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Jacksonville Jaguars 2004 Season Preview

Can the Jacksonville Jaguars Live Up to the Hype?

By Mike Cowan - Jacksonville Jaguars Correspondent

Updated September 04, 2004
The 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars have drawn many comparisons to the 2003 Carolina Panthers. They appear to be a team on the rise, and they are considered a surprise pick by many to go to the playoffs. The first step, though, will be a winning season, then the team can think about the playoffs.

There have not been too many high points for the franchise since it's last playoff win. At that time, the team was 14-2, headed into the playoffs with home-field advantage. After knocking off Miami 62-7 in Dan Marino's final game, the Tennessee Titans ran right through the Jags. Since then, it's been downhill. The team hit a serious problem with the salary cap, being forced to release high priced veterans, and fired the only head coach the team ever had in Tom Coughlin.

The team is healed now. The salary cap wounds were fixed, and Jack Del Rio has the team headed in the right direction. The off-season was quiet, but rather productive. The Jags clearly stressed depth as its first priority. Players like Ephraim Salaam, Mike Compton, Todd Yoder, and Sam Favors were brought in to compete for starting roles, but more importantly, to get the best out of the guys they already have at their positions.

Deon Grant was brought in to start at free safety. Grant is coming off his best year in the NFL. Also shaping up the secondary, the Jags brought in Juran Bolden and veteran Dewayne Washington. They will battle it out for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Rashean Mathis. Lewis Sanders was signed as well, adding even more depth at the position.

Jacksonville decided to use its first round pick on Washington WR Reggie Williams. This was considered a curve ball, since many expected the Jags to use this pick on a DE, either Kenechi Udeze or Will Smith. Shack Harris and Co. felt that getting Byron Leftwich another target was more important. Daryl Smith was perhaps the teams best pick. He has made great strides in training camp. Smith might be starting week one at linebacker.

Greg Jones and Josh Scobee were two picks that also suprised many. The Jags already have a workhorse in Fred Taylor, and using a pick on a kicker is questionable. Bobby McCray is a steal in round seven. McCray should see playing time now that Brackens and Douglas are out of town. Third round pick Jorge Cordova was drafted by the Jags as a DPR(Designated Pass Rusher) However, Cordovahas been placed on IR and is lost for the season with an ACL injury. Ernest Wilford is a big receiver who is expected to win some jump balls this year. He will be a factor on special teams as well, already blocking a punt this preseason.

Special teams coach Pete Rodriguez was brought in to improve the special teams play. Rodriguez is left with a weak competition at place kicker. Josh Scobee has won the job by default. The Jags were dead last in FG percentage last year, and Rodriguez hopes to improve that number.

Attendence is down at Alltel Stadium. There has been a lot of talk about the team covering seats in 2005. The amount of games being blacked out in the local area is a major concern. The NFL Network will be running a show, similar to the HBO special's "Hard Knocks", titled "Inside Training Camp : Jaguars Summer." The Franchise needs some exposure. This, and the city hosting the Super Bowl this year, should get the Jags some extra attention.

Quarterback
The team will live and die with second-year QB Byron Leftwich. He is the man in Jacksonville.This is his team now. Leftwich will have to cut down on turnovers for the team to have a shot at the post-season. Dispite the mistakes, though, Leftwich put up some good numbers in 2003, passing for 14 TDs and over 2,800 yards in only 13 starts. It was one of the best performances by a rookie QB in NFL Histoy. Leftwich has a cannon arm, at times overthrowing the ball. He spent countless hours this off-season in the film room, so expect a breakout performance from the teams 2003 first-round choice. Anyone who runs Mark Brunell out of town must have some potential. Mechanics are a small issue with Byron. His delivery and the way he holds the ball is a bit awkward, but it's not something that can not be fixed.

Backup David Garrard suffered from Crohn's Disease this off-season and needed surgery. He appears to be 100% and says Crohn's is no longer an issue. Garrard is a good insurance policy in case Leftwich goes down. He got some playing time in 2002, and flashed talent rushing for two TDs in a loss to the Titans. Quinn Grey beat out Doug Johnson for the third spot on the roster. Johnson was signed as a free agent this off-season, but was recently released.

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