NFL Nation: Gerald Alexander
More football please.
When we started the NFL Twindex during the NFL lockout, many guys who earned top 10 spots did so on the strength of their comedy.
Now, it takes more. We need more. You, fare NFL player, have taken to Twitter to connect with your people. And to earn a top rating from this follower, you should have a reasonable share of football insight in the mix.
To stand your ground or gain some or to emerge as a member of the club, show us some of everything and be sure it includes some of what brought us to you in the first place.
I thought Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb (@KevinKolb_4) had the best recent football tweet: "Our Z receiver, @ARob12_Cards, has been tearing it up in practice. Get to know him this year."
Unfortunately, Kolb's busy learning a new team and hasn't been tweeting much. Understandable, but he doesn't even earn an honorable mention here for lack of volume.
With no further ado, our new list…
See a tweet I need to be aware of for the Twindex? Make me aware. I am @ESPN_AFCSouth and @Paul Kuharsky.
“I usually hate when athletes tweet about how good their workout was,” Matt Hasselbeck (@Hasselbeck) tweeted Thursday in a good start, “but we had a great one today!”
Plenty of NFL fans starved for morsels and insight into football and beyond would love to know what made it good.
J.J. Watt (@JJWatt) did very well with show-don’t-tell when he tweeted this picture. Yowza.
Alas, Hasselbeck and Watt are snapshot examples for us here at Twindex HQ, where we’d like to host Cleveland receiver Carlton Mitchell and Green Bay tight end Tom Crabtree. They hold the top two spots in our new poll, flip-flopping their standing from two weeks ago.
We could have a 10-event competition for the two including feats of strength and intellect and concluding with a tweet-off or a tweet-up or a tweet-meet.
They were neck and neck, and it came down to my gut feeling -- Mitchell was more consistently amusing.
Scroll through my favorites to see what was considered as we made the final cuts -- we are now trying to track 493 guys.
And hit me at @ESPN_AFCSouth and @PaulKuharsky with tweets I need to see and people I need to follow.
Yawn-inducing, akin to, “What up [insert city here]?”
Over the last two weeks, we heard who came close to missing a flight and who was delayed and what they thought of the airports they were delayed in.
But even in such a desolate landscape, wonderful things popped up.
Little known Carlton Mitchell, a second-year Browns wide receiver, was consistently hilarious and emerged from nowhere to take the top spot -- not by a nose, but in a landslide.
Laughs are aplenty among the rest of the field in the second edition of the NFL Twindex, one man’s subjective rankings of the best NFL tweeters out there over the last two weeks.
Big names who did well in the feature’s debut disappeared, with only three players retaining a spot in the top 10.
Without further ado, the new list:
Have a tweet I need to see? A Tweeter who needs more consideration? Find me at @ESPN_AFCSouth and @PaulKuharsky.
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 16
Preseason Power Ranking: 25
Biggest disappointment: The offense gave the ball away too often (21 interceptions, 12 fumbles) and the defense didn’t take it away enough (13 interceptions, five fumbles). The Jaguars simply weren’t high-powered enough to be able to overcome a minus-15 take-away, give-away ratio -- 43 turnovers off the standard set by New England at the top of the lead. The offense needs to protect the ball better, but the lack of plays by the defense may have been even more disappointing. To be effective in the team’s chosen style -- a run-first offense and physical defense -- turnovers need to be more in balance.
Biggest need: Safety times two. Courtney Greene was a pretty sure tackler after he took over at strong safety, but the team’s lack of defensive playmaking traces back to both safety spots first. Converted corner Don Carey was too inconsistent and Sean Considine is too slow -- and even the better in-the-box guy has to be able to run well in today’s league. They traded Reggie Nelson early, cut Gerald Alexander twice and traded Anthony Smith. The team’s miss with the Nelson pick in the 2007 first round really hurt the Jaguars. Now they will have to do more work in the draft and free agency to make up for it.
Team MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew. Despite a knee issue from the summer, he worked his tail off and keyed the stretch where the team re-established its identity as a running force and got into contention for the division crown.
