t get a lot of heat on Peyton Manning in the opener.

Manning was sacked once, by veteran end Reggie Hayward. But he was only hit twice, compared to David Garrard who was sacked once but hit six times and under pretty steady pressure, especially on the game's most crucial downs.

Last year’s top two draft picks, defensive ends who were expected to provide the team with consistent pass-rush pressure, didn’t show a lot of progress. Derrick Harvey had two tackles and Quentin Groves was credited with four tackles and a forced fumble

Manning raved about his protection, including the work of Charlie Johnson who manned left tackle, considered a weak spot by many. The run game wasn’t great, but the Colts stuck with it with 31 carries for 71 yards to keep the Jaguars honest.

Manning talked about excellent protection and great conditioning, drawing laughs when he mentioned that two Jacksonville defenders, defensive tackle Derek Landri and Groves, both needed attention for cramps at the conclusion of the same third-quarter play.

“I thought the protection was outstanding,” Manning said. “... It’s really a credit to them on the conditioning. We were no-huddle. We really wanted to go up-tempo and set the tone to Jacksonville. Two of their players cramped on one play, it looked a little coincidental to me. I saw one of their coaches doing this signal” -- Manning held his nose and pointed to the ground. “It looked like the word ‘tank’ might be coming.

“That’s one thing about playing at home now, it’s not a dome anymore and you’ve got to be conditioned in the heat and we wanted to be well conditioned. For those linemen to be able to keep that tempo up the entire game was a credit to them.”

Said Johnson, who was awarded the job when he came off the PUP list ahead of incumbent Tony Ugoh before the preseason opener: “We played well but there are definitely things we need to get better at. It felt like it went well. It felt like I did the same things that I’ve been working on since camp and since I’ve been here. And the next thing is Miami.”

Injury news for Colts and Jaguars

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


The final injury report for Jaguars-Colts is out, and it brought no surprises.

If Jerraud Powers starts as expected at cornerback for the Colts in the spot of Marlin Jackson who will only work as the nickel, it’s on merit not because of injury. Tim Jennings who was rested early in the week, participated fully in practice and wasn’t categorized at all in the final injury report that designated injured players as probable, questionable, doubtful or out.

Rookie Fili Moala (knee), who clearly doesn’t factor into plans this week at defensive tackle, is questionable while safety Bob Sanders (knee), tight end Tom Santi (ankle) and defensive back Jamie Silva (abdomen) are out.

For the Jaguars, rookie tight end Zach Miller (knee) remained out of action this week and is out. Defensive tackle Derek Landri (knee) made the report as probable despite his protests. He was limited in practice all week but is expecting to play. Tackle Tra Thomas (back), in line to back up Eugene Monroe, was limited Friday and is also probable.

Your mail, delivered

August, 23, 2009
8/23/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Think you have better questions or conversation starters than these? Show us. Hit the mailbag here.

Josh in NY writes: This is a continuation of our debate from the chat! Knighton/Ellison/Landri are all definitely serviceable next to Big John, and Rob Meier has proven to be a guy who can come off the bench and put pressure on the QB over the course of his career. Brian Williams is certainly serviceable at corner, he was the same corner we had in 2007, and we now have Cox in the mix for added depth. Nelson is a legitimate concern at safety, as he seems to not have the mental makeup for the position. Holt alone makes this team's receivers better than the combo of Matt Jones and Reggie Williams, you aren't honestly calling those two a legitimate tandem, are you?

Paul Kuharsky: I agree with your assessment here for the most part.

My point is, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Mike Walker, the young receivers, Atiyyah Ellison -- they are all unproven. For the Jags to make a big jump, they need all those guys to produce. What are the odds a half dozen unproven players all produce consistently for the first time at the same time?

Torry Holt should be a great addition, but beyond him what have any of the wideouts done?

Wouldn't you agree that personnel-wise, they rank fourth in the division?


