*** The Upon Further Review series will resume next week. Since there is no game film to review, this will be a more of a preview of the Broncos Week One opponent. ***
The Denver Broncos will travel to Jacksonville to open their regular season against the Jaguars. EverBank Field (formerly known as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and Alltel Stadium) will be the site of the contest on Sunday. The Jags finished the 2009 season with a 7-9 record which left them in the basement of the AFC South. The upside is that they had the privilege of having the 10th selection in the 2010 draft.
The Overall NFL Rankings for the Jaguars in 2009 were as follows. On Offense: 18.1 points per game (24th), PASSING YDS 209.8 (19th), RUSHING YDS 126.8 (10th). On Defense: 23.8 points per game (24th) OPP PASSING YDS 235.9 (27th), OPP RUSHING YDS 116.4 (19th).
The Team Leaders were Quarterback David Garrard, who went 314/516 for 3597 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew ran 312 times for 1391 yards, a 4.5 avg./carry, with 15 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdown. The top Receivers were Mike Sims-Walker, with 63 receptions for 869 yards, a 13.8 YPC avg. and 7 touchdowns. Torry Holt had 51 catches for 722 yards, a 14.2 YPC avg. with 0 touchdowns. The Defense was led by John Henderson, who had 3.0 Sacks, and Derek Cox with 4 interceptions. It should be noted that Torry Holt and John Henderson are no longer with the team.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio's M.O. is to run the ball and defend the run, and so far he's batting .500. The strength of the "Teal Team" is the running game, featuring Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD had 1,391 yds rushing in 2009 despite the team abandoning the run during 5 blowout losses. The line is fortified by veteran Vince Manuwai, a 7 year starter, who is now a backup guard. Apparently they are happy with OG Uche Nwaneri. They signed him to a five-year, $24 million contract recently. With the expected improvement from 2nd year OT's Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton and a blocking beast like TE Marcedes Lewis, the Jag's have a fair chance of being a top-five rushing unit.
The other half of the equation above, is the run defense. There are several question marks on defense, particularly the secondary. The safety play has been an issue for two years. 2nd yr CB Derek Cox has also looked more vulnerable than during his rookie year. The line should be improved this season. They cut DT John Henderson and signed DE Aaron Kampman. Defensive Lineman Tyson Alualu, D'Anthony Smith, Larry Hart, and Austin Lane were drafted, but overall depth is a concern throughout the unit.
Jacksonville Head Coach Jack Del Rio has harped throughout training camp that the offensive line is playing better and that the team is tackling better on defense and it's time for the Jaguars to show improvement in both areas. The Jaguars will need to show a different look in those two areas -- offensive line and tackling -- this week in order to put up some positive numbers. Both teams have dealt with injuries this pre-season but they should be fairly healthy for Sunday's game. Let's take a look at the 2010 Jacksonville Jaguars.
* WR Torry Holt, released on February 11, 2009.
* OT Tra Thomas, released on February 11, 2009.
* DT Rob Meier, released on February 11, 2009.
* DT John Henderson, released on April 26, 2010.
* LB Brian Iwuh, released on April 26, 2010.
* DT Montavious Stanley, released on April 26, 2010.
* LB Clint Ingram, declared free agent.
* RB Allen Patrick, released on May 25, 2010.
* DE Reggie Hayward, released on July 7, 2010.
Free Agent Signings
* WR Kassim Osgood, free agent signed on March 6, 2010.
* DE Aaron Kampman, free agent signed on March 7, 2010.
* LB Kirk Morrison, acquired in trade on April 24, 2010.
* LB Freddy Keiaho, free agent signed on April 30, 2010.
* G Justin Smiley, acquired in trade on May 25, 2010.
* DE Quentin Groves was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 5th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
* The Jaguars traded their 4th round pick (108 overall) to the Oakland Raiders for a 5th round pick (153 overall) and LB Kirk Morrison.
* The Jaguars traded their 5th round pick (158 overall) to the New Orleans Saints for a 4th round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
All six Draft Picks made the final 53 man roster, although their second pick is on the Injured Reserve List. The only rookie expected to start in the 2010 opener is defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.
1 (10), DT Tyson Alualu, 6'3, 295 lb, California—Alualu gives the Jaguars a high-motor rusher to pair with Aaron Kampman on pass downs. Fortunately, he was only a five-day holdout and got enough work in training camp to be ready for the season-opener, unlike the Jaguars' first-round pick the previous two years. He's in the starting lineup and will likely be there for a number of years.
