On the morning of July 24, Leon Searcy, the Jaguars' Pro Bowl
right tackle, sat dejectedly on the back of a cart that no player
wants to ride in. He was leaving the practice fields behind
Alltel Stadium, facing surgery to repair a torn right quadriceps
tendon and up to four months of rehabilitation. At one point
Searcy buried his face in his massive hands. Jacksonville fans
probably did the same when they got the news. Another injury to
the offensive line was the last thing they needed to hear about.
That's because the line that helped power the second-best rushing
attack in the NFL last year was already in disarray. Only two
players who started a majority of games up front last season
return to their same positions, and one of those, All-Pro left
tackle Tony Boselli, is still rehabbing the anterior cruciate
ligament he tore in his right knee last January. Having to revamp
the line is not the position to be in when you're in a division
loaded with pass rushers.
"Losing Leon was big," says Boselli, who is expected to be at
full strength when the season opens. "Obviously you want your
best guys out there, but we don't have that luxury. We've
overcome setbacks before, and that's what we expect to do now."
Zach Wiegert, who started 12 games at right guard for
Jacksonville last season, moves to Searcy's spot. The good news:
Wiegert, the 1994 Outland Trophy winner at Nebraska, spent his
first two NFL seasons as the Rams' right tackle. The bad news: He
missed two weeks of training camp with a hyperextended right
At guard the Jaguars were looking at rookie Brad Meester, a
second-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa, and David Kempfert,
who has been on and off practice squads for the past three
seasons. But they thought better of starting two players who have
never played an NFL down and on Aug. 16 traded for Chiefs guard
Brenden Stai, a six-year veteran who started 16 games last
season. He'll replace Kempfert and line up next to Wiegert. The
center, John Wade, is coming off his first full season as a
starter, but he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot on
Aug. 2, an injury that sidelined him for three weeks.
Things seemed to be fine at the skill positions with quarterback
Mark Brunell throwing to the wideout tandem of Jimmy Smith (a
league-high 116 receptions last year) and Keenan McCardell
(fourth in the league in receptions over the past four seasons)
and Fred Taylor handling the rushing duties. But in an exhibition
game against the Giants on Aug. 11, Taylor sprained the medial
collateral ligament in his left knee, putting his availability
for the opener in question. Jacksonville went down this road last
year. After running for 1,223 yards as a rookie in 1998, Taylor
missed six games last season with hamstring injuries. He wasn't
at full strength until the postseason, when he averaged 122.5
yards per game and 6.6 yards a carry. In an attempt to eliminate
injuries like the ones that nagged him in '99, he is eating a
couple of bananas a day (to eliminate cramping).
On defense the Jaguars added Pro Bowl middle linebacker Hardy
Nickerson, formerly of the Buccaneers, to a unit that tied for
the league lead with 57 sacks and surrendered a league-low 13.6
points a game. Even so, the pass rush needs a big year out of Pro
Bowl defensive end Tony Brackens, who didn't re-sign until Aug.
The Jaguars are coming off a season in which they won a
league-best 14 games and reached the AFC Championship Game, and
though the talent is still in place, there's a sense in
Jacksonville that the window of opportunity for reaching the
Super Bowl is closing. It's a notion that coach Tom Coughlin
doesn't buy into--"I don't think there's any more urgency now than
before," he says--but age is creeping up on a team that has played
in two conference title games in its first five seasons of
existence. Stars such as Brunell, Smith, McCardell, Searcy and
Nickerson will all be 30 or older at the end of this season.
"Once you've been in the league a few years, you start thinking
you have to get a ring soon or it might never happen," Wiegert
says. "Eventually you stop climbing up the hill to a championship
and you start going back down. We have some guys in their primes
who want to win this thing now."
To do that the Jaguars will have to conquer division rival
Tennessee. The Titans were the only team to beat Jacksonville
last season, and they did it three times--twice in Alltel,
including a 33-14 whipping for the AFC title. In those three
losses the Jaguars committed 13 turnovers, six in the playoff
meeting. They coughed up the ball only 11 times in their 14 other
"It does get in your head," Smith says. "Some players will say it
doesn't and that we can beat them, but the bottom line is that we
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER IN GOOD HANDS McCardell, fourth in the NFL in catches over the past four years, and Smith give the Jaguars a top receiving tandem.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO
Sept. 3 at Cleveland
10 AT BALTIMORE
25 at Indianapolis (Mon.)