Franklin in Houston writes: I can't understand how you classify Nick Harper as underrated. I view him as a declining CB that is able to stay on the field using smarts as opposed to physical tools. I think he's aptly rated. What frustrates many Titans' fans is games like last year's playoff loss where he got blazed by Derrick Mason. Roughly same size and age, but Mason blew by him for huge gains leading to a TD and setting up the FG. He is arguably my biggest concern on defense. Your thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: I think corners are going to get balls completed on them, especially when they play opposite Cortland Finnegan, and somehow the expectations for Harper have gotten crazy. People think it's a disaster when a 15-yard pass goes to his side. I think he does pretty much exactly what they ask, and is also a real factor against the run. He's the best second corner the Titans have had since Denard Walker and because Titans fans are looking for a weak spot or have to punch a hole in someone, he seems to me to be over-targeted for criticism.


Kevin Fitzpatrick in Pittsburgh writes: I just read the chat and you say don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions cause teams haven't even played a regular season game, Yet you say the jaguar LB's have regressed. If you base that off the practices you've seen then why is that any different then when someone asks you if the 4th rounder from Indy is better then Britt?

Paul Kuharsky: To clarify, I think they regressed last year. I didn't see the linebackers making a lot of plays, and in conversations with Clint Ingram and Justin Durant they pretty much agreed about their performances in 2008.

Making judgments on draft picks two games into the preseason -- beyond Player A looks good and Player B is lost -- is ridiculous. Though two or three preseason games we're going to declare Austin Collie better than Kenny Britt? They weren't drafted for the same jobs, for starters, so it's not exactly apples to apples.


Rob Bradley writes via Facebook: If you can afford it and love the Jags and the NFL, buy tickets. If you can't afford it or don't care, don't buy tickets. Don't worry about what the media says, and don't worry about making silly excuses for the city.

Paul Kuharsky: I agree.


Aaron Hurley from parts unknown writes: What is going on with the Patrick Ramsey-Vince Young competition? Ramsey has played very little in preseason games - and hasn't done anything notable in the time that he has had - and I haven't read any suggestions that he is standing out in practice. Will Ramsey get to start a preseason game, or at least get time with the first stringers? And will the Titans carry 3 QBs this year? Thanks.

Paul Kuharsky: Young's second game helped his cause, his third game, not so much. Ramsey won't start a game, but he will play some with the twos. I suspect they keep three, calling VY the backup but probably having more faith in Ramsey if Kerry Collins goes down. There is a long time to go still to sort things out, however.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Fans in Jacksonville that don't buy a ticket to the Jaguars' game against Tampa Bay Saturday night won't have a chance to see it on TV until the NFL Network rebroadcasts the Tampa telecast at 7 a.m. Sunday morning.

Here are three issues I wonder about as Jacksonville heads into its second preseason game:

1. The quarterback: We've got David Garrard against Byron Leftwich here, but at this time two years ago they were teammates fighting for a job. Garrard won it, but the shock was that the Jaguars then released Leftwich, who collected a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger's backup in Pittsburgh last year. It wouldn't be a good scenario for the Jags if Leftwich, battling to be the Buccaneers' starter, plays well and Garrard doesn't. It would be nice to be able to sense some chemistry between Garrard and a couple of his targets.

2. Pass protection and run blocking: The offensive line is supposed to be revitalized, but it didn't fare well in its first chance. The Dolphins put pressure on the quarterbacks and knocked down a couple passes while limiting the Jacksonville run game. Don't expect a heavy dose of Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings is out. But Greg Jones and Chauncey Washington need to fare better, and it starts with their blocking.

3. Pass rush push: Tampa Bay's offensive line didn't fare very well against the Titans defensive line last week. Can the Jaguars' candidates for rotations spots in the defensive tackle mix -- Atiyyah Ellison, Terrance Knighton, Derek Landri -- make some noise and gain some footing that will earn them playing time with John Henderson, a certain starter, and Rob Meier, a certain member of the rotation?