Lame ducks: Jack Del Rio is signed through 2012, but Wayne Weaver made it clear there will be a house-cleaning if the Jaguars are not in the 2011 playoff field. The assistant coaches have only a year remaining and will operate as lame ducks. I’d hope it would motivate some guys as opposed to causing problems for them. If they do good work, they’ll get a new deal if things go well on a broader scale. At least they'll be marketable if things don’t. Players will know, too. If they like the guy who runs their room, they need to produce for themselves and for him.
1. Jack Del Rio, Jaguars coach: His team fell flat on its face on national television, appearing to lack playmakers, creativity and fire. And his timeouts at the end to extend the misery and create a situation where the Titans could add a touchdown didn’t make a lot of sense.
2. Pat McAfee, Colts punter: A public intoxication charge from early Tuesday morning is a blow for a guy who’s been an effective punter and kickoff specialist for the Colts since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2008. It’s not a large-scale crime, but it draws the wrong kind of attention to a team that prides itself on being squeaky clean. He’s a free-spirited, fun guy. I suspect he’ll be less so with the public and the press going forward.
3. Veteran Jaguars safeties: Anthony Smith and Gerald Alexander had five starts between them this season. Now they are both gone. Smith was traded to Green Bay Saturday for a conditional seventh-rounder and Alexander was cut for a second time after the Titans game. Sean Considine must be healthy, and we’ll see if Don Carey and/or Courtney Greene prove an upgrade.
2. Alterraun Verner, Titans cornerback: The rookie is playing very solidly as the Titans' second starter. In fact, he’s outplaying the team’s No. 1 cornerback, Cortland Finnegan. Jason McCourty edged Verner out for the starting job in the preseason, but once McCourty recovers from a fractured forearm, Jeff Fisher’s going to have to find a way to keep Verner in the lineup.
3. Pierre Garcon, Colts receiver: Drops and some route problems or miscommunications caused some early concerns, as did a hamstring injury that cost him some games. But he was an X factor in Indianapolis’ win at Washington, with the 57-yard touchdown early and the one-handed, leaping grab -- a catch-of-the-year candidate for sure. The potential for those sort of big plays is why they like him.
A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 4:
The one significant contributor we haven’t talked about a lot who did a great deal to spark the final scenario was receiver and return man Tiquan Underwood.
He brought Pat McAfee's kickoff back 29 yards to the Jaguars’ 23-yard line with 48 seconds left in regulation, then was the target on all four of Garrard’s throws on the final drive.
Underwood accounted for 28 of the team’s 36 yards that positioned Scobee for the game-winning kick, including a 22-yard reception in which he got between Indianapolis defensive backs Jacob Lacey and Antoine Bethea to make the catch on the left sideline and get out of bounds to stop the clock.
The second-year receiver was a seventh-round draft pick from Rutgers and qualifies as Jacksonville’s deep threat. But the Jaguars conceded in this game that Garrard wasn’t going to throw the ball down the field effectively, and kept him in his comfort zone with short stuff.
Another second-year receiver, Mike Thomas, is better suited to such an approach and he was targeted seven times, leading the team with five catches for 68 yards. Garrard looked to Underwood five times, connecting on three of the attempts.
The 22-yarder at the end was the team’s longest pass play of the game.
“I was here in Jacksonville, right over the bridge, on the couch,” said the safety who was released after the preseason on Sept. 4, nodding in the direction of his home. “I saw the same game everybody else did from the couch. And it didn’t look good.”
On Sept. 27, the team re-signed Alexander, hoping he could help a banged-up secondary that had done its part for the Jaguars to qualify as the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, he was in the lineup in place of Sean Considine, a scratch with a hamstring injury.
Don’t think for a second that Alexander cast himself as a savior. Peyton Manning certainly found plays where he beat Alexander and strong safety Anthony Smith. But in a shocking 31-28, last-second Jaguars win, the safeties teamed up on two huge plays that had a big bearing.
