After 2009 saw them flip-flop between defensive schemes and finish with a record that was more than their talents deserved, 2010 had the makings of a real eye opener year. One that would usher in an age of complete rebuild from top to bottom.
Only it never worked out that way. Jacksonville improbably found themselves in the playoff hunt until late in the season, doing just enough to keep the status quo going for another year. It’s just now you feel the status quo won’t be enough for a franchise that hasn’t gotten any better for a good few years.
So while Jack Del Rio isn’t quite a dead man walking heading into 2011, he’s going to need to turn the Jaguars into a playoff team in one of the most competitive divisions. If he’s going to do that, then it’s vitally important he addresses these team needs.
After spending some relatively big money on Aaron Kampman in free agency, the Jags would have been happy with his immediate return. A very healthy 32 quarterback pressures through the first eight weeks of the season indicated a good investment, only for the heavily overused Kampman (he came off the field for just 12 of 520 snaps of the first half of the season) to have his year cut short by injury. While Jeremy Mincey (+7.7) looked competent, there was little else on offer from the remainder of the defensive ends with Derrick Harvey cementing his bust status.
So the Jaguars need to find someone who can come in and contribute right away. It’s simply too much of a gamble hoping that Aaron Kampman can rebound from his second ACL injury in two years at the age of 31. Or that the undersized Larry Hart could develop into an every down player. Nor would it be right to expect Austen Lane to build on 313 snaps and become a prolific pass rusher. No, the Jags addressed the interior the past two years and have some talent at linebacker. What they need now is someone who can pressure the quarterback off the edge.
After 2009 I was convinced that all Mike Sims-Walker needed was to add some consistency to his game. If he could do that, he’d be primed to break out as one of the league’s better young receivers. Unfortunately, not only was he unable to find that consistency, but he went missing for large parts of the season.
Sure, he had that phenomenal performance against Dallas in week eight, but other than that, there really wasn’t much to get excited about. Now, with “MSW” a free agent, it looks like he’ll be heading for the exit door and leaving a spot for someone to step up. Of the guys currently on the roster, there isn’t one you feel could be that number one guy. Mike Thomas has excelled as in the slot and working shorter routes, while Jason Hill is relatively untested and a gamble to rely on. As for Tiquan Underwood (-7.0,) well, the less said about him the better.
So it’s a big need for the Jags. But not bigger than defensive end. While they are desperately short on pass rushers, they do have the kind of running game and short/ intermediate targets in the passing game (Maurice Jones Drew, Thomas and Marcedes Lewis) to competently move the ball. If they can find a player who can contribute, then great, but not at the expense of upgrading the pass rush.
This would be higher, but I’m personally, not ready to give up on Derek Cox just yet. Yes he was ridiculously bad as a rookie, but if ever a player had been put in a position where failure was predetermined, it was Cox. And yes he struggled in year two and earned his benching. Some of his performances (Week 1 against Denver and Week 14 against Oakland) were among the worst we’ve seen all year.
But, in among all of that, there were some encouraging signs. In the final five weeks of the season, three of his performances earned significantly good grades. Enough to suggest he was finally starting to get it and that maybe he could make it in the NFL. There is still the problem of Rashean Mathis who just doesn’t look like he can cut it tracking top receivers. Too often beaten and on the wrong side of thirty, it’s time the Jags started finding someone who could take over for him. So it’s a big need, but given their lack of depth at end, we’d be inclined to look on the D-line first.