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- We covered a lot in Saturday's Camp Confidential, but we forge ahead with these parting thoughts after four days with the Jaguars:

David Garrard was pretty inconsistent and made some very bad throws. It's early, he's got a lot of new receivers and a lot of new players around him, and it may all be ironed out. But he's not off to a blazing start. He may or may not be the long term answer for this team at quarterback, but if he goes down they are in big trouble. Todd Bouman is unimpressive and looks a lot better than Paul Smith. No, this isn't a landing spot for Michael Vick. Yes, they could use a serious upgrade behind Garrard.

The Jaguars think they can get Maurice Jones-Drew matched up with a linebacker often, by lining him up wide or motioning in out. Deliver the ball to him quickly in or near the flat and let the first guy he has to take on be a linebacker and the second a corner or a safety eight times a game, and that's eight times the first contract won't come from a defensive lineman. It's smart football and it's a smart way to save him from some additional hits. It's not like they haven't done it before, but it seems like with him as the lead guy, they'll do it more now. Look for rookie tight end Zach Miller to spend some time wide too.

Insiders say Eugene Monroe stands to be further behind as the result of a long absence because of a contract dispute than Derrick Harvey was last year in similar circumstances. And that's saying something based on how far behind Harvey was when he finally signed a year ago. It's the second year in a row the Jaguars have picked eighth and not reached a deal in time for camp. Are they worried about developing a reputation? No. They are making a stand that says, "We plan to be fair, but if somebody ahead of us does something foolish contract-wise, it's not going to skew things for us." That stand won't help them win any games, however. If he's absent much longer, it will assure that Tra Thomas is the starter early on.

Counting Saturday night's "scrimmage," the Jaguars have been in pads for just four of 12 training camp practices so far. Jack Del Rio had promised a tougher camp and told me in June he was a "do it right, do it light" coach. Are they doing that much right? (I suspect not, based on some of the shaky offensive periods I witnessed.) Has the weather, which has not been brutal, been a factor? I didn't talk to a guy who said he was spent or hitting the wall. We'll find out if that's good or bad, and we'll monitor whether Del Rio turns up the heat.

No team in the AFC South affords its fans better access to players during camp. Part of it is logistics. To get from the practice fields back to the locker room in the stadium, players have to walk through a long corridor. Fans lean over the portable white picket fences on both sides to plea for autographs and initiate conversations, and plenty of guys stop for a good while or mosey along while interacting. When I walked off the field with Garrard Saturday morning, he kept a good pace but still responded to some kids, grabbing the ball thy asked him to sign, scribbling on the move and passing it back with a smile while continuing our chat. Another thing that sets the Jaguars camp experience apart? Beer for sale.

This means nothing when it comes to their ability to stuff the run or collapse the pocket, but the three young guys vying for defensive tackle time -- Derek Landri, Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison -- are as nice a three-pack of players at one position on one team as I suspect can be found.

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  The Jaguars know they want to give the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew and run the ball often. Beyond that, however, Jacksonville is still searching for an identity.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars always intend to be physical.

Beyond that, coach Jack Del Rio isn't looking to shoehorn his team into a predetermined personality.

"What it was when we got here with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson was the Twin Towers," he said. "And that got talked up quite a bit, and now that's changing. Marcus is not here. That's kind of not been what we are. What we are gets described by other people. What I want us to be is a team that works at it, shows tremendous commitment, focus, unselfishness and then we see how people want to label it.

Camp Confidential: AFC South
Titans: Mon., Aug. 3
Jaguars: Sat., Aug. 8
Colts: Sat., Aug. 15
Texans: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index

"I'm not concerned with putting a label on it now and then living up to it."

Still, the Jaguars must answer the most basic NFL questions, the ones that provide the fallback plan when things are difficult: Who are we? And what do we do?

They will be a run-centered team, keyed around trying to build big drives with good line play from a group that's healthy and has reinforcements and looks to spring feature back Maurice Jones-Drew. They will be a linebacker-centered team, looking for three athletes to start showing up as big playmakers.