Alexander popped Brody Eldridge, who coughed up a 19-yard pass at the Jaguars’ 4-yard line. Smith plucked the ball off his ankle and returned 47 yards in the third quarter. And when Reggie Wayne fumbled in the fourth quarter as he reached for extra yards following a 13-yard gain to the Jaguars’ 10, Alexander scooped it and returned it 43 yards.
“Turnovers in the red zone?” Alexander said. “That’s huge. That team is going to drive up and down the field on some people. Their offense is like clockwork.
“We didn’t give up too many deep shots, which they live off of. That’s when things get out of hand with the Indianapolis Colts, when you give up deep balls. Tackle the guy in front of you, keep everything in front of you and get turnovers. That’s the key to victory.”
Defensive end Aaron Kampman called it “an urgent win.” The Jaguars are 2-2 and tied with the Colts and Tennessee Titans for second in the AFC South. That's a lot better than being 1-3 and alone in the division's basement.
Manning hit Wayne for gains of 42, 26 and 21 yards. Everything else the Colts got came in chunks smaller than 20 yards.
“We weren’t as efficient as we should have been.” Manning said.
Another Jaguars defensive back, corner David Jones, was a close-range witness to Colts history. He lined up against Wayne as the receiver pulled in 15 catches, more than Raymond Berry or Marvin Harrison ever had in a Colts game. Those catches produced 196 yards, the best total the four-time Pro Bowler had ever accumulated.
Jones was credited with forcing Wayne’s fumble, and he could have done a lot to ice an easier win if he didn’t drop an interception on Indy’s final drive.
“I tasted the ball it was so close,” he said.
But the Jaguars withstood that dropped pick. They withstood all those catches and all those yards by Wayne. They withstood a fierce pass rush that can create all sorts of problems for all sorts of offenses, holding the Colts without a sack of David Garrard by giving ample help to young tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. They withstood three lost leads, finally beating the visitors thanks to Josh Scobee's final-play 59-yard field goal.
They showed a fortitude that was severely lacking in whippings suffered at San Diego and to Philadelphia. And, according to Maurice Jones-Drew, they put an emphasis on moving on from bad plays, not feeling stressed out and just having some fun.
The Jaguars didn’t force the Colts to kick field goals or conquer them in time of possession, which are usually part of the formula for beating them.
Other elements of the blueprint did, however, fall in line. Jacksonville ran 13 more times than it passed, averaging 5 yards a carry. The Jaguars didn’t turn it over while they had those two red-zone takeaways.
“We wanted to pound the rock and use the pass to supplement the run, really,” Britton said. “We had a great game plan and I think we executed it really well and kept David upright.
“To put all that work in that whole game and not come out with a W, that would have been heartbreaking. We needed to win that game. We needed it as a team. We needed it to validate all the hard work we put in.”
As he spoke, tight end Marcedes Lewis stopped by for a fist bump.
“I’m proud of you,” Lewis said.
Britton said he was proud of Lewis, too.
Does a win over the long-time division rulers change things for the Jaguars? Does it do anything to wash away a 38-13 loss to the Chargers or 28-3 pounding by Philadelphia? Does it help get Jacksonville ready for a Week 5 trip to Buffalo?
“That remains to be seen.” Alexander said. “We’ve just got to go out there and get back to work. We can’t live off this victory.”
I have a strong feeling that Alexander soon was back on his couch, thinking entirely different things than he was seven days before.
What it means: The Jaguars and David Garrard can play well. They got a great effort in front of a spirited crowd and pulled to a 2-2 record thanks to a 59-yard last-second field goal from Josh Scobee. They’re even with the Colts in the standings and have the edge with the head-to-head win. The Colts are 2-2, with an 0-2 mark in the AFC South.
What I liked, Jags: Garrard played so much better than he had over the last two miserable weeks. With a rusher bearing down on a crucial third-and-4 near midfield, he stood in and hit Tiquan Underwood, who shrugged off Kelvin Hayden and converted. Garrard converted another third down with a run. He then threw a go-ahead touchdown to Maurice Jones-Drew on a third down after a bad penalty backed the Jaguars up. Garrard connected with Underwood again on the pass that got Scobee in range.
