O-line Shouldn't be a Question for Jags

Dirk Koetter

There's a cliché adage that floats around the football world and it goes a little something like this; "the offensive line is the most important unit in football."

In an era where throwing the ball has become a premium and football fans spend hours analyzing the stats of receivers, quarterbacks, and running backs for their fantasy football teams, you have to wonder if this way of thinking is actually what people believe.

For those who think that coaches and scouts are just paying lip services to their big uglies, then you need to take no look further than the 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars.

What was the difference between the Jacksonville team in 2007 from that of the team in '08? Aside from a six win differential, the Jaguars went from having an unstoppable running game to a below average one. What was the reason for the drop off? You simply have to point to the offensive line, which was devastated by injuries last year.

When Dirk Koetter came to Jacksonville as the team's offensive coordinator in 2007, he brought with him an extensive knowledge of the passing game, but with the talented he had, Koetter implemented an offense based on establishing the run and then attacking defenses with play action passes and quick slants. Because of the team's personnel woes up front last year, Koetter was unable to maintain his ball-control offensive strategy.

"The problem in '08 was that people didn't have to line up to necessarily stop the run for two reasons: our O-line was banged up and we were playing from behind a lot," Koetter told CBSSports.com. "We were forced into throwing it and didn't have the option of making these guys defend the run and then get the good looks to throw against."

Every team has their fair share of injuries but the Jaguars were particularly snake bitten on the offensive line. In the first game of the season, guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams were lost for the year. Center and team-leader Brad Meester missed the first two months of the season and Chris Naeole, a longtime Jaguar who was released prior to the season, was brought back but was hurt before playing a snap. The worst injury the unit suffered was to Richard Collier, who was shot in an off-field incident and was forced to have a leg amputated.

Aside from the obvious pain that the players suffered, especially Collier, the situation almost became comical. Milford Brown was brought in during a Tuesday in the middle of the year and by Sunday he was listed as a starter. Koetter described it as "mindboggling."

In an attempt to return to what was successful in '07, the Jaguars showed that they were going to do more than hope their current players made full recoveries. The team cut the talented yet troubled Khalif Barnes, and added the veteran Tra Thomas in his place. Jacksonville also added Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton with its first and second-round picks, respectively.

When asked if he was confident with the way his offensive line has looked thus far, Koetter responded with this:

"Very. The return to health by a couple of our key guys inside and then the addition of two draft picks and the addition of Tra Thomas have all played a part. I've been impressed with what our O-line has been doing in OTAs, and our depth -- knock on wood that we can stay healthy -- could lead us to seeing some real battles not only for a couple of starting jobs, but for who makes our team."

If the offensive line can return to form, then the Jaguars should be able to regain the offensive efficiency it had in '07, when the team broke franchise records for total points. Koetter acknowledges that if the offensive line can start dominating again, that the play-action offense that made the team so successful will be utilized.

"We want to return to more of that formula from '07, and I think our additions and our health on the O-line will certainly be a big part of that," Koetter said. "And then obviously you're always evolving as an offense, always adding and growing, it's a copy-cat league. You're always studying what teams are doing well and trying to see how you can adapt some of that stuff into your own offense."

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