Oct. 1 PITTSBURGH
16 at Tennessee (Mon.)
29 at Dallas
Nov. 5 Open date
19 at Pittsburgh
Dec. 3 CLEVELAND
17 at Cincinnati
23 at N.Y. Giants (Sat.)
1999 Record 14-2 (1st in AFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 2/12/7; defense 7/3/4
2000 Schedule strength NFL rank: 22 (tie)
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .465
Games against playoff teams: 6
PLAYER TO WATCH
As a child Fernando Bryant didn't have to look far to learn how
to play cornerback. One of his uncles, Don Griffin, played that
position for 10 years in the NFL, while another, Ray Griffin,
spent six seasons at corner in Cincinnati. Those men taught their
craft to Bryant, and when he entered the NFL last season as a
first-round draft pick, the two implored him to stay focused and
learn as much as possible. Bryant got off to a dubious start--he
was Jacksonville's first rookie holdout ever and missed the first
11 days of training camp--but he was a starter by the season
opener and an all-rookie selection by season's end. Not only did
the Jaguars rave about his coverage skills, but Bryant also
finished fourth on the team in tackles.
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Tom Coughlin
Sixth season with Jaguars (49-31 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Mark Brunell 18 441 att. 259 comp. 58.7% 3,060 yds.
14 TDs 9 int. 82.0 rtg.
RB Fred Taylor 27 159 att. 732 yds. 4.6 avg. 10 rec.
83 yds. 8.3 avg. 6 TDs
RB Stacey Mack 205 7 att. 40 yds. 5.7 avg. 0 rec.
0 yds. no avg. 0 TDs
FB Daimon Shelton 318 1 att. 2 yds. 2.0 avg. 12 rec.
87 yds. 7.3 avg. 0 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Jimmy Smith 13 116 rec. 1,636 yds. 6 TDs
WR Keenan McCardell 73 78 rec. 891 yds. 5 TDs
WR R. Jay Soward (R)207 51 rec. 655 yds. 4 TDs
TE Kyle Brady 263 32 rec. 346 yds. 1 TD
K Mike Hollis 132 37/37 XPs 31/38 FGs 130 pts.
PR R. Jay Soward (R)207 18 ret. 12.1 avg. 1 TD
KR Reggie Barlow 176 19 ret. 20.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Tony Boselli 6'7" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Brad Meester (R)6'3" 302 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
C John Wade 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Brenden Stai 6'4" 312 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Zach Wiegert 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 games 12 starts
LE Renaldo Wynn 16 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
LT Gary Walker 54 tackles 10 sacks
RT Seth Payne 23 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
RE Tony Brackens 66 tackles 12 sacks
OLB Lonnie Marts 73 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Hardy Nickerson107 tackles 2 int.
OLB Kevin Hardy 97 tackles 10 1/2 sacks
CB Fernando Bryant 69 tackles 2 int.
SS Donovin Darius 78 tackles 4 int.
FS Rayna Stewart 13 tackles 0 int.
CB Aaron Beasley 64 tackles 6 int.
P Bryan Barker 78 punts 41.8 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Jaguars
"They have questions on the offensive line, but the good thing
is they have Fred Taylor and Mark Brunell behind those guys,
plus good receivers. So they still have playmakers along with a
lot of speed, especially with R. Jay Soward. They haven't had an
effective third receiver in some time, but he can be
it....Jonathan Quinn has to be ready, because Brunell has been
nicked the last couple of years, and that was when the line was
more stable....I think they'll miss [offensive lineman] Ben
Coleman, who they could have re-signed for about $1 million a
year....Carnell Lake [out for the year with a stress fracture in
his left foot] was a leader in the secondary. He made their
cornerbacks better....Donovin Darius is a big hitter, but he
needs to improve his tackling....Hardy Nickerson is an upgrade
at middle linebacker, and with Kevin Hardy on the outside, they
have their fastest linebacking corps ever....On the line Tony
Brackens is their best pass rusher, but I don't know how
effective the other players will be."