Beyond that, a 5-11 team from 2008 that has a new general manager in Gene Smith and 32 new players on the roster is still feeling things out, and could be for a while.

That search isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's ultimately fruitful.

"The team identity right now, I really can't answer that question," said Greg Jones, the fullback who's expected to get carries behind Jones-Drew. "I think if you ask me a month from now, a week into the season, I probably can. I think we are still trying to find ourselves, we are still trying to get this train going. We still are working towards it, working hard. We're rejuvenated, and excited about a fresh start. New logo, new uniforms, new GM -- we're just trying to have a fresh start and a great year."

Del Rio's positive disposition comes from the roster turnover. Gone are the team's primary character issues and high-paid players who didn't live up to their contracts. Smith's worked with his coach to retool with high-character guys who have good football smarts, who will buy in and fight through tough times.

In a division where the other three teams won at a .688 clip in 2007, the Jaguars aren't expecting Tennessee, Indianapolis or Houston to come back to them. Ultimately, they will have to track those teams down.

"This team has been flipped upside-down," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Everybody is searching themselves for who they are, who they want to be and what they want to accomplish in this league. As a whole, our identity is yet to be made, yet to be found.

"Which is, I think, a scary thing but in a good way. Because nobody really knows what we're capable of. I think we've got something special here that is up and coming, and for a lot of people that's bad news. It's good news for us."

Key questions

 
  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Can David Garrard prove this season he is the team's franchise quarterback?

1. Is David Garrard the guy?

Two years into his tenure as the starter, the question is unresolved. In 2007, he was 9-3 as a starter with a 102.2 passer rating. Last year, behind a broken line and with shaky weapons, he was 5-11 with an 81.7 rating.

The Jaguars don't want him to try to carry the team, just to orchestrate things. He talks of getting the ball into his playmakers' hands. But at crucial moments, can he make the right decisions and throw the ball to the right spots?

If he can't, the franchise will be looking for a quarterback in 2010 and Tim Tebow's name will ring out in Jacksonville from just 115 miles away in Gainesville.

2. Where's the pass rush coming from?

The Jaguars traded up for Derrick Harvey at No. 8 in 2007 and drafted Quentin Groves in the second round. They are trying to spark Henderson back to form while sifting through the options for the rest of the defense tackles. Collectively, they must generate a consistent pass rush that alleviates pressure on the secondary and allows linebackers the team keeps praising to start making plays regularly.

Maybe there is a surprise contributor or two. Undrafted rookie Julius Williams out of UConn drew early raves.

3. How will J
ones-Drew do as the No. 1 guy?

In letting Fred Taylor go, Jacksonville was opening more possibilities for MJD. The Jaguars will work hard to get the most out of Jones-Drew, but they also must be conscious of monitoring his workload to maximize the chances of getting the same November and December production as they get in September and October.

That means Jones or rookie Rashard Jennings or another back must prove a viable second option who can take a share of the running back touches on a weekly basis.

 Nelson
 Alexander

Market watch

The company line is that third-year free safety Reggie Nelson is entrenched as a starter and set to be a key cog in the defensive scheme. But there was a big drop from his first season to his second.

There is a growing buzz among some close to the team and scouts that Nelson isn't the player the team hoped he would be and could even slip out of the starting 11 if he underperforms once the season is under way. Gerald Alexander arrived recently in a trade from Detroit and could make a push for the job if Nelson doesn't recover and find better footing. Still, it's hard to imagine he doesn't get a third season to prove himself.

Newcomer to watch

The Jaguars gave the Patriots a 2010 second-rounder to take cornerback Derek Cox out of William & Mary in the third round. With no clear starter opposite Rashean Mathis on the outside in the secondary, Cox has an early opportunity to stake a claim.

He was carrying himself with confidence early in camp and already working to break a habit he brought from college: a tendency to refocus on the quarterback too soon, giving a receiver a chance to break away.

