Photo: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
With head coach Jack Del Rio’s announcement that the Jaguars would be moving on with David Garrard as starting quarterback, the Jaguars quarterback situation has become a national news story. Del Rio’s press conference sent shockwaves through North Florida, and fans of the team and media alike have had very strong reactions, one way or the other.
The strongest reaction has come from the new starting quarterback, David Garrard.
“I’m really excited that I am getting the opportunity to show myself from week one, especially coming off a preseason and feeling good. If it would have been a little rocky and this happened then my confidence wouldn’t be the same. But I feel great and I feel I have learned a lot of things from last year, good and bad, that I can take into this season. I really feel like it’s perfect timing for myself being named starter and having a baby this season. It couldn’t be better. It really couldn’t.”
Although Garrard has been officially named the Jaguars starting quarterback, he has started most of the Jaguars games over the last two years (15 out of the last 21), due to Byron Leftwich’s ankle injuries. Last season, Garrard started off well with victories on the road against playoff bound Philadelphia, followed by a 37-7 whipping of the Jaguars most bitter rival, and opening day opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Disaster ensued, as the Jaguars lost a game at home to the lowly Houston Texans, a game in which Garrard accounted for four interceptions. Garrard followed that outing by playing well in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football in the Jaguars clubbing of the playoff bound New York Giants, and it appeared over the next few weeks that David Garrard would be a solid starting quarterback for a team whose identity relied upon a strong running game and defense.
As Jaguars fans know, everything changed on December 17th, at the Coliseum in Tennessee. The Jaguars came into that game with an 8-5 record, and poised to make their second consecutive trip to the playoffs, fresh off a 44-17 beat-down of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Colts. The Jaguars dominated the game against Tennessee, holding the Titans to just 98 yards of total offense while compiling nearly 400 yards of their own. The Jaguars held the ball for nearly 45 minutes, and inexplicably lost the game, 24-17, as Tennessee scored three touchdowns off David Garrard turnovers. That game was the beginning of the end of the year tailspin the Jaguars went through that saw their season end at 8-8, with Garrard being benched early in the second half of the season finale at Kansas City. Garrard describes the way last year ended–
“We had a great team last year and I think I put too much pressure on myself. I tried to do too much for myself out there. I remember feeling like in the Tennessee game that if I let the defense come on the field at all, the game would have been won. Offensively they didn’t do anything. And so I have to try not to do so much. I love making plays. I love being the guy making the plays, but the game is bigger than me. It’s a team effort. I want to make sure I keep it that way.”
2007 is a new season for the Jaguars, and Garrard has looked like a new quarterback in the preseason. Garrard completed 36-of-47 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown. He has looked more decisive and has seemed to limit some of the bad mistakes that cost the Jaguars last season. Garrard was asked about a light going off in training camp and responded–
“I keep hearing about this light. I don’t think a light per se went off for me. I just continued to get more and more comfortable in my position. I made some strides last year and I think I’m growing from those ups and downs. You have to learn from it all to be a complete quarterback. You have to go through some bad things. You have to be booed to be a good quarterback, to know you can endure those things and still persevere. I could have come into this season and not done well and had really low self-esteem, no confidence whatsoever, but that’s just not me. I have been dying for this opportunity to be able to show myself and everybody else what I can truly and honestly do.”
This is now David’s team, and it appears that the collection of talent that the Jaguars have around him seem better suited for Garrard’s game. Reggie Williams is a run after the catch type of receiver, and Ernest Wilford and Matt Jones are possession guys. With Garrard under center, the Jaguars have more options with possible roll-outs and draws, and opposing defenses must account for his scrambling abilities. The offensive line doesn’t have to be as perfect, and they could be feeling less pressure. With Leftwich at quarterback for the 2007 season, the Jaguars would have likely gone away from their offensive strength and identity, which is of course the running game. Now with Garrard, it is likely that the team will be persistent with the run. When asked about what he brings to the team, Garrard responded–
“I feel like I definitely bring some things to the table. I’m really excited that I am getting the opportunity to show myself from week one, especially coming off a preseason and feeling good. If it would have been a little rocky and this happened then my confidence wouldn’t be the same. But I feel great and I feel I have learned a lot of things from last year, good and bad, that I can take into this season. I really feel like it’s perfect timing for myself being named starter and having a baby this season. It couldn’t be better. It really couldn’t.”
So are the Jaguars a better team with Garrard under center? That’s the million dollar question, actually the five million dollar question, being that five million dollars is the amount the Jaguars will be saving with the release of Byron Leftwich. The running game is as good as any in the league, and the defense is legitimately great, when healthy. The Jaguars taking the next step from a bubble team in the wildcard picture to a Super Bowl contender depends almost solely on if the passing game can improve from the 24th ranking that it had a year ago. The Jaguars new starting quarterback was asked if he could lead this team to a Super Bowl– “I really do. We were so very close last year. We played a lot of good teams that we actually beat. I think with me having grown more this year that I should be better. I should be better because we have a great team this year.”
Garrard is certainly confident and is speaking the part. Now can he act it out? We’ll find out a little more starting Sunday.