3 (74), DT D'Anthony Smith, 6'2, 300 lb, Louisiana Tech—A rangy athlete with good size, Smith is capable of occupying double teams at the point to free up linebackers to roam inside. After watching their defense fall from the ranks of the elite, the Jaguars added several pieces to head a defensive revival in Jacksonville. Would have been in the D-tackle rotation had he been healthy. D'Anthony was placed on injured reserve following an Achilles injury several weeks ago. He is the only one of the Jaguars 15 draft picks the last two years under GM Gene Smith who are not on the team's 53-man roster to start the 2010 season.
5 (143), OLB Larry Hart, 6'1, 248 lb, Central Arkansas—Extremely quick coming off the end spot but is a liability on running plays. He'll serve as a backup and will mostly be used in 3rd and long situations.
5 (153), DL Austen Lane, 6'6, 267 lb , Murray State—Lane is an athletic edge rusher with good potential. He has good initial quickness, and possesses the tools to develop into a legitimate threat off the edge. Austen gives the Jaguars another young rusher to groom as part of their defensive makeover. Lane had a good camp and will be in the DE rotation. He plays physical but has a lot to learn yet.
6 (180), RB Deji Karim, 5'11, 205 lb, Southern Illinois—Karim had one of the most impressive pro day workouts of any 2010 prospect, and was drafted to compete for a chance to spell starter Maurice Jones-Drew. He was an unexpected surprise with his ability as a kick returner in the first two games. Needed thumb surgery after the 2nd pre-season game, so we will see how it affects his ability to return kickoffs. Deji had his cast removed on Monday (9/6) and returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis. It looks like Karim may be able to return kicks against Denver on Sunday, though it depends on how his thumb responds in practice.
6 (203), KR Scotty McGee, 5'9, 190 lb, James Madison— McGee has amazing speed, and has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.37 seconds. He is also extremely quick, and has great ability as a kick returner. The Jaguars struggled to produce big plays in the return game, so maybe he can help solve some of those problems. Scotty was slated to be the team's punt returner and now may handle kickoff duties as well with the injury to Karim. He has a long way to go before he can be counted on to provide help as a defensive back.
The Jaguars Quarterback position is erratic (David Garrard) and inconsistent (Luke McCown). Garrard needs to play better in 2010 if the Jaguars have any hope of making the playoffs. His problem is that he runs hot and cold on a weekly basis. His QB rating the last two years has been in the low 80s and that has stymied the offense. Look at last year's numbers. He had 8 games with a passing rating over 100, and the rest below 65. He tends to try and throw into coverage and that could result in some defensive big plays, if not some points. Bailey, Goodman and Cox must be licking their chops. This has been one of the keys to wrecking Garrard's production. The other key is getting enough pressure on him. Last years Jag's allowed too many sacks and Denver's new "Big Look" Defense will have to be creative to compensate from the loss of the league's 2009 sack leader Elvis Dumervil. McCown has had an inconsistent training camp, but has performed well in the preseason games. The talent is there but he has to show it on a consistent basis.
The Running Backs feature Maurice Jones-Drew, with Fullback Greg Jones leading the way. Backing them up are Running Backs Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim, and Fullbacks Montell Owens and Brock Bolen. During pre-season, Maurice Jones-Drew has only carried the ball six times in the first two games. He was held out for the last two, with Coach Del Rio claiming he was saving MJD for the regular season. Jones-Drew insisted that he hasn't had a relapse and will be 100% to start the season. So while he watched, Rashad Jennings saw plenty of time and attention in his stead. The big question is whether undrafted rookie fullback Brock Bolen unseated the more experienced and expensive Jones, who is due to make $3 million this year. Jacksonville wasn't comfortable with Rashad Jennings as a backup to Jones-Drew, as he only had a total of 33 carries last year. But the confidence has grown for both the team and Jennings as the second-year back has emerged this training camp as a solid backup to Jones-Drew. Jennings has shown good ability as both a running back and someone who can catch passes coming out of the backfield. That will give the Jaguars more versatility at the position and will likely spell more rest for Jones-Drew who finished the year with a career-high 312 carries.
