Monday, February 18, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Jacksonville Jaguars

Raining here again, does it ever stop? Then again, as I plan to go to Oxford next year, I suppose I should get used to it. As I've already whipped off my art homework and don't have much else to do, I figured I should keep on with the quizzes. If any of you read my baseball blog, I'll start the Around the Horn previews there soon as well. After a long offseason, I have to get my baseball-blogging muscles back into gear, but the more I think about it, the more excited I get. If only it felt more like spring.... it was warm here today, so baby steps.

Anyway. The Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5): David Garrard

The Jaguars, founded in 1995, have been a much stronger expansion entry than, say, the Devil Rays. Although they went 4-12 their inaugural year, they boosted it up to 9-7 the next season and took it from there, going 12-4 in both 1997 and 1998 to win consecutive AFC Central titles. In 1999, they did themselves one better, going a blitzing 14-2, but went only 7-9 the next year. They had a few off-years in the early oughts, but climbed back into contention with a 9-7 2004, a 12-4 2005, a 8-8 2006, and then this year, 11-5 to win the fifth AFC seed and even upset the AFC North-winning Steelers in wildcard play. Crucial to that victory was a 32-yard scramble on fourth down by one David Garrard, which set up the winning margin in the form of a field goal. The Jaguars won 31-29, and were even talked about as having a possible shot to knock off the Patriots due to their turbo-charged running game. That didn't happen, of course, but Garrard, the author of that play (which was apparently his own idea, as he didn't like the playcall from the sidelines) gets his chance to go under the microscope today.

Born in New Jersey and raised in North Carolina, Garrard played high school ball for Southern High and made All-America during his time there; scouts marveled at his strong arm and his mobility despite his size (standing just 6'1" against his 245 pounds, Garrard can look more like an offensive lineman than a quarterback). He attended East Carolina University, where he took over the reins of the Pirates as a redshirt freshman and didn't skip a beat for the next three years, making every start through 1999, 2000, and 2001. He led the Pirates to a Bowl win (no, I swear to God, I swear to God, I am not making that up, you knew there was a bowl game for everything in creation and that just proves it) against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and in his last game with ECU, faced off in the GMAC Bowl against Byron Leftwich of Marshall University, who would eventually be his Jaguars teammate. Marshall and Leftwich eventually won that, but not before double-overtime and the highest-scoring bowl game in history had taken place -- the two teams scored a combined 125 points, 61 of those by the Pirates. (I think it's safe to say the defenses didn't actually show up for that one). Finishing his collegiate career with over 9,000 pass yards and 1,000 rush yards, Garrard graduated from ECU with a degree in sports management, so perhaps he'll take over the business side of the operation once his playing days are over.

Both Leftwich and Garrard were taken in the 2002 draft, Leftwich seventh overall and Garrard 108th overall. Leftwich immediately supplanted Mark Brunell as the Jaguars' starter and Garrard played backup, starting only three games from 2002-2004. (In 2004, Garrard underwent a different kind of test, as he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and underwent surgery to remove 12 inches of his intestines; he played that year anyway). Leftwich's late-season injury in 2005 allowed him to start the final five games; he did adequately, with 1,117 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, and an 83.9 rating. He saw more playing time the next year in 2006, starting 10 games after being named the starter by head coach Jack Del Rio in place of the oft-injured Leftwich. (The Jaguars fired Tom Coughlin, currently the head coach of the Giants, in 2002 after a 6-10 record, and hired Del Rio instead; he still holds the position). Garrard's record in those 10 games was only 5-5, as he put up totals of 1,735 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT (four came in one game against the Texans) and a 80.5 rating. However, Del Rio again named Leftwich the Jaguars' starting QB in February of 2007, but that quickly came to an end when Garrard outplayed him in the preseason and got named the starter just before the opener of the 2007 season. (The Jaguars released Leftwich; the former first-round draft pick saw his stock fall dramatically as he managed to sign on with the Falcons and take his turns with Joey Harrington at filling Michael Vick's shoes. This proved ineffectual, and he was released only a few weeks after the 2007 Super Bowl).

Garrard started 12 games, with fourth-year backup Quinn Gray starting the other four. But he made the most of his time, throwing for 2,509 yards, 18 TD, and 3 INT, recording a 102.2 passer rating -- good for third in the NFL behind Tom Brady (117.1) and Ben Roethlisberger (104.1). But while the Jaguars surprised with the strength of their offense (25.7 ranked 6th in the NFL, 357.7 average of yards per game ranked 7th) a great deal of that came from the terrifying twosome of their miniature running backs, Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Well, Taylor isn't so miniature, standing an average 6'1"/228 lb, but Jones-Drew, at 5'7" and 208, is a little fireplug that can plow through a pile of men twice his size. The Jags' run game ranked second in the NFL behind the Vikings at 149.4, and it was precisely this strength that led a few talking heads to speculate on their ability to beat the Patriots, as the Patriots hadn't showcased a dominant run defense yet that year. (They hadn't lost yet either, and didn't lose to the Jags, so it didn't matter very much).

The Jags' D is generally solid, rating between 10th and 15th in points, yards, pass defense, and run defense, and as you will have noticed if you watched any of their playoff games, every man on the O-line is a giant. (That wasn't quite as helpful as it could have been, as they still let Garrard get sacked 21 times in 12 games and Gray 10 times in 4 games). But Jones-Drew developed into a kick-return threat almost as dangerous as the Bears' Hester (he returned 31 kicks for 811 yards, an average of 26.2 yards a return, including one 100-yard, full-field return for a touchdown). The Jaguars are a fairly similar club to the Vikings in terms of the strong run game and lesser passing game, but Jacksonville is hoping that Garrard continues to be a solid (very solid, evidently) presence for them, and since he can rush as well as pass (which can help account for his low yardage totals) he fits in well on a ground-based offensive club.

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