What I liked Jags, Part II: They still gave up plays, but the Jaguars much-maligned safeties produced some too. Gerald Alexander walloped Brody Eldridge to pop a ball loose and Anthony Smith picked it off near the goal line. Later Smith was in on forcing Wayne’s fumble that Alexander scooped and returned 47 yards. Those two red-zone takeaways were a huge part of the result.
What I liked, Colts: Reggie Wayne’s huge day. He caught a franchise record 15 passes for a career-high 196 yards and was a crucial cog in the Colts’ ability to keep things moving. It was more than enough to offset a fumble in the red zone that temporarily stalled the Colts.
What’s next: The Jaguars travel to Buffalo with a bit of insight from their new backup quarterback, Trent Edwards. The Colts host undefeated Kansas City, which is coming off a bye.
Jamey Richard, questionable with a shoulder injury, is out, with Kyle DeVan taking his place.
For Jacksonville, Gerald Alexander will take the place of the injured Sean Considine at free safety.
Here are the complete lists:
- WR Anthony Gonzalez
- S Bob Sanders
- RS Donald Brown
- DB Brandon King
- LB Kavell Conner
- G Jamey Richard
- WR Pierre Garcon
- DE Ricardo Mathews
Biggest surprises: Three undrafted rookies won spots -- offensive tackle Kevin Haslam, defensive end Aaron Morgan and linebacker Jacob Cutrera. Getting anything for Reggie Nelson was big, and GM Gene Smith managed to send the safety to Cincinnati for David Jones. That’s a surprise. That they also cut another veteran safety, Gerald Alexander, before adding one, also qualifies as a surprise. They seem sure to add someone in the coming days. Right now the starting pairing would come from Anthony Smith, Sean Considine, Tyron Brackenridge and Courtney Greene. I bet Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub endorse that. It’s not clear who the third wide receiver will be with Troy Williamson gone. Atiyyah Ellison was a feel good story a year ago, now he’s gone too. The team has three fullbacks with Greg Jones, Montell Owens and Brock Bolen. Kynan Forney was competing for a starting guard job, lost it and lost his place on the team.
No-brainers: Not a ton. Three linebackers -- Teddy Lehman, Alvin Bowen and Tony Gilbert -- of a weak group of reserves didn’t make it and another (Kyle Bosworth) was placed on IR.
What’s next: Work at safety, first and foremost. The Jaguars will be thorough in their examination and consideration of the waiver wire and free agents. They have room at the back of the roster for upgrades. After safety, look for linebacker to be the spot that gets the most attention as the Jaguars have just five on the roster.
Guard play: Sounds like we'll see Uche Nwaneri at center in this game, with Kynan Forney at left guard and Vince Manuwai at right guard. The guard who plays the best will be designated the starter on the right side, with Nwaneri on the left and Brad Meester at center. Pretty big stakes for Forney and Manuwai. UPDATE: Tania Ganguli reports Forney won't play. In that case, Justin Smiley will get a chance to make his case. The opportunity remains immense for Manuwai.
A showing from a safety: The idea that the team will shop for a safety on the waiver wire is growing. But they are not going to find two new ones, so it would be great if one of four guys -- Reggie Nelson, Anthony Smith, Gerald Alexander or Sean Considine -- had the sort of game that made coaches confident in him.
Another solid effort from Terrance Knighton: He could be the team’s best defensive player, and he did some nice work in the Jaguars’ loss to Miami. If he keeps it going, he can be the touchstone guy for Tyson Alualu, the defensive front and maybe the whole defense to work off of.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars were a fourth-place team that lost its final four games.
Seems to me the logical goal would be trying to move out of the basement and establish some upward mobility in a tough division. But Jack Del Rio and his troops aren’t thinking that way, and who does, really?
They are thinking bigger.
Jack Del Rio has talked to them about contending for a championship.
“I kind of cut my teeth in Baltimore on the same staff with Rex Ryan [under] Brian Billick,” Del Rio said. “You can’t tiptoe in and hope you don’t wake the guy up and you’re going to sneak up on somebody and, ‘Oh, shh, here we come and be quiet.’ In many respects in the NFL, you’ve got to take what you want. You’ve got to set some goals and then go after them. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a goal of being champs.”
