Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jaguars Roster Analysis

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jaguars Roster Analysis

Article excerpt

Byline: Bart Hubbuch, Times-Union sports writer

53-man roster projections as of Aug. 26

Quarterback (3)

-- Projected starter: Mark Brunell or David Garrard.

-- Backups: Byron Leftwich, Quinn Gray.

-- Analysis: The Jaguars reportedly offered Brunell in a trade after the third preseason game and might release him as part of a money-saving youth movement. If Brunell is cut, Garrard appears likely to get the starting nod over Leftwich -- the team's quarterback of the future -- because of Leftwich's inexperience. Garrard has a live arm and is extremely mobile. And, at a strapping 235 pounds, he can withstand the punishment that could be forthcoming behind an unsettled offensive line. Leftwich doesn't appear suited for the West Coast offense but showed in the preseason that he is a heady player with a strong arm and leadership skills. Gray, a former undrafted free agent from Florida A&M, also has a good arm and made the most of his second training camp with the Jaguars.

Running back (5)

-- Projected starters: Fred Taylor (running back), Marc Edwards (fullback).

-- Backups: LaBrandon Toefield, Joe Smith, Malaefou MacKenzie.

-- Analysis: Taylor played in all 16 regular-season games last year for the first time in his career and ran for 1,314 yards despite an injury-riddled offensive line. The Jaguars rewarded him with a new contract and an $8 million signing bonus, so it will be interesting to see how Taylor responds. Will there be a letdown? The Jaguars also must wonder about his durability with Stacey Mack no longer around to take the punishment of short-yardage duty. Toefield and Smith are rookies, but both showed impressive quickness and power in the preseason. Edwards was signed in free agency and, thanks to his receiving skills, already is the most versatile fullback in team history as well as a good fit for the West Coast offense. MacKenzie is a rookie and was hurt for part of training camp but -- like Edwards -- is versatile (he played running back, receiver and fullback in college) and has potential.

Wide receiver (7)

-- Projected starters: J.J. Stokes, Matthew Hatchette.

-- Backups: Donald Hayes, Jermaine Lewis, Micah Ross, Jimmy Redmond, Cortez Hankton.

-- Suspended list (Jaguars receive four-game roster exemption): Jimmy Smith.

-- Analysis: This position is the most unsettled because Smith, the Jaguars' all-time leading receiver, will miss at least the first four regular-season games because of an NFL substance abuse suspension. The Jaguars will get a roster exemption during Smith's absence. Not having Smith also means that Stokes, a first-round disappointment in San Francisco, becomes the No. 1 receiver. His lack of speed makes Stokes ill-suited for that role, but the Jaguars' options are minimal. Hatchette has NFL experience and showed during the preseason that he can make the tough catch. Hayes has size at 6-4 but has bounced around and may not last longer than one season in Jacksonville. Lewis is a kick-return specialist whose receiving opportunities will be limited to keep him healthy. Ross and Hankton, a rookie, are inexperienced but showed the most potential of the young receivers in camp.

Tight end (3)

-- Projected starter: Kyle Brady.

-- Backups: Chris Luzar, George Wrighster.

-- Analysis: Brady, who took a pay cut in the preseason to stick with the Jaguars, was a Pro Bowl alternate last year and is one of the top blocking tight ends in the league. The West Coast offense also will afford him the chance to match or better the career-high 64 receptions he made in 2000. Luzar is a better blocker than a receiver and missed much of the preseason with a knee injury. Wrighster -- a fourth-round pick this year -- was inconsistent in training camp and the preseason games.

Offensive line (9)

-- Projected starters: Maurice Williams (right tackle), Chris Naeole (right guard), Brad Meester (center), Jamar Nesbit (left guard), Mike Pearson (left tackle).

-- Backups: Leander Jordan, Vince Manuwai, Daryl Terrell, Brett Romberg.

-- Analysis: The Jaguars are set on the right side, where Williams and Naeole both provide solid run blocking and pass protection. The rest of the line is a concern, because Meester -- a career guard in the NFL -- hasn't played center since college and the other two positions were unsettled throughout training camp. Nesbit, a Carolina Panthers castoff, was neck-and-neck with Manuwai and still might start the season as a backup. Manuwai, a third-round pick this year, is strong but inexperienced. The new coaching staff, meanwhile, isn't sold on Pearson and demoted him at one point early in training camp to get him to play with more passion. Pearson still needs to improve as a run blocker, which is why he was pushed by Jordan throughout the preseason. The Jaguars think Jordan, a third-round pick by Carolina, finally might be taking advantage of his excellent size and natural athletic ability. Terrell is a serviceable NFL backup with size and versatility (he can play both guard and tackle). Romberg, an undersized and undrafted free agent, may have worked his way onto the roster.

Special teams (3)

-- Projected starters: Seth Marler (kicker), Chris Hanson (punter), Joe Zelenka (snapper).

-- Analysis: Marler is an undrafted free agent from Tulane who won the kicking job with an outstanding preseason that included a 55-yard field goal at Tampa Bay. A rookie kicker is always a risky proposition, although it would be difficult for Marler to be worse than the four kickers who combined to hit just 70 percent of their field-goal tries for the Jaguars last season. Hanson is one of the top punters in the NFL and, barring injury, could make a return trip to the Pro Bowl this season. Zelenka, who can play tight end, also is one of the league's best at a vital position and has had just one kick blocked in three seasons with the Jaguars.

Defensive line (8)

-- Projected starters: Marco Coleman (left end), Marcus Stroud (left tackle), John Henderson (right tackle), Hugh Douglas (right end).

-- Backups: Paul Spicer, Rob Meier, Lionel Barnes, Brandon Green.

-- Analysis: Douglas landed a $6 million signing bonus to jump from the Philadelphia Eagles and boost Jacksonville's pass rush. It remains to be seen how much Douglas still has left at age 32 and coming off knee problems, and he was admittedly out of shape throughout the preseason. Coleman is 34 but probably will stay because of his experience and the Jaguars' lack of options at end. Stroud and Henderson, both first-round picks, had their moments early last season but faded -- particularly against the run -- late in the season. Both say they are rejuvenated by the team's new style of defense, which relies less on the read-and-react approach that former coach Tom Coughlin favored. That should help Stroud, who is very quick despite standing 6-feet-6 and 310 pounds. Spicer has talent and a strong work ethic but is considered more of a two-down player. Meier made a smooth transition to tackle, while Green (a rookie) and Barnes provide depth.

Cornerback (4)

-- Projected starters: Fernando Bryant, Jason Craft.

-- Backups: Kiwaukee Thomas, James Trapp.

-- Analysis: Bryant, a former first-round pick, is healthy and motivated to have his best season because he can become an unrestricted free agent. Bryant also is energized by the philosophy of the new coaching staff, which wants its cornerbacks to play tight on receivers even in zone coverage. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Bryant has only one interception in his past 35 games. Craft is very quick but -- like Bryant -- is undersized and will face matchup problems against bigger receivers. Thomas has been the Jaguars' nickel (third) cornerback the past two seasons but could lose that role because the new staff likes Trapp's speed and 11 years of NFL experience.

Linebacker (6)

-- Projected starters: Akin Ayodele (outside), Mike Peterson (middle), Keith Mitchell (outside).

-- Backups: Danny Clark, T.J. Slaughter, Eric Westmoreland.

-- Analysis: Peterson, who played at Florida, was given a $4 million signing bonus in free agency and becomes the centerpiece of the Jaguars' linebacker corps. He spent his first four NFL seasons at outside linebacker in Indianapolis but is being moved to the middle full-time by the Jaguars, who say they aren't concerned about Peterson's ability to hold up despite being undersized for the position at 234 pounds. Ayodele, a third-round pick who showed flashes as a rookie last season, emerged as a starter on the outside with a strong preseason. He can also play end in certain situations. Mitchell is a journeyman who has speed and fits what the Jaguars' new coaching staff wants on the outside. Clark, a 16-game starter last season, is arguably the Jaguars' toughest and most physical linebacker. Slaughter was unhappy about losing his starting spot but can play outside and the middle. Westmoreland is on the bubble after a shaky preseason but has good speed.

Safety (5)

-- Projected starters: Donovin Darius (strong safety), Rashean Mathis (free safety).

-- Backups: Marlon McCree, Anthony Mitchell, David Young.

-- Analysis: Darius, designated the team's franchise player in the offseason, likely will survive any youth movement largely because of his guaranteed $3 million salary this season. The new staff couldn't be happier with Mathis, a speedy second-round pick from Englewood High School who might be the best athlete on the roster. Mathis spent the entire preseason competing with McCree for the starting role at free safety and appeared to win the job. McCree had a team-record-tying six interceptions last season but gave up several big plays. Mitchell, a fourth-year pro, was acquired from Baltimore late in the preseason. Young, a sixth-round pick from Division I-AA Georgia Southern, had an outstanding preseason.

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