| Garrard takes aim at another season of single-digit interceptions.
7 at Tennessee
21 at Indianapolis
12 at Denver
2 at Cincinnati
9 at Detroit
1 at Houston (M)
7 at Chicago
14 GREEN BAY
18 INDIANAPOLIS (T)
28 at Baltimore
Quentin Groves, Defensive end: The Jags focused on the pass rush in April's draft, so look for Groves, who had 26 sacks in 49 games at Auburn, to get significant early playing time. "Incredibly fast around the edge," QB David Garrard says of the second-rounder. As a nickel rusher he'll need to be quick in Week 3, Jacksonville's first meeting with Indianapolis.
Emboldened by a strong finish and a more aggressive attack, the division's eternal also-rans are eager to assert themselves.
No team has improved more on offense over the past 12 months than the
Jaguars, who now have a real chance to scale Mount Indy and win their first
division title since 1999.
Think of where the Jags were a year ago. They'd shocked the NFL by cutting
Byron Leftwich a week before the opener and handing the starting quarterback job
to longtime backup David Garrard. They had no go-to receiver. They had a new
offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, who'd been fired by Arizona State and had
never coached in the NFL.
Then, in just the second week of the season, Koetter was out of synch with
coach Jack Del Rio, who believed the Jaguars would forever play second fiddle to
the Colts in the AFC South until they developed a more potent passing game.
After Koetter called 34 running plays on 63 snaps in a narrow win over
the feeble Falcons, he got the message from Del Rio.
"Jack said, 'Dirk, come on. We've got to be more explosive,' " Koetter
recalls. "I was being conservative. We had such a strong running game that I
didn't want our passing to lose games."
Through a few fits and starts -- Garrard missed three midseason games with a
sprained left ankle -- Koetter built the kind of attack Del Rio had been longing
for. In their last eight games, the Jaguars scored 256 points, second only to
the high-flying Patriots (258). Over the course of the year Fred Taylor and
Maurice Jones-Drew, the best one-two rushing attack in football, combined for
1,970 yards. Garrard was remarkably efficient (a 64.0% completion rate,
18 touchdown passes and only three interceptions) and, just as important,
emerged as the kind of leader Leftwich never was.
Garrard and Koetter began to see the game the same way during a wintry
four-week span in which the Jaguars won twice at the Steelers' Heinz
Field -- including a gutty 31-29 wild-card playoff win. "You might not know it from
my early years in the league, but I like to air it out," the 30-year-old Garrard
says. "And when you have two backs as good as we've got, we're going to be able
to air it out easier because teams have to respect our running game so much. In
Pittsburgh in that first game [on Dec. 16], Dirk made a call in the third
quarter that really helped us win."
Jacksonville had taken over at its 45-yard line, leading 16-7 with 19 minutes
to play. The commonsense move was to bleed the clock with Taylor and Jones-Drew.
But Koetter called for a play-action naked bootleg . . . with
Garrard's first option being a bomb to Dennis Northcutt. Garrard, who's always
been a good runner, had maybe 20 yards of open field in front of him, but,
trusting Koetter, he heaved the ball to Northcutt for a 55-yard touchdown.
"Perfect call, perfect time," says Garrard.
"It's O.K. to take four-yard gains," says Koetter, "but you shouldn't work
hard for them."
Given some new, potentially dangerous weapons with the off-season
acquisitions of wideouts Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, Garrard wants to
stretch the defense more while still playing 16 games as efficiently as last
year. He'll need to if the Jaguars are to have a chance to surpass Indianapolis.
"It's not realistic that I can throw three interceptions in a full season," he
says, "but I think I can be in single digits. I want to be accurate and
explosive, and I want to keep in mind that checkdowns can be a quarterback's
After last season, don't expect Garrard and Jacksonville to be sneaking up on
anyone. A certain division powerhouse, in particular, is quite aware of which
team is closing the gap. "You could see as the season went on last year that the
Jaguars had more confidence in Garrard than any quarterback they've had since
Mark Brunell," Colts coach Tony Dungy says. "They are a real threat." -- Peter