At Tight End, the Jaguars have Starter Marcedes Lewis and Backups Zach Miller and Zach Potter. Marcedes Lewis wants to prove he's the best all-around tight end in the NFL, capable of blocking defensive ends, beating linebackers down the field and becoming quarterback David Garrard's go-to guy. Lewis may be the most improved veteran on the team. He's catching everything thrown his way, has vastly improved his blocking technique and has joined Garrard as the outspoken leaders of the offense. The coaching staff has been waiting for this type of production from the 5-year pro out of UCLA. He's likely to exceed his personal high of 41 catches in his career and could finish as the team's No. 2 receiver behind wideout Mike Sims-Walker. He took a step toward his goal last season. He caught 32 passes for a career-high 518 yards and two touchdowns. Not staggering numbers compared to the elite tight ends, but the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Lewis averaged 16.2 yards a catch, tops for TE's and better than most of the league's star receivers. When healthy, Miller can be a dangerous threat utilized as a wide receiver at the tight end position. He's got speed, the knack of getting open and great hands, but his blocking is a drawback.
The Wide Receivers for Jacksonville are Starters Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas. The Backups are Jarett Dillard, Tiquan Underwood and Kassim Osgood. This position may have been the area of most concern at the conclusion of the 2009 season. The Jaguars did nothing to help the receiving corps. It's the same unit minus Torry Holt from a year ago when Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas combined for 111 receptions. But the next high total from that receiver group was Jarett Dillard who caught six passes. That leaves the Jaguars with two average receivers and a handful of youngsters trying to make the roster. Osgood is the only new addition to the group from a year ago, but the staff likes the way the others have developed into above average receivers. Sims-Walker could be ready for a breakout season if one of the other receivers can pose enough of a threat to take some of the pressure and attention off him. Thomas has grabbed hold of the No. 2 spot and looked solid in the preseason games. The No. 3 spot, the speed receiver position, was up for grabs between Dillard and Underwood. Dillard had fallen behind due to a stress fracture on his toe. It appears to have healed and he has been solid in practice, but Underwood won the speed receiver spot despite having several drops during preseason games. Kassim Osgood hasn't panned out in his big tryout as a receiver, but everyone is so enamored with his skills as a special teams player, he made the roster just for that.
Updated News:The Jacksonville Jaguars have promoted wide receiver John Matthews to the active roster from the practice squad and are expected to place wide receiver Jarett Dillard on injured reserve due to his ongoing foot problems after suffering a stress fracture during the preseason.
The Jag's Offensive Linemen are Starters LT Eugene Monroe, LG Justin Smiley, C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, RT Eben Britton. The Backups are T Jordan Black, , G Vince Manuwai, T Kevin Haslam. Four of the five spots are settled after veteran Meester held off all challenges to win the right to play an 11th—and likely final—season with the Jaguars. All have had trouble staying healthy in training camp. Justin Smiley was the surprise winner of the competition at left guard for the Jaguars despite missing a portion of training camp with an injury. Smiley is a 7th year guard who was traded to the Jaguars in late May from Miami. He battled starting guard Vince Manuwai and another veteran, Kynan Forney who was in his 10th year in the league. Manuwai earned the backup spot while Forney was released. Jordan Black will be the backup tackle. Black has seen some time at the tight end spot but only as a blocker. The interior part of this unit is suspect and the Broncos may be able to exploit it.
The Starters on the Defensive Line are LE Derrick Harvey, DT Tyson Alualu, DT Terrance Knighton, RE Aaron Kampman. The Backups are LE Jeremy Mincey, RE Larry Hart, DE Austen Lane, DT Leger Douzable, DT Landon Cohen. More question marks with this group than the coaches would like. The starting unit seems solid but it hasn't spent a lot of time together as the staff has been hesitant to have them on the field too much and risking injury. Alualu appears to be the perfect fit for Knighton and those two should clog the middle and apply a formidable pass rush. Bigger questions come at the end spots where Kampman has shown the ability to wreak havoc on QBs but that was before he had ACL surgery on his knee last December. Harvey was said to have had a strong training camp, but in the first three preseason games, he recorded just six total tackles and one sack. Smith's Achilles injury, which sent him to IR was a big loss as he was set to be the No. 3 DT. Hart and Lane are promising rookies and will likely stick with the club. Aaron Kampman was held out of much of the preseason games and rarely participated in both practices when the Jaguars had two-a-day sessions during training camp. That has left the former Pro Bowl end healthy and ready to go after having season-ending ACL surgery in Week 11 of the 2009 season. Leger Douzable was acquired to provide depth at the tackle spot after the Jaguars lost D'Anthony Smith for the season and top draft pick Tyson Alualu was slowed by a calf injury. Douzable has spent time with the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams where he played in 12 games last season and recorded 16 tackles. Douzable is anything but a household name among Jaguars fans but the defensive tackle who was acquired on Aug. 8 has surprised many with his solid play in his short time with the club.
