JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP)
When the Jacksonville Jaguars
drafted Eugene Monroe
and Eben Britton
with their first two picks in the 2009 draft, it was thought the team had acquired bookend tackles for the next decade.
While that may still be the case, it hasn't happened yet.
Injuries have resulted in Monroe starting at left tackle and Britton at right tackle in the same game just seven times the last two years. All came in the first half of the 2010 season. Britton suffered a shoulder injury in the eighth game against Kansas City, and two days later was placed on injured reserve.
Last year, a back injury restricted Britton to only four games and three starts. Two came as a left guard and in the one game he started at right tackle, against New Orleans, Monroe was out due to a shoulder injury.
''I think that with Eben and myself in there, consistently healthy, without guys shuffling in and out of the line, I think (quarterback) Blaine (Gabbert) will be confident with that,'' Britton said. ''He'll be confident that he's got some linemen in there that he can trust to be there every play with him.''
That's the way it could be in 2012. Both tackles opened training camp this year injury-free, and even though Monroe has missed the last couple days due to a leg ailment, he should return next week.
For Gabbert, that's good news. He was sacked at least once in all of the 15 games he played in last year, operating at times behind a patchwork offensive line. He was dropped 40 times in all, including seven games when he was sacked three or more times.
A healthy Britton will likely lower those numbers. He brings a passion for the game that few can match and has the athletic talent to challenge some of the league's best defensive ends.
''It's good to have him back in the huddle. He's a tough guy. There's no question that he loves football,'' Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. ''He lightens up physical parts of practice.
''For most guys in training camp, this is a grind. He either is really happy ... or he is a really good actor.''
It's the former. What you see and hear from Britton is for real he says. He leaves no doubt about his affinity to the sport.
''I love the game, I love the violence in the game. I love the passion and I love these guys in this locker room,'' he said. ''There's nothing better than this game. Football has been the best thing I've been able to do with my life.
''After a couple of hard years with injuries, I'm just so thankful to be able to be back out there.''
While Monroe is quiet and would rather lead by example, Britton may be the most vocal player on the team. He's often heard yelling, shouting words of encouragement as players finish one drill and jog to the next one.
''That's me, that's who I am,'' he said. ''Sure, there are days that are rough, when it's tough to go out there and be the rah-rah guy, the energy guy, the excitement guy. But I feel when I do that, if I can light that fire inside myself, then it can lift the team as well.
''If that's all I can do, then I can accomplish something on this team.''
The Jaguars will take all they can get.
The Jaguars have been waiting on their "bookends of the future" to perform like top picks. Entering Year 4, it may be make it or break it time for the top of the 2009 draft class.