Observation deck

Kicker Josh Scobee was hitting the ball great in the first week of camp, a good sign for a team likely to win close when it wins. ... Of the three rookie receivers, seventh-rounder Tiquan Underwood has been the most impressive. Meanwhile, fifth-rounder Jarret Dillard has  struggled with drops. ... Tackle Tony Pashos reacted just the way a team that drafted two tackles and brought in a free agent (Tra Thomas) would want him to. He lost weight, re-committed and looks quite good. ... Defensive tackle Rob Meier will give great effort, but the team realizes it overextended him last season and will limit him to 20-25 plays a game. ... Left guard Vince Manuwai didn't have a full load early in camp but will be ready to go in the opener. The loss of the line's best run-blocker to a torn ACL in last year's opener began the team's downfall. ... Justin Durant has moved to middle linebacker and it's time for him. Between him, and the outside backers, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith, a defensive leader must emerge and set a tone. ... While they know they can shift him to safety if they need to, the Jaguars are working Brian Williams at cornerback and nickel and expecting him to be in one of those spots or provide depth there. ... Receiver Mike Walker worked in the weight room on his legs and is confident he can keep them healthy. Now the question is whether he gave up any of his shiftiness by bulking up below the waist. ... Marcedes Lewis is best on routes where he can track the ball the whole way instead of having to find it. If he can catch more consistently, he can do some things after the reception. And yards after the catch may be key for this team considering deep balls aren't Garrard's specialty.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars think John Henderson can return to the form he showed in back in 2006. Whether he can or can't, defensive tackle may be the Jaguars biggest question mark.

I'm sure they hate when we harp on ancient history. But when the Jaguars had Henderson and Marcus Stroud side by side, teams knew they were in for a physical battle. The duo provided the identity not just of the defense, but of the team.

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  The Jaguars are looking to tackle John Henderson to anchor the defensive line.

Can they get it back?

If they do it'll be because Henderson rebounds and a collection of lesser known players combine to be productive around him. Last year Rob Meier was the second starter, but the team has since concluded less is more with him in terms of snaps.

I talked with defensive line coach Ted Monachino and asked him to share an assessment of the interior guys beyond Henderson:

Derek Landri: "His dominant traits are his effort and his quickness. When you tie those things together, he can change plays to help your defense win games. Some of the things that he needs to continue to work on and improve on are just lining up across from a guy and whopping him physically in the run game. But we did enough with Derek that he can still be an effective run player. I think his chances are excellent to be a big player in what we do."

Meier: "What we'd like to do with Rob is get him enough snaps so that he can be effective for every one of them. Rob has a tendency to go in there and spend himself in a hurry. If we try to get 50 snaps out of a guy who plays best when he only plays 30, then that's our fault. We don't ever have to worry about Rob not playing the best he can play when he puts his hand down. Does he have some liabilities? Sure he does. There are things he can get better at. He's similar to Derek. He's got a bigger body and a bigger frame than Derek does, but he's still more of an edgy, penetrating, disrupting defensive tackle. We think he's got plenty of gas left in the tank to contribute. I think the number is 25 to 30 plays."

Atiyyah Ellison: "He's got to be in the right system to perform well. Being in an attacking front that involves some movement and allows for some flexibility in his charges, I think, makes a difference with him. If he had to line up head up and two-gap somebody, which is what they were doing with him in San Francisco, he did a great job at giving great effort to do that, but I think he's more suited to do what we do here. He has been a very pleasant surprise. We didn't have low expectations, but for him to come in and put in the body of work he's put in, that's a very pleasant surprise. Very strong and explosive, a real thick body, but has some legitimate quickness and athletic ability as a pass rusher." [More on Ellison sometime soon.]

