O-Line Key Words: Competition and Versatility
"We gave up 44 sacks last year which was in the bottom third of the league," Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.
Those numbers are staggering in comparison to the low number of sacks that the Jacksonville defense produced, which was 14, good for dead-last in the NFL.
Still, don't just blame the O-line.
"There's a percentage of them that are Dave (Garrard's) fault. There's a percentage that's the O-line's fault. There's some that are the wideouts faults. There are some that are the running backs fault," Koetter explained.
After a nightmarish 2008 campaign which saw the Jaguars virtually put their line together with duct tape due to early and often injuries, the team decided to take a proactive approach in fixing the life blood of their offense.
Second-year player Uche Nwaneri stepped up last season, the tackles of the present and future in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton were drafted, and that unit despite giving up all the sacks, produced a Pro Bowl running back.
Much greater things are expected from the line in 2010, as Monroe and Britton are getting comfortable with the NFL game, and Nwaneri continues to progress.
"Last year those two rookie tackles, they were hanging on just to learn the vocabulary, just to learn what they're doing," Koetter said as he addressed the media last week. "Now, we have two of the most athletic tackles in the league so in the offseason we studied different ways that we could use the tackles in space, tackle pulling plays, tackle screen plays."
Not satisfied with just another year of maturity, the team pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire former 49ers and Dolphins left guard, Justin Smiley. Add in a recovering Vince Manuwai, veteran Kynan Forney and tackle Jordan Black, and you have several players competing for just a few select spots, who can play all over the line.
"Kynan Forney has been a guy that's worked his way into the rotation with the first group because Uche (Nwaneri) has the flexibility to play guard or center and when he's at center, Brad (Meester's) out of the game," Koetter said.
With Brad Meester not finishing three of the last five seasons and his play regressing last year, all signs would point to the current longest-tenured Jaguar being possibly on the outs.
Dirk Koetter refuted that.
"Everyone's in a hurry to replace Brad Meester because he's the oldest guy but from where I sit, Brad Meester has had as good eight practices as any O-lineman would have right now. So I wouldn't bury Brad quite yet."
Just a few days after making that statement, the team traded for Justin Smiley.
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio dove a little deeper into the offensive line situation.
"Kynan (Forney's) had a good spring…He's working very hard in the weight room. He's more comfortable in our system and I think he'll fight for some time. I think Uche (Nwaneri's) been a little inconsistent but he has been a good player for us at both guard and center. I think Vinny (Manuwai) still has a ways to go."
The Jaguars now have several players on the line who can start for many teams, and most are interchangeable, especially along the interior of the line. The expectation is that the line takes a giant step up in 2010 and anchors the offense.
"We came out of last year saying look, we've got to have better play from our line, period, and our two young tackles we know are going to grow and get better, but our interior line needs to pick it up as well and they are working at it and they are challenging and competing and we expect them to play at a much higher level for us," the Jaguars head coach emphatically stated.
It starts on the line with competition and versatility, but results are the only thing that will be accepted.
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