The Jaguars Linebacking Corps consists of Starters WLB Daryl Smith, MLB Kirk Morrison and SLB Justin Durant. Russell Allen, Jacob Cutrera, Aaron Morgan are the Backups. The only question among who would start was a battle between Durant and Allen with the former winning out. If there is an injury, Allen will be the replacement though there may be a shift in positions. If Morrison can maintain the high energy level he showed in Oakland the last five years, the Jaguars will have made a steal in getting him from the Raiders during the draft without having to give up players or draft picks. Morrison is a vocal leader, but bottom line is he's yet to play on a winning team in either college or the NFL. Smith is back to his more natural spot on the outside and should be a force there. Durant is athletic but has a tendency to over-react and miss out on the play. While Allen could fill in without any noticeable difference in the starters, there's a significant drop-off after that. Already, three linebackers are on reserve/injured. If two starters go down for the Jaguars, this will be a vulnerable area for opponents to exploit.
The Defensive Backs for the Teal and Black are Starters CB Rashean Mathis, CB Derek Cox, SS Sean Considine and FS Courtney Greene. The Backups are CB Don Carey, CB Michael Coe, SS Anthony Smith, FS Tyron Brackenridge, CB David Jones, CB Scotty McGee, CB William Middleton. It took two months of OTAs in the spring and summer, two weeks of training camp and three preseason games before the Jag's finally decided on their starting Safeties. They surprised many by releasing Gerald Alexander and trading Reggie Nelson, the two players many thought were the leading candidates for the free safety spot. David Jones came over in the Nelson trade and is slated for the starting Nickel spot. The coaching staff rated Sean Considine as having the most productive OTA session and training camp which is why he won the job, leaving the strong safety spot to Anthony Smith. Another factor was Alexander and Nelson's susceptibility to injuries. Both players missed considerable time the last couple of years due to injuries. Should Considine and Smith get the majority of starts this season, it would mark the ninth consecutive season that the Jaguars have had a different combination of safeties start the most games from one year to the next. The corners are set with Mathis and Cox though once again, both fell victim to allowing some big completions in preseason games. This unit was a weak area a year ago and it doesn't appear to be a lot stronger a year later.
Defensively the line is young and full of energy for the most part. Tackles Terrance Knighton was a hit as a rookie and this year's first-round pick Tyson Alualu could be even better. But the two pass-rushing ends remain suspect. Aaron Kampman is one of the best in the league when he's at his prime, but after knee surgery in December, there's some doubt if he'll be at his best, less than a year removed from the surgery.
Derrick Harvey has not even been an average pass rusher in his two seasons. The team's first-round draft pick in 2008 has totaled just 5.5 sacks in two seasons. Coach Jack Del Rio said Harvey has had a strong camp and looks solid this year, but Harvey still only got to the quarterback once in the first three preseason games.
When there is a lack of pass rush, the secondary must work overtime and it did so in 2009. The hope was that this unit would also improve, hand-in-hand with the defensive line. But with one preseason game remaining, Del Rio still hasn't announced who has won the two starting jobs at safety. Cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox will open at their familiar spots, but the safety spots are up for grabs among four players, none of whom made a lasting impression in training camp.
The Specialists on ST's for the Jaguars are P Adam Podlesh, PK Josh Scobee, LS Jeremy Cain, PR/KR Scotty McGee, PR Mike Thomas, KR Deji Karim The kicking game looks to be better than it was in 2009. Scobee, who suffered through his worst of six seasons with the Jaguars a year ago, connected on all seven of his field goal attempts in the first three preseason games. Even his kickoffs seem higher and deeper than before. Podlesh was strong in the punting department, averaging better than 42.5 yards a kick in the first three games. He's not being pushed by anyone and has improved on his directional kicks, placing five of his 12 punts inside the 20 yard line including two inside the 5-yard line. The only question marks at the mid-week report dealt with rookie kick returners Deji Karim and Scotty McGee. Both missed the team's final preseason game. Their status is uncertain for Sunday's game. WR Mike Thomas will take over for Scotty McGee in returning punts and Rashad Jennings will handle kickoff returns if Deji Karim can't go.
