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3 Jacksonville Jaguars
Team Page | Schedule | Depth chart | 2000 Stats

They're thin, injury-prone and cap-challenged, but, hey, why worry?

By Peter King


Though still a top marksman, Brunell is running out of time to resurrect a flagging franchise. John Iacono
Enemy Lines
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Jaguars

"I love what they did in the draft. First I thought they were nuts to bypass Kenyatta Walker , who will be a cornerstone tackle for a decade with the Bucs, but when you get Marcus Stroud to anchor your defensive line and Maurice Williams , who was the third-rated tackle on our board, in the second round, you've done great.... If Fred Taylor ever plays 16 full games, I can see him gaining 2,000 yards. Think of 125 yards a game, and that's a normal day for Taylor. Big load, soft hands.... Mark Brunell can make all the throws, though he's a little shy on the deep stuff. But is he as mobile as he was? No.... Tony Boselli still has a nasty temperament, but he can't get to the corner the way he did to wall off a great pass rusher.... I worry about the up-the-middle pass rush because Jeff Smith is a weak link. He can get pushed around.... The defense will feel the loss of Dom Capers , the coordinator. What a great schemer. Going from Capers to Gary Moeller is like going from filet to hamburger.... Gary Walker tends to disappear against a solid guard. Maybe Stroud will push him.... I'm surprised how quickly T.J. Slaughter adapted, though he got pushed around too much. The outside's better for him, because he can run.... Aaron Beasley can't run well enough to be a shut-down corner, but he's a smart player and has sharp instincts. Fernando Bryant 's a chippy kid who ticks off good receivers and tries to get them out of their game. He needs to, because he's not fast."

In the Year 2000
Record: 7-9
(fourth in AFC Central)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total)
Offense: 10/9/7
Defense: 11/14/12

2001 Strength of Schedule
NFL Rank: 13 (tie)

Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .500

Games against playoff teams: 5

Sports Illustrated In March, 90 NFL coaches, scouts and general managers traveled to the University of Michigan to test draft prospects. Before the workout, Wolverines coaches gathered the NFL folk in the team meeting room to brief them on the players, and as Michigan coach Lloyd Carr spoke, a cell phone rang. Carr glared in its direction. Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin fumbled in his pocket for the phone, while trying to slither out the door. "We don't let our players bring those things in here," one Wolverines assistant said. The irreverence of it all -- Coughlin interrupting a football meeting with his cell phone. What would Bo Schembechler have thought?

"I hated that," Coughlin says, still chagrined four months later. "That call was about the Mark Brunell contract. In fact, I spent almost the whole drive from Ann Arbor to the airport in Detroit that afternoon talking about that contract."

Such was Jacksonville's off-season of the cap crunch, in which 32 veterans' contracts were restructured or terminated, saving the Jags $39 million and fitting them under the 2001 salary cap with the comfort of an NFL offensive line climbing into a VW Beetle. (Brunell's deal was restructured twice to save the Jags a total of $4.5 million against the cap.) But a funny thing happened during the bloodletting. The only big-timer who was let go was right tackle Leon Searcy, who signed with the Ravens as a free agent -- and he didn't play last season after tearing his right quadriceps tendon in the preseason. "I think the players were surprised," says Jacksonville cornerback Aaron Beasley. "We were supposed to have a whole new squad because of salary-cap cuts, but we've got our guys back. We're going to make a run at this thing. I think we're the sleeping giant of the AFC."

Maybe. But a team that brings 31 rookies to camp (out of 91 prospects) is a team with no depth. Add eight players with camp, but no game, experience, and that means the Jaguars' pool of talent this summer included only 41 players who'd ever suited up for an NFL game. And because the defense is relying on vets coming off injury-shortened seasons -- free safety Carnell Lake, 34, and middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, 36, most notably -- the thin Jags look more like the 7-9 team of last season than the 14-2 AFC Central winner of 1999. At 321 pounds rookie tackle Marcus Stroud will beef up the run defense, but Jacksonville needs help rushing the passer (it had no double-digit sacker in 2000), and Stroud had one half-sack last year at Georgia. The Jaguars will also likely open the season without cornerback Fernando Bryant, who could be out until Week 3 with a separated right shoulder suffered in the preseason.

Jacksonville may make one more run at a title with the core that Coughlin built from the team's 1995 inception, but no club in the salary-cap era (post-1993), except perhaps the Broncos, has won big, fought the cap while retrenching and continued to win big. Over the past two years the dominant teams of the mid-'90s, the Cowboys and the 49ers, have been depthless and gone 13-19 and 10-22, respectively. By preserving the guts of this team for one more year, all the Jaguars have done is delay the inevitable: They're already $36.2 million over the projected 2002 cap, and no other NFL team is more than $20 million over. It might be foolish to wait until next year to worry about next year, but Jacksonville will do it.

The Jags must therefore start developing their kids. They've installed mean and quick second-round pick Maurice Williams at right tackle, and he had a terrific training camp. Stroud will be an opening-day starter. One of the brightest prospects is last year's rookie middle linebacker, T.J. Slaughter, a kamikaze type who took Nickerson's spot when he got hurt. Now Slaughter moves to right outside linebacker. "When I came here last year," says the 6-foot, 239-pound Slaughter, "all my friends told me, 'You're going to a Super Bowl team.' It's a big challenge to get there now, but there's no question we've got the nucleus to do it."

He's right about that. One morning in camp Jacksonville sent a reminder to its division that it can still play a little football. Kevin Hardy leaped a couple of feet off the ground, tipped a Brunell bullet and gathered it in for an interception. His defensive brethren mobbed him. Hardy had been dangled in trades on draft day, and no one had bitten. For now, the Jaguars are thrilled that no one did. But no team in the NFL will live on the edge more than the 2001 Jags. If Jacksonville loses more than a man or two from its nucleus, things could get ugly in a hurry.

Issue date: September 3, 2001



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