Bigger Role for Rookies

Eugene Monroe (Getty Images)

The Jaguars certainly should not be considered goners heading into the season, but the team will likely fight an uphill battle. The 2009 campaign will go a long way in determining what direction the team will be heading and for better or worse, the Jaguars will heavily rely on rookies to bring the team back to prominence.

The 2009 season will go a long way in determining what direction the Jacksonville Jaguars will head in the future.

If things go well this year, the Jaguars might stay the course and just gradually infuse youth into the organization. However, if the team has another sub .500 season, look for the team to fully immerse itself in a rebuilding process. There are some strong pieces in place, but in order to make the leap back to playoff contention this year, Jack Del Rio and the Jags will depend on several rookies making immediate contributions.

Last season, the Jaguars were arguably the weakest on the offensive and defensive lines, wide receiver and at cornerback opposite to Rashean Mathis. In an attempt to bolster the aforementioned the positions, the team took two tackles, three receivers, a nose tackle and a corner in hopes to solidify any weaknesses.

Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton are both expected to make immediate contributions on the line. As first and second round selections, respectively, they should both beef up the front five, either as starters or solid rotation players.

While those two can make an impact, it's risky to place too much on the backs of rookies. Derek Cox is a promising corner but must make the huge leap from playing against small-school players at William & Mary. Terrance Knighton will also see a big difference from going against linemen when he was facing MAC players. Jarrett Dillard and Mike Thomas are both mid-round selections at receiver, a position that traditionally takes a few years to adjust to at the professional level. Maurice Jones-Drew needs a proven backup and as of now, a player fitting that description is not evident, but 7th-rounder Rashad Jennings might fit the bill.

This is not to say that these players cannot make an impact as rookies, but for each one to become a major contributor this year is unlikely. Because the team still needs a second receiver to step up next to Tory Holt, a proven nickel corner to push Brian Williams as a starter and a run-stuffing tackle to either replace or compliment John Henderson, it's safe to say that each rookie will get a shot.

Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen. Gene Smith and his staff did a nice job of evaluating talent in this year's draft, but to depend on a handful 22-year-olds is risky. If several of them can step up and answer some open-ended questions, Coach Del Rio will have no problem inserting them into starting roles. However, the odds of all of the rookies panning out is improbable.

Only time will tell if these rookies can keep the Jacksonville Jaguars afloat. It is certain that front office is planning on them to be fixtures for years to come, but whether or not that's this year will be worth watching, because 2009 is a critical year for a franchise that is likely to head in one of two major directions.

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