THINGS TO WATCH
Jacksonville DE Aaron Kampman vs. Broncos LT Ryan Clady - Kampman, the team’s top off-season acquisition, makes his debut nine months after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee. He faces Broncos LT Ryan Clady, who had a knee surgery of his own, less than five months ago to repair a torn patella tendon in his left knee.
Jacksonville's running game - This unit may not be up to par since the starting line and Maurice Jones-Drew worked together very little in the preseason. The same can be said of the Broncos running game. Jones-Drew has become one of the NFL's top backs since taking over starting duties for former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor. The question that must be answered however is whether Jones-Drew can go a full game and if so, how effective he'll be late in the game. He missed the team's final two games when the coaching staff opted to rest him and avoid any type of injury. With only six carries (minus-2 net yards), Jones-Drew doesn't appear to have the proper conditioning in preseason to be ready for the regular season.
Offensively, the club has to be concerned about its running game, or lack thereof. There seems to be few holes created by the offensive line that has been hit with injuries to its bookend tackles of Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. Certainly 14 and 54 total yards rushing in the team's first two pre-season games respectively, is an indication that help is needed. Their work horse has had minimal play during the pre-season while working his way back from an injured knee. He is healthy and will start against the Broncos on Sunday though. His Backup, Rashad Jennings is a viable asset to spell MJD, but neither have had any openings in which to run through thus far this pre-season. The interior line play must improve for this game, or the Broncos secondary will be active. And that's a match-up that Josh McDaniels will take.
Jacksonville's defense has some fine players and some other problems. They lost D'Anthony Smith to a ruptured Achilles tendon, so he's out for the year. Jacksonville has been playing a 4-3 defense, and losing Smith interferes with their rotation. They do have some good weapons, though - Aaron Kampman came from Green Bay to a warmer climate with a position that he feels suits him better, and Derrick Harvey is still very effective. Now they also have surprise (heck, shock is more like it) 1st round pick Tyson Alualu, and this will be his first chance to contribute. Larry Hart is behind Kampman and Harvey, and Terrence Knighton will be at DT next to Alualu.
The Jaguars drafted four defensive linemen with their first four picks of the draft with the hope that it would help a D-line that produced but 14 quarterback sacks a year ago. They continued to put special emphasis on defense throughout training camp. So far, it's yet to bring about the kind of results that are needed to shut down an opponent. Tackling was also consistent weak area for the Jaguars last year. Early returns indicate it does not seem to be that much better this season, despite the concerted effort to make it a priority. Too many arm tackles and lunges resulting in nothing but air, have kept opposing drives intact.
The Teal Town Team will need solid line play against the Broncos. They put special emphasis during the off-season of improving the pass rush and protecting their quarterback, two areas where they ranked near or at the bottom of the league last year. Both young lines will need to have strong showings against Denver's seasoned veterans up front.
This is the 8th regular-season meeting between the two teams. Jacksonville leads the series, 4-3. The Jag's have won two of the three games at home, but only by a combined four points. Only one of the previous seven games has been decided by double digits. The most historic meeting between the two teams came in 1996, the Jaguars' second year in the league. Jacksonville was a double-digit underdog to the Broncos in the AFC Divisional playoff game but behind then-quarterback Mark Brunell, the Jaguars sprung a 30-27 upset at Mile High Stadium. The following year the two teams again met in the playoffs in an AFC Wild Card game and Denver prevailed easily at home, 42-17. Broncos have won 16 of last 21 openers and own the best mark in AFC on opening weekend (32-17-1). Meanwhile, the Jaguars have lost three straight home openers. They will have the home field heat advantage against a team from a much different climate. The Broncos understand such an advantage because of their own thin air advantage in the Mile High City.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jaguars GM Gene Smith has upgraded both lines in his two years on the job. QB David Garrard is inconsistent and coach Del Rio is at a career crossroad. Smith is trying to put enough pieces around Garrard to win with him. But this franchise is at least a year away from being a playoff team. The Jaguars aren't generally thought of as a playoff contender among the national media - they are usually picked to finish somewhere from 5-11 to 7-9.
The forecast for Sunday is a toasty 90 degrees, and the Jaguars are 5-1 in their six hottest games. If the forecast is correct, it would be the hottest game in Jaguars history. They have played three times in 88 degree temperatures and won all three. The Broncos proved last year that a fast start doesn't guarantee success. They started out 6-0 last year and finished 8-8.
The Line favors the Jaguars by 2 1/2 points. The home field advantage is usually worth 3 points.
One last question remains. In Tim Tebow's homecoming, will we see his debut in the Wild Horse package?