With the first week of training camp behind them and on the eve of their first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, the Jaguars still have a number of questions that are unanswered. The two most significant ones both deal with the passing game, specifically, who's going to catch passes for the Jaguars and who's going to defend others from catching the ball?
Granted the first regular-season game is still a month away, but with 10 days of two-a-day practices behind them, the Jaguars don't appear to have taken any significant steps to figuring out who will be there to catch quarterback David Garrard's passes. There's some concern with the team's number one receiver Mike Sims-Walker who has been limited to one practice a day because of his propensity to get hurt during the preseason.
That's left plenty of opportunities for others to step up and shine, but no one has distinguished themselves. Granted a healthy Sims-Walker would have a firm hold as the team's go-to receiver, but after that, it becomes a toss-up as who Garrard will look for. The only one that's been on the field on a consistent basis is Mike Thomas. He has looked solid and is starting to separate himself from the competition to latch on as the No. 2 receiver.
But if there's clarity at No. 2, it's fog-filled as to the pecking order that follows. No one, not any of five other young receivers on the roster at this stage has made significant strides towards winning the No. 3 or 4 spots. Kassim Osgood, acquired for his stellar play as a special teams player, has even been utilized as a receiver but without success.
It's unlikely the Jaguars can start the season with its current group. They will be keeping a watchful eye for a veteran receiver that is released by another club and hope then hope that they can pull one more good year out of him while their young receivers continue to develop.
Of equal concern is the other side of the ball and defending against the pass. Cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox appear to have a lock on starting spots though Don Carey has closed the gap between him and Mathis with strong showings in the team's OTAs and the early part of training camp.
At the safety spots though, it's a scramble. After the team's first controlled scrimmage in their stadium on Friday, head coach Jack Del Rio was asked if the safety position was open. "Wide open" was how the Jaguars coach described it.
Three players are in the hunt for two positions. Gerald Alexander and Reggie Nelson were the usual starters a year ago with Sean Considine seeing extensive action as well. Alexander and Nelson continue to start but in last week's scrimmage, Considine was the individual standout. He intercepted a David Garrard pass, plucked a fumble out of air when Luke McCown was hit and then broke up a pass for Kassim Osgood all in the span of a few plays.
Jacksonville must have improved play from this unit. Last season the Jaguars allowed the highest completion percentage of any AFC defense with opponents completing better than two of every three passes. The Jaguars pass defense ranked 27th in the NFL.
Alexander and Considine have issues in covering receivers. Nelson has a problem with tackling. You can't look beyond these three however, as there isn't anyone with the overall skills and talent that this trio has. Two must start with the third offering relief off the bench. There's no doubt that Alexander and Nelson are the most athletic. Considine is the smartest however and that can overcome some physical deficiencies. Safety is sometimes all that exists between a long gain and a touchdown. Outside help isn't likely to come about so the team will need to pick two of the three will need to step their game up in order to secure starting spots.
The rash of early injuries in camp is also disturbing. The Jaguars put special emphasis on reporting to camp in good shape and solidified their offseason conditioning. Still, the injuries have been an early concern. Thus far, only D'Anthony Smith looks to be lost for the year which is a good thing. For a club that's not deep at most positions, this is crucial. Look for the Jaguars to pull back even more so the rest of training camp and in preseason games. They can ill-afford any more key losses prior to the start of the regular season.