JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A week into camp, the Jaguars are showing a bit of leg weariness but plenty of promise for 2010.
The 2008 Jaguars were no fun. Management thought they were just a couple of players away from being competitive over the 2007 team, so they added a few pieces and hoped for the best.
The exact opposite happened, as the free-agent signings were busts both on the field and in the locker room.
The 2009 Jaguars were retooled, and despite their denials, it was a year of rebuilding. Jack Del Rio gave up the personnel decisions to a new general manager, Gene Smith, who started to put the team back together from the inside out.
This year, Smith continued to build from the inside out in both the draft and free agency, and it?s starting to transform the team.
Long time NFL executive Bill Polian said the Jaguars ?will be the most improved team in the AFC.?
Of course, they have to play the game, but if anybody?s paying attention outside of shouting distance of the St. Johns River, it?s easy to follow Polian?s thinking.
Using their top four draft picks as well as the bulk of their free-agent money on the defensive line, the Jaguars will be upgraded there. Nobody?s every seen anybody work as hard as Aaron Kampman did in the off-season rehabbing his knee. He?s a non-stop worker, but also a seasoned veteran teacher and has become a steadying influence in the locker room and meeting rooms.
Derrick Harvey, a disappointment by any measure as a first-round pick three years ago, looks quicker and smarter in practice. Credit Kampmann with a lot of Harvey?s improvement.
The Jaguars? first-round pick Tyson Alualu looks to be the real deal. As a Defensive Tackle, he?s all about force and work, and Alualu has both.
Add Terrence Knighton at the other DT, and the Jaguars have a defensive starting line that?s built to compliment each position across the front.
Kirk Morrison, who was acquired in a trade with Oakland, will step in as the starting MLB. I don?t know why the Raiders were willing to part with him, but Morrison is also a leader, a worker and a great locker room guy. He?ll play hard every down.
Despite his unhappiness with his contract, Rashean Mathis looks to return to his Pro Bowl form, so if you add that to the rest of the new acquisitions on defense, that side of the ball looks, after the first week of camp, as an upgrade.
On offense, both of last year?s first two draft picks, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton look stronger, trimmer, and smarter. There will be plenty of competition in the middle, but Brad Meester looks like he?s determined to keep his starting job at center for another year.
Greg Jones is back with Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield; Rashad Jennings looks like he?s figured out the pro game. Marcedes Lewis at Tight End has plenty of help there, including Zack Miller, the former quarterback.
And that leaves quarterback and wide receiver. The receivers are the same. Mike Sims-Walker has Pro Bowl potential but not downfield speed. Troy Williamson is healthy and has ?stepped it up,? according to Del Rio. But Mike Thomas could be the key. He?s quick and fast and will have to be accounted for in the slot in a three-wide set.
That?s still a big question mark for the team, especially since we still don?t know what Jarrett Dillard can do.
David Garrard has worked hard in the off-season establishing himself as a leader. He?s taken teammates out to dinner; he?s been vocal in the weight room and is stretching out his persona like never before.
The starting quarterback gets respect just because of the position, but Garrard has never embraced the arrogance that?s occasionally called for at that position. But he?s moved closer to that this year.
He is, in his own way, letting it be known that anything less than your best won?t be tolerated in the offensive huddle. Or anywhere else.
But if you look at the team as a whole in practice, they?re more up-tempo. There?s a buzz. There?s a level of accountability among each other. And there?s an expectation that they can win.
?Why not us?? Garrard said as camp started.
After the first week of camp it?s easy to agree. Why not?
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