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Max on Jax: Injuries, Psyche, Schedule

Garrard vs the Falcons

Finishing up on last week’s theme, here are three reasons why you’d better buckle up before hopping on the Jaguars bandwagon.

1) INJURIES: If this wasn’t already at the top of the list, it certainly emerged during the first week of camp. There was already a concern with the revamped wide receiver corps as Mike Walker and Jerry Porter recovered from injuries. But the news dramatically worsened this past week when last year’s leading receiver, Reggie Williams, underwent surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. And if that wasn’t bad enough, both Dennis Northcutt and Troy Williamson have missed practice time due to injury, with Williamson expected to sit out the preseason opener.

Injuries have plagued center Brad Meester in recent years, and his torn biceps in camp makes this season no exception. The most optimistic prognosis has Meester returning in Week 4 or 5. Sure, the Jaguars have good depth across the offensive line, but losing their experienced leader in the middle is significant and puts the unit in a perilous situation should any more injuries occur.

Two other areas of depth-concern are at the quarterback and defensive tackle positions. Cleo Lemon has quelled some of the initial concerns from his lackluster OTA’s, but there will still be a great deal of
uneasiness should David Garrard go down for any period of time. At DT, the Jaguars look very solid at the top with John Henderson and Rob Meier. But now that Meier is a starter, there’s no proven every-downs backup to carry the load if they’re unable to stay healthy.

2) PSYCHE: Can this team handle the pressure of high expectations? This year the Jaguars will have a target on their backs. No more sneaking up on opponents, no more fuel from lack of respect. The front office made a clear commitment to winning, getting the head coach and starting quarterback locked-in to lucrative long-term deals. Then, by Jaguars standards, the team went all-out in free agency. The bold moves up in the draft reinforced the notion that this franchise expects to start winning immediately. It’s been quite awhile since the Jaguars have so unanimously been touted as legitimate contenders, I fear the expectations may have adverse consequences. Hopefully this group can
turn the pressure into a positive, but only time will tell.

3) SCHEDULE: By virtue of playing in arguably the best division in the NFL, the Jaguars have the third toughest strength of schedule for 2008, based on 2007 win-loss percentage. Fortunately for them, potentially critical showdowns against Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota and Green Bay are all at home in Jacksonville. However, the early season schedule is most worrisome. In the first four weeks the Jaguars play all three division rivals, including at Tennessee and at Indianapolis, two playoff
teams from a year ago. The first month will be crucial toward winning the division and earning a home playoff game. If the team struggles in September, they could be looking at an uphill battle all season long. And given the Colts’ stranglehold on the AFC South, falling into “chase mode” early on could spell a quick end to Jacksonville’s hopes of a division title.

So if you’re climbing on the Jaguars Bandwagon now, I’m sorry there’s no guarantee whether this trip will end in glory or go down in flames. But it’s definitely gonna be a fun ride.

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