“Now the reality is, we’ve got to cover a lot of ground. I’m not unrealistic with that. But I’m not going to concede anything. We’re going to work our tails off to maximize our potential. We can say this is our goal, this is our mission to do these things, but our focus has to be on squeezing what we can out of every day.”
Or as Maurice Jones-Drew said, you never run a race you once lost aiming to finish second-to-last.
THREE HOT ISSUES
They need the free safety to consistently play a reliable center field. And if he can’t make a tackle, he at least has to hold the ball carrier up long enough for help to arrive.
With two games against Peyton Manning and two against Matt Schaub, if one of those guys can’t provide help to corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox -- even if there is a vastly better pass rush -- the Jaguars could have some long AFC South afternoons.
They could look for an additional option on waivers.
2. Is there enough weaponry to go with Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker? Jones-Drew is a top-flight weapon taking handoffs or running under short passes and Sims-Walker did well establishing himself as a go-to guy for David Garrard. But beyond them, do the Jaguars have the playmakers to take the next step?
They certainly have a large pool of candidates. Marcedes Lewis averaged 16.2 yards per catch last season, the best number in the league for a tight end, and another tight end, Zach Miller, is a potential big-play option.
Troy Williamson hasn’t created buzz yet as he did last camp, but I still think they’d like him to secure the starting role opposite Sims-Walker because of his field-stretching speed. The three receivers from the 2009 draft -- Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood -- are an intriguing pool. I anticipate Thomas can really grow into a nifty slot option.
They also like sixth-round pick Deji Karim from Southern Illinois, a quick back who could earn some touches and can win the kick return job. He’ll probably have to get past Rashad Jennings to be a factor on offense, and I feel like they still like Jennings plenty too.
“You want to give the young guys everything that you’ve seen in the league,” Morrison said. “I’ve been in the league five years already. I’ve seen what losing can do, how it can separate a team. I’m saying this is what needs to be done, if you want to go out and win games, you’ve got to work like this. Losing was not fun. There are things I can bring over here like my toughness. I’ve never missed a game in the National Football League.”
The best way to lead is to produce. Morrison can be a tackling machine, and if Kampman returns healthy to a 4-3 defense a year after major knee surgery, he’s a constant threat to the quarterback.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has been productive on a daily basis so far. With a crowd at defensive end including Kampman, Derrick Harvey and rookies Austen Lane and Larry Hart, can Mincey stay healthy and wedge himself onto the roster? The line overall is a young bunch, but its new position coach, Joe Cullen, has the group absolutely flying around and setting a tone the entire team would be wise to follow.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton’s got a good head on his shoulders and has time to get where he needs to be. But he was 346 pounds on Monday, and the team would like him close to 330. If his play drops off, they could be in trouble in the middle no matter how good first-round pick Tyson Alualu is, and he’s been real good from what I’ve seen of him at OTAs and in his debut camp practice. The team can’t move into Knighton’s house and feed him, but how did his weight get so out of hand?
- Vince Manuwai’s flipped from left to right guard and the Jaguars will make that their power side for the run game. But if he doesn’t bounce back from a poor 2009, when he was coming off reconstructive right knee surgery, the team could look to Kynan Forney as the next best interior run blocker.
- Undrafted running back Chad Kackert catches everything and can turn and go… Are there too many guys on this team who can play good to great special teams but not contribute on offense or defense?
- I like the way Ted Monken teaches receivers on the field -- with pointed-but-encouraging detail. I watched him spell out to Roren Thomas how and why he needed to be patient and allow a play to develop for his quarterback after he'd run a short route way too quickly.
- Harvey and Hart have created some buzz. Are they off to really good starts, or is a slow start by right tackle Eben Britton contributing?
- The Jaguars really like second-year corner Don Carey, and it would seem he’d make sense to be the nickel. But Del Rio left the door open that Carey could even earn a starting spot. Left unsaid is whether Del Rio thinks that would impact veteran Mathis or second-year man Cox, whom they loved as a rookie. Or perhaps he’s just looking to light fires.
