Gene Smith (JagNation.com)
Heading into the 2009 offseason, it was a given that there would be changes within the Jaguars organization. Changes are made within every organization, each year, but with the Jaguars it was obvious major moves were in store. There had to be.
After all the Jaguars had entered the 2008 season as a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, only to finish the year with a dreadful 5-11 record and a locker room filled with discontent. Even worse, thanks to numerous off the field incidents among certain players coupled with a much publicized player/coach feud, the Jaguars image was one of a team that had lost it's way. New GM Gene Smith wasted no time in making it clear that the Jaguars would be headed in a different direction under his watch.
"I want people in the locker room and on this team to have the substance of character that when you have difficult times or you are faced with adversity they are going to respond in a positive way," Smith said in his first sit down with the media.
With that statement alone, Smith essentially began his version of "spring cleaning" on the Jaguars roster. After the dust settled the team had said goodbye to 10 veterans who had started at least one game for the 2008 team. Character and off the field issues weren't the primary reason in all of cases, and certainly had nothing to do with the team saying goodbye to former team captains Fred Taylor and Paul Spicer, however the same can not be said regarding many of the other players. Whether it was run-ins with the law or run-ins with the coaching staff, it was clear the leash on acceptable behavior was going to be tighter moving forward.
Bigger is Better
The offensive line was without a doubt the team's biggest weakness in 2008, and with the team allowing Khalif Barnes to leave via free agency, the line was left with even more holes to fill. If the Jaguars were to regain their identity this is where they would do it.
"I don't think you can ever be strong enough in the offensive and defensive line, depth wise," Smith said. "I think you build a team from the inside out. You certainly have to have the people up front on both sides of the ball that can play downhill, that can help you win football games, in late November and December and hopefully into the playoffs."
The Jaguars first step at rebuilding the offensive line was to grab twelve-year veteran tackle Tra Thomas. Thomas' presence immediately made the Jaguars line better. Not only did the team improve their line talent wise, but they also got a team leader in the process, who has started seventeen playoff games over his career.
Tra Thomas (Getty Images)
"I'm the type of player that leads by example," Thomas said after joining the team. "I'm not the type of person that's going to jump in somebody's face and yell and holler. We're all professionals, but I can definitely show you the way."
Thomas, along with the Jaguars top two draft picks Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, have turned the Jaguars biggest weakness in 2008 into perhaps the team's biggest strength heading into 2009. With guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams recovered from their season ending injuries the Jaguars now have one of the most talented and certainly one of the deepest lines in the league.
Big Game - Big Plans
The signing of "Big Game" Torry Holt, not only gave the Jaguars a "big name" receiver, but also gives the receivers a "big name" leader, something the team has been lacking in years past. In fact it's possible Holt is the biggest name ever to lineup at receiver for the Jags, with a career resume that certainly rivals former receiver Jimmy Smith's. The Jaguars attempts at replacing Smith, whether through the draft (Reggie Williams, Matt Jones), or through free agency (Jerry Porter) have been failures to say the least. The players were disappointments on the field, but off the field, they were absolute disasters. Holt is the man the Jaguars have chosen to help erase all of that. He brings a quality to the Jaguars receiving corps that has been missing, star power.
Torry Holt (Getty Images)
"He's got a great presence about him," head coach Jack Del Rio says.
Holt understands that he is being counted on for more than just production and is up to the challenge. "My thing is, I've always led by example, and if the guys want to join me, or they want to learn something or ask me questions, I've never had a problem with that. I think my body of work speaks for itself."
That body of work includes eight 1,000 yard receiving seasons, two Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl ring, hence the nickname "Big Game". With ten seasons of wear and tear on his body that have left him with a balky knee, some around the league question if Holt can still live up to his alias.
"This will be my 11th season in the National Football League. Am I running the same way I did 10 years ago, absolutely not, but I can still play and I can still play at a high level," says Holt.
Asked if that level includes a 1,000 yard season, a trip to the playoffs, and a Pro Bowl selection, "Absolutely," he responded. "That's the way I've always thought, that's the way I train, that's the way I prepare. And I don't expect anything less here in Jacksonville. So, I think 1,000 yards, however many touchdowns and a Pro Bowl is still in the picture for Torry Holt. Don't worry about me, when the lights come on, ‘Big Game’ will be ready to play."
That’s an image Jaguars fans can't wait to see.
Adam Hawk covers the Jaguars for TheJagMag, the only magazine dedicated to coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can subscribe at: http://www.thejagmag.com/subscribe