While two NFC teams made the playoffs last season with 8-8 records, the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of three AFC teams that missed the postseason at 9-7. Although that's a frustrating memory, Jacksonville at least returned to playoff contention after four straight losing seasons. The Jaguars must now maintain their solid defensive play and improve the NFL's 21st-ranked offense to make the playoffs in 2005.
Jacksonville may have the best pair of defensive tackles in the league in Pro Bowlers John Henderson (75 tackles, 51/2 sacks) and Marcus Stroud (38 tackles, 41/2 sacks). To surround them at the defensive end spots, Jacksonville brought in Reggie Hayward (101/2 sacks with Denver) to start and former Pro Bowler Marcellus Wiley to back up Paul Spicer.
The battle for the starting cornerback position opposite Rashean Mathis (five interceptions) has been intense this preseason. Veteran cornerbacks Terry Cousin and Kenny Wright were signed to help replace the departed Dewayne Washington. They are competing against 2004 reserve David Richardson and several others. Even at 5 feet 9, third-round draft pick Scott Starks (Wisconsin) is a candidate to start.
"That right cornerback position is wide open and [Starks] is definitely in the mix," defensive coordinator Mike Smith told reporters during camp.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich has continued to develop into a quality NFL quarterback. He would be best served if running back Fred Taylor (1,224 yards in 14 games) stays healthy after offseason knee surgery.