- I hope offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter runs some option with tight end Zach Miller taking snaps. It’d create excitement and a wrinkle for a team that can be limited on offense and wouldn’t suffer for taking some snaps from Garrard.
- An early Achilles injury to third-round defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith already puts a dent in the depth there. Walter Curry will be a beneficiary.
1. Reggie Nelson, Jaguars FS: Featured here before, he hurt the Jaguars’ chances at being the team to beat Indianapolis on Thursday with his misplay on Reggie Wayne’s 65-yard touchdown catch that put Indy ahead. Nelson was pretty good as a rookie after he was the 21st pick in 2007. But his second and third years have been a disappointment. Perhaps addressing his spot in the offseason will wind up ranking on the priority list.
2. Texans run game: It’s the blocking, it’s the backs, it’s the play calling, it’s everything. Arian Foster, the newest guy to get a chance, fumbled an early catch and saw minimal time. In the second consecutive game against a bad NFC West team, the Texans could not seize control by running with any consistency. A week after AFC South rival Tennessee averaged 5.3 yards a carry in a thrashing of the Rams, Houston managed a 2.2 average.
3. Titans veteran linebackers: The Titans lost both of their outside linebackers for the season. The durable Keith Bulluck tore the ACL in his left knee and will see a starting streak of 127 games end. David Thornton, who’s been dealing with a shoulder injury, was also shelved and will have surgery.
Rookie Gerald McRath can play. But the other spot and a pairing of inexperienced outside backers McRath and Colin Allred or Stanford Keglar or newly signed veteran Jamie Winborn could be a big issue.
1. Daniel Muir, Colts DT: The position was considered a big weakness in 2008, but the top three interior defensive linemen right now were on the team last year. Second-round draft pick Fili Moala was supposed to add size and impact, but Muir has filled that role.
The 312-pounder is averaging over seven tackles a game in his last six, including 10 at Jacksonville. Offenses are averaging 3.9 yards a carry in that span, an improved number for Indy.
2. Justin Gage, Titans WR: Gage’s big leaping catch in San Francisco in Week 9 ended with a crash that broke bones in his lower back. He missed four games and is now playing as the third receiver. He hardly got wide open for his two touchdown catches against the Dolphins, but when Vince Young put up perfect passes for him, he pulled them both in. If Gage plays like that, and Nate Washington holds on to the ball, those two and impressive rookie Kenny Britt could be the team’s best receiving trio in some time.
3. Gerald Alexander, Jaguars SS: Helping offset Nelson’s poor play is a summer trade acquisition. The Jaguars got Alexander from Detroit in exchange for receiver Dennis Northcutt on June 30. In his past three games, he has an interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He’s looking like a guy who could be part of a long-term answer.
But against Houston the resilient Jaguars overcame their mistakes, took advantage of three interceptions, got big plays from unlikely contributors Nate Hughes and Zach Miller, beat the Texans 23-18 and expanded their current hold on an AFC wild-card spot.
While Jacksonville upped its mark to 7-5, Houston fell to 5-7 with a fourth consecutive loss, all in the AFC South. The Texans are tied with the Titans in the division's basement.
One of the Texans’ last ditch efforts came on a fourth-quarter trick play a heady player would have quickly aborted. But instead, Chris Brown forced a throw from the Jacksonville 5-yard line as he was hit and Gerald Alexander picked it off, ending a possession that needed to produce at least a field goal.
The Texans aren’t lacking for symbols of their failures, but there was another one.
Meanwhile the Jaguars completed a sweep of their division rivals and moved to 5-1 at home. They were opportunistic and tough.
Their biggest question in a surprising season has been consistency. They’ll have a chance to show some when they host the Dolphins next week with a chance to move three games over .500 for the first time this season.
Houston is finished with division games (1-5) and all but eliminated from the playoff picture. They need to win three of their final four to get to that familiar 8-8, or to run the table to top it for the first time.
|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.
"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."
|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.
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.
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.
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