Mike Sims-Walker was college roommates with Brandon Marshall. Now they're both #1 Receivers in the NFL.

Scouting the Enemy: An Interview with Michael Corrao

Earlier this week our friends at the Jacksonville Jaguars Blog asked if we’d like to exchange interviews as a way to preview the upcoming preseason game between the Jaguars and the Dolphins on Saturday night. For those of you interested the game will be at EverBank field, formerly Alltel Stadium, in Jacksonville. I don’t know but I would imagine tickets are still available should any Fins fans in the North Florida area be interested.

At any rate, here is the interview with Jacksonville Jaguars Blog writer Mike Corrao. You can find the Dolphins part of this interview over at the Jacksonville Jaguars Blog. I’d just like to take the time to thank Mike for doing this and wish the Jaguars the best of luck this season (as long as none of that luck comes at the expense of the Dolphins).

How has Tyson Alualu been so far in camp? What are your impressions of the pick and have they changed at all since April when the decision was first made?

It’s hard to put a grade on Tyson Alualu thus far because of a calf injury he suffered near the start of camp. It’s not anything serious, but he’s been held out of practice and the past game for caution. He was very impressive in mini-camp, showing off his quick feet and constant motor. Vic Ketchman, senior editor of Jaguars.com, had this to say about Alualu: ” I saw him use a pass-rush move on Monday that made my jaw go slack.” Alualu has a great pass-rush move repertoire, which seems to be already more developed than some of the current guys on the roster. But of course, I’ll reserve judgment on Alualu until I see him play in a live game.

To an outsider it seems like the Jags flew under the radar in the draft, picking mostly players from small schools after selecting Tyson Alualu out of California in the first. Is there an organizational reason for selecting guys from smaller schools or was this more a coincidence? What are your early impressions of the draft class as a whole?

Gene Smith believes that you find football players where you find football players. He doesn’t care where you played in college; if you’ve got the skill set of an NFL player, he’s interested in you. Some have accused him of trying to be “the smartest kid in the class”, by selecting so many small school players, but when you watch these guys play against competition from bigger schools, you wouldn’t know that this guy’s from Murray State or that guy’s from Central Arkansas.

Once again, it’s hard to analyze this draft class so early because of injuries. As I said earlier, Alualu’s missed a lot of time with a calf injury. 3rd round pick D’Anthony Smith is most likely going to be out for the year with an ankle injury. Even 5th round pick Austen Lane is banged up, but he should be returning soon. However, the two 6th round picks, Deji Karim and Scotty McGee, both look like the real deal. Against the Eagles on Friday night, Karim averaged 38.3 yards on 4 kick returns in the first half. Not to be outdone, McGee averaged 34.7 yards on 3 kick returns in the second half. 3rd round pick Larry Hart has shown a tremendous motor and was able to pressure the QB a few times against the Eagles.

What position are the Jaguars currently the deepest at? Every year NFL teams send scouts out to try and find quality players after the first couple rounds of cuts, who are the most talented players that probably won’t make the Jaguars (but should catch on somewhere else)?

Honestly, I couldn’t name a position on the team that couldn’t use more quality depth. Gene Smith completely overhauled the roster in the matter of 1 1/2 years, and is no where near finished. We’re still on the opposite side of the fence; signing players who couldn’t make competitive squads rather than releasing quality players from our own roster.

If I had to choose, it would probably be wide receiver. It’s kind of funny how receiver was perceived as one of the weakest areas on the team the past 5 years and now is one of the most competitive. Mike Sims-Walker has cemented himself into the #1 receiver position after a breakout year last season. Mike Thomas, a 4th round pick from last year’s draft, has really stepped his game up throughout training camp and has placed a strangle hold on the #2 position. After that, number designations become fuzzy. Troy Williamson and Tiquan Underwood both caught long bombs against the Eagles and are fighting for that “burner” position. Jarret Dillard was drafted in the 5th round last year and showed some great promise before an injury ended his season short. He’s more of a possession type guy. Kassim Osgood was brought in early on this offseason to aid the special teams unit but also to try his hand at wide receiver. He occupies one of the positions based on his special teams talent alone. Then you have a guy like John Matthews, who caught a long touchdown pass last game, but that might not be enough to make even the practice squad.

What position scares you the most right now and how have the Jags addressed that area so far?

Defensive line. That position was a major area of concern heading into the offseason, and is one of the most changed heading out. Gene Smith has added eight new guys along the defensive line, as well as hiring a new defensive line coach, Joe Cullen, to teach them. The standout of the group is Aaron Kampman, who was brought in to be “that guy.” He’s expected to provide constant pressure from the edge, something the Jaguars have been missing for a long time. Tyson Alualu is another player who the Jaguars coaches expect to come in and be disruptive on every down. It’s a lot to ask for from a rookie defensive tackle, but Gene Smith believes he has the talent and will power to do it.

I think the AFC South could potentially be the toughest division in football. For all the talk about the Jets, Pats and Fins in the East, the South with the Colts, Jags, Titans and Texans could be even tougher. What are your expectations for this upcoming season and how would you rank the teams in your division?

The only team in the AFC South over the past 5 years that is a proven winner is the Colts. Other than that, what team in the South has done anything significant? The Titans had a good year in 2008, but they were kicked out of the playoffs in the first round. The Jaguars had a good year before, but have had trouble staying consistent. The Texans always flirt with greatness, but haven’t come close to achieving it yet. If you want a tough division, check out the AFC North. The Ravens, Steelers, Bengals, and Browns should all be tough this year.

If I had to rank the AFC South, it would look something like: Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans. The reason I put the Titans last is because I predict a Chris Johnson slump and Vince Young to not finish the season.

What does your team do the best? What is its biggest weakness?

The strength of the Jaguars lies within Maurice Jones-Drew. In my eyes, he’s the top playmaker in the league. Not only can he run, but he’s a incredibly tough blocker, he’s got great hands, can return punts and kicks, and tackles like a linebacker (vs. Saints, 2007).

The biggest weakness would be the defensive line. The lack of a pass rush has killed the Jaguars in numerous games over the past three years. An elite pass rusher, hell, a decent pass rusher, could have turned the Jaguars into a playoff team last season. That is why Gene Smith was so adamant about bringing in defensive lineman this offseason.

How committed are the Jags to David Garrard? The national media portrayed the Jaguars as flirting with the idea of replacing Garrard with Tim Tebow, which at least implies there may be some unhappiness with Garrard. How accurate is that and what is your opinion of the quarterback?

The Jaguars brass believe in Garrard, despite the local media running with a “brewing” quarterback controversy story. Tim Tebow was never seriously considered as an option at quarterback; Gene Smith had to have a lot of guts to make the right decision and not the popular decision.

Garrard is as inconsistent as they come. One week, he’ll play great against a tough Jets defense, then head to a bad Seahawks team and play like a rookie. At times, it seems like he’s unsure of his arm, and would rather make a short dump-off pass short of the sticks than a deep pass over the middle. He has trouble going through his receiver progressions, opting to lock on to one or two targets.