Terrance Knighton: "He's a young guy that needs to do some things physically to get himself into position where he can play as hard as he can for as long as possible. We need to get him into a manageable area when it comes to body weight. [He's listed at 325.] I'm talking about what is the best weight that he plays at? We've got to figure that out, we've got to figure out can he play a 60-snap game at the weight he's at? Right now we're seeing great things out of him as far as being able to physically whip blockers, his ability to get off and make some athletic plays in the run game and he's also got a little bit of sneaky pass rush ability."

Two others in the mix are Jonathan Lewis (a worker) and Montavious Stanley (who knows the scheme from a previous stint.)

Will any of those guys be Stroud in his prime? That would be a big surprise. Is there enough there to piece together effective play? The Jaguars sure believe so.

Said GM Gene Smith: "We may have some unknown guys or some unproven guys in that group, but there are some talented guys and it's a very competitive group right now. So, it's going to be interesting to see the cream rise to the top. There is still an evaluation period that needs to take place. We think we've got strength in numbers. We'd like for a couple guys to emerge, guys that take three and four hands to block."

Keeping track of the developments here may be as significant as any in camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Oklahoma drill is a great thing for the Jaguars.

It creates buzz and anticipation. It's become a tradition. It's something people won't likely see in any similar setting. There are full-speed collisions, popping pads, hoots from the players and fans alike.

That's why practice Wednesday night drew nearly 2,500 people.

But I must admit, for the hype that's built up from a couple of years of hearing about it, it was a bit underwhelming. It wasn't like the scene I was told about when Marcellus Wiley tossed a handful of candy at Mike Williams, then got clobbered by the giant offensive tackle after the stunt.

There were as many draws as wins and it's hard to know for sure what you saw in a very fast couple of seconds, so I'll send you elsewhere to more expert eyes for any sort of scorecard.

Julius Williams toppled Tony Pashos in one crowd-pleaser and linebacker Tim Shaw twice created major thumps against Zach Miller, but I felt like Miller did well enough to allow the running back to get somewhere.

It's very cool that Jack Del Rio does it -- fans, players, staff and media all enjoy it.

But there was plenty more to see as well, so here are some things that struck me:

  • In a nine-on-seven run period, Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams were rotating at left guard while Uche Nwaneri manned right guard.
  • In a blitz pickup drill, Greg Jones did just that -- he picked up Johnny Williams off ground, then tossed him aside. Williams then tied his shoe.
  • Mike Walker looks great and seemed to be the target of the first pass of every team period. Looks solid, shifty, and consistent. The first pass he caught was a touchdown from 21-yards out on which David Garrard got good protection.
  • Derek Landri knocked a ball out of Todd Bauman's hand, something that shouldn't be able to happen in a practice.
  • Garrard hit Torry Holt at the right sideline near the pylon and he got in, beating Rashean Mathis. Later, during a special-teams period, I watched Holt play catch with a coach, watching the ball in to his hands from about eight yards away at a variety of angles with a wide array of loft or lack thereof.
  • In seven-on-sevens, when a quarterback should be close to perfect working against no pass rush, Garrard had one 1-for-3 stretch -- lucky that Mathis didn't pick a pass for Jarett Dillard and throwing a ball away when he could find nothing. A throw away is generally a good thing, but not something that should happen often in that context. Maybe somebody botched a route?
  • Garrard saw Nate Hughes pull away from Kennard Cox and Mesphin Forrester, and delivered a bomb for a 60-yard touchdown. When I visited organized team activities, I didn't think Garrard was throwing well deep to the sidelines. This made for twice on the day he had a guy break open and put the ball where he had to, well down the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

OK, here's the promised super elite mailbag, where the best question on each team I got Friday got an automatic spot. It didn't work out as well as planned in some ways, so I cheated and went two questions per team figuring you could handle the extra reading. (Yes, I'll buy two people per team a Coke if they find me at camp.)

The jab at Jaguars fans produced a lot of questions about them, way to step up.

Sunday, look for a bonus mailbag with two broader, bonus questions because they were among the best my plea produced.

Onward...

(Read full post)

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