The Jaguars are covering up almost 10,000 seats at Alltel Stadium because 11 of their past 16 home games the past two seasons have been blacked out in the Jacksonville market. The Jaguars now have to sell only 49,000 non-premium seats to lift the blackouts.
The Jaguars’ offense has gone 50 consecutive games without scoring 30 points and was 29th in scoring last year with an average of 16.3 points per game.
The Jaguars were 0–3 in their division at home last year while going 2–1 in road division games.
The Jaguars were 0–8 on the road in coach Jack Del Rio’s first season but improved to 5–3 last year for their first winning road record since 1999.
Tough first half
The Jaguars play six of their first seven games against teams that made the playoffs last year. They were 3–4 in seven games against playoff teams last year.
The Jaguars led the league in Red Zone defense, allowing a 38.3 touchdown percentage last year.
The Jaguars were plus-six in turnover ratio last year and cut down on their number of turnovers from 31 to 22. They also had just seven turnovers at home, the fewest in the league.
The Prophecy: "There’s quiet optimism that the Jaguars will make major strides in Del Rio’s second season."
The Lie: "Jimmy Smith is no longer the deep threat that he was in his younger days."
—Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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The Jaguars hope the growing pains are over for young coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback Byron Leftwich as they enter their third season together.
Del Rio, who was hired as the head coach in 2003 after only six years as an assistant, spent two years growing into the job and building the team he wants while he made several changes in his coaching staff. Now he hopes to end Jacksonville's five-year playoff drought.
Whether they make it probably depends on whether Leftwich matures this year into a quarterback who can carry the team. After being drafted in the first round in 2003, he endured the typical rookie struggles when he became the starter after three games due to an injury to Mark Brunell. Leftwich went 1-4 in his first five starts before going 4-4 in his final four starts as a rookie.
When Leftwich started out 3-0 last season, the Jaguars appeared to have turned the corner. But Leftwich was then injured twice - missing two games with an injured knee and suffering a concussion in the final home game against Houston. The Jaguars went 6-7 in the final 13 to miss the playoffs by a game.
If they improve by a game or two this year, the Jaguars figure to have their first playoff team since 1999.
The Jaguars are set at this position. They're building the team around Leftwich, and they like backup David Garrard enough to give him a $2 million signing bonus for a three-year contract extension that locks him up through 2008.
How far the team goes, though, will depend on how far Leftwich takes them. The Jaguars think he's a better fit for the vertical passing game of new offensive coordinator Carl Smith than the West Coast offense run by Bill Musgrave, who was fired after the team averaged a franchise-low 16.3 points per game last season. Leftwich is a team leader who has a lot of intangibles, but he still has to work on some of his fundamentals and become more accurate.
Fred Taylor's health will be a major concern for the Jaguars this year. Taylor, who ran for 1,224 yards last year in 14 starts, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January. Del Rio said at the draft that Taylor won't be ready to play until June at the earliest, but the team expects him at full speed for training camp.
Last year, Taylor had just three carries in the first Houston game because of a hip pointer and missed the final two against Houston and Oakland with a knee injury. The Jaguars failed to rush for 100 yards as a team in any of those games and scored just 19 points as LaBrandon Toefield and rookie Greg Jones were ineffective. Fourth-round pick Alvin Pearman will push them this year.
Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala is a veteran fullback who has a history of nagging injuries. He played in just seven games last year.
This will be the most competitive spot on the team. The Jags have drafted wide receivers -- Reggie Williams and Matt Jones -- in the first round the last two years, and they also have veterans Jimmy Smith, Troy Edwards, Cortez Hankton and rookie Chad Owens, who will be used primarily as a kick returner.
The Jaguars insist they didn't draft Jones because Williams was limited to just 27 catches as a rookie. They expect Williams to make major strides in his second season and for Jones to eventually give them a home-run threat with his 4.39 speed. He also could move around and be an H-back. Smith refuses to show his age at age 36, and the team hopes he can match last season's total of 74 catches.
At tight end, the Jaguars hope that veteran Kyle Brady and young George Wrighster can rebound after both were slowed by injuries last year when they combined for just 24 catches. Second-year player Brian Jones has potential, and veteran Todd Yoder is a good special teams player.
The key question is whether Mike Pearson will be able to return from reconstructive knee surgery to play left tackle. The Jaguars drafted Khalif Barnes in the second round as an insurance policy in case Pearson is slow to return. Veteran Ephraim Salaam struggled at times after replacing Pearson last year.
The rest of the line is set with Maurice Williams at the right-tackle spot, Chris Naeole and Vince Manuwai at guards and Brad Meester at center. There were no Pro Bowlers on the line, but they're a durable group -- Pearson was the only original starter to miss a game. But none of them has emerged as a dominant lineman who can be counted on to move the pile in short yardage situations. Free-agent guard Brent Smith will add depth.
The Jaguars made one big splash in free agency and it wasn't a surprise that they made the move for a defensive end. They paid Reggie Hayward, formerly of the Denver Broncos, $10 million in guaranteed money to give them the pass rusher they lacked last year when a converted linebacker, Greg Favors, led the ends with 5.5 sacks.
With the arrival of Hayward and the return from the injury list by Paul Spicer and Rob Meier and the signing of veteran Marcellus Wiley, the Jaguars think they've made a major upgrade at the defensive-line position.
They were already solid at the defensive tackle positions that were anchored last year by Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, who both played in the Pro Bowl. Veterans Tony Williams and Martin Chase will provide quality depth.
Mike Peterson is a tackling machine in the middle. He started all 16 games for the second consecutive season as a Jaguar and had 178 tackles, bringing his two-year total to 345. He also had five sacks.
Rookie Daryl Smith started on a strong note but got hurt and tailed off. The Jaguars expect him to make progress in his second season.
Veteran Akin Ayodele was the other starter for all 16 games on the outside, but the Jaguars don't think he's played to his potential and gave him the low tender as a restricted free agent. He'll face a challenge from Favors and rookie Pat Thomas.
The Jaguars need to find a second starting cornerback. They cut veterans Dewayne Washington, who started all 16 games last year, and Juran Bolden, but could only add two second-line players, Kenny Wright and Terry Cousin, in free agency. The new starter, likely either Wright or Cousin, figures to be a target because Rashean Mathis is solid on the other side. Two young players, Chris Thompson and David Richardson, veteran nickel back Kiwaukee Thomas and third-round pick Scott Starks could all be in the mix.
Donovin Darius and Deon Grant return as the starting safeties, but Darius isn't happy about getting the $4.97 million franchise tag for the third consecutive season, and he refused to join the team's offseason program. Grant played all 16 games last year after signing as a free agent but said he didn't meet his expectations and wants to make more of an impact this year.
The Jaguars' special teams improved greatly under the tutelage of Pete Rodriguez, noted as one of the best in the game. Rodriguez developed rookie kicker Josh Scobee, who made 24-of-31 field goal attempts.
Veteran Chris Hanson is a dependable punter who rebounded from the ax incident a year ago to average 42.8 yards a kick.
David Allen will be challenged by Owens for the return specialist job. Last season, as a senior at Hawaii, Owens returned five punts for touchdowns. Once again, Nick Sorensen is the leader of the Jags' special teams.
Hayward was the only major veteran addition to a team that fell a game short of the playoffs last year, but the Jaguars hope that his improvement plus the development of some of their young players will be enough to vault them into the playoffs.
The key for the Jaguars is to get a fast start; they open the season with six of their first seven games against playoff teams. If they're in the race at the halfway mark, they should have a shot at making the playoffs.