Today's absurd prediction:
Byron Leftwich is not the week 1 starter in Jacksonville.
It could happen any number of ways. The team has shown signs that they're pursuing Daunte Culpepper. If they get him, Culpepper may be the starter. Or they trade Leftwich and make it a competition between Culpepper and David Garrard. Or Leftwich is upset with the acquisition and holds out, demanding to be traded or released. Even if they don't get Culpepper, Leftwich could lose out to the more popular Garrard. And there's always the risk of injury with Leftwich. None of these are good for the Jaguars, and once again, their offense won't match the defense's level of play, and they'll lose a number of low-scoring games.
Here's the breakdown for the Jacksonville Jaguars:
Coaching Changes: B-
They brought in Dirk Koetter, the former Arizona head coach, to coordinate the offense. Koetter was criticized for his lack of defensive focus (not a problem) and his inability to make adjustments and win big games (a problem). Mike Smith remains the defensive coordinator and looks to keep Jacksonville among the league's top defenses. Jack Del Rio returns for his fifth season as head coach, and will be accompanied by assistant head coaches Mike Tice and Dave Campo once again.
Reggie Nelson was a solid pick. He'll take some work to develop into an NFL safety, and he's being thrust straight into the starting lineup, so this year may be rough. Justin Durant was a great second-round pick. Here's a quote from Yahoo! Sports' scouting report: "Durant needs a scheme that protects him with big defensive tackles that allow him to flow to the ball and use his speed." How about one of the best DT tandems in the league, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, weighing in at a combined 631 lbs? The selection of a 3rd round wide receiver, Mike Walker, is confusing. They have four #2/3 WRs on their roster, and the only need they had at wideout was a #1. When is Walker going to get some playing time? Also, they reached for him - he was expected to be a second-day pick. They drafted punter Adam Podlesh in the fourth. They probably could have gotten him later, but it's not a big deal. I like the guy - he's known for punting with excellent hang time. They had a total of 11 picks, though three were in the fifth and another three in the seventh. That gives them a nice number of projects to see who surprises in training camp.
Player Movement: B-
They felt good enough about Reggie Nelson to cut Donovin Darius, who had been with the team since his drafting in 1998. They also lost S Deon Grant to free agency. It'll be interesting to see what effect the changes at safety have on the defense. They signed Tony Pashos to play right tackle, and with Khalif Barnes on the other side, they have a nice young set of tackles that should only get better with time. They picked up WR Dennis Northcutt, who will join Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Ernest Wilford to compete for the #1 spot that none of them are talented enough to do well in. One of the most interesting changes is at the TE position. Kyle Brady has moved to New England, and Jermaine Wiggins was signed to take over the job. Brady is one of the league's best run blocking tight ends, which could hurt the ground production that Jacksonville has become known for. But Wiggins is a vast improvement in the receiving game, giving whoever's taking the snaps a sure, big, short-range target. The move probably fits Koetter's scheme better, at the very least.
They draw Pittsburgh and Buffalo, the fortunate result of losing the tiebreaker to the Titans. They play the entire AFC West and NFC South, which is likely to add up to 4-4. They have a week 4 bye, which is too bad, but their schedule is fairly well-balanced. The worst stretch is weeks 7-11, which features a 3-game road trip sandwiched by home contests against Indianapolis and San Diego, but the road games are against Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Tennessee, only one of whom is truly fearsome, and all of whom play in the same region of the country as the Jags' home, so travel weariness will be less of a factor. They end the season against Oakland and Houston, so if they're competing for a playoff spot come week 15, they should be in good shape.
The new OC, the new blockers on the strong side (Pashos and Wiggins), and the unproven safeties are all concerns, but they, at first just ghostly, turn a whiter shade of pale in comparison to the QB issues. (Did he just quote Procol Harum on a football website? It's my blog, I can reference any song I d*mn well choose.) The ‘Guars could very soon have three options at QB, all of whom have shown the ability in the past to be a solid starter, none of whom is a sure thing. Add Quinn Gray to the mix and you may have the first NFL team in history to have four African-American QBs on the payroll - that's pretty cool. But historical precedent aside, they have the same problem at QB as they do at WR. Too many able bodies, none of whom excels. Incidentally, while we're bringing up race, Jacksonville has a white guy who used to play QB in college but was converted to WR in Matt Jones - clearly, Jacksonville is beyond racial position stereotypes.
Here's a trivia question for you: who is the only other NFL team who will start an African-American QB and a Caucasian WR this year? And as a bonus, who is the only other NFL team who features both on their current roster?
Back on track: there's one other ever-present question I haven't asked yet. Will Fred Taylor stay healthy?
The Record: 8-8
This defense is too good to lose 9 games. But this offense has too many questions to win 9 games. So this is the only option.