Jaguars Inside Slant 08/13/07

Jaguars Inside Slant 08/13/07

The Miami game was an indication that the Jaguars offensive line is not ready to open the 2007 season. With the addition of right tackle Tony Pashos acquired in free agency from the Ravens, the Jaguars felt they had shored up the only weak link on the line from a year ago.

But in the team's first preseason game, quarterback Byron Leftwich was flattened three times in the opening half by a less-than-stout Miami defensive front. The third was deemed a personal foul call on Dolphins defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday, but the fact remained that Holliday blew past Jaguars guard Vince Manuwai to amount for what was the third sack of the Jaguars quarterback in less than a half.

The first two weeks of the Jaguars training camp found the offensive unit stressing the importance of keeping Leftwich healthy this year. Basically that means keeping opposing linemen away from him. To allow three sacks in the team's first four series coupled by a holding call on tackle Khalif Barnes and a false-start call on Pashos is an indication there is still work to be done by the line.

"We were overanxious a little and had a few technique errors here and there," said Barnes in an attempt to justify the line's shaky play. "It's been a while since we came out and hit someone else. There was a lot of anxiety."

Leftwich defended his protectors, referring to the sacks as "some missed assignments up front," and added, "We'll be OK."

The Jaguars were playing their first game without center Brad Meester since the 2005 season, when he missed the final four games of the year with a torn biceps tendon. Meester suffered a broken bone in his ankle the first week of training camp and isn't expected back until October.

Dennis Norman has stepped in at the center spot to replace Meester and other than allowing one quarterback pressure, appeared to play well in the Miami game. His move into the starting unit, however, voids the team of its best backup player at any of the five positions. Norman has filled in at the guard and tackle positions as well as replacing Meester for the four games in 2005.

Expectations were high this year that backup tackle Richard Collier would be ready to make a push for playing time. But the second-year pro reported to camp at 350 pounds, higher than coaches would like him to be, and that's hindered his development. Maurice Williams, who has started every regular-season game at right tackle the past four seasons until Pashos' arrival, is now a backup at either tackle spot.

There is a significant dropoff at the guard spots, however. Should either Manuwai or the other starter, Chris Naeole, be sidelined, third-year veteran Dan Connolly would be brought in. Connolly is another backup who the coaches are high on but who has not distinguished himself in the first two weeks of training camp this year.

The bottom line is, the Jaguars are down to only Williams as having adequate depth along the offensive front. Without a strong push by anyone for a starting spot, the Jaguars offensive front is pretty well set until Meester's return in a couple of months. Until then, this unit will need to perform better than it did in the opener if the Jaguars are to fulfill their goal of keeping Leftwich in the starting lineup for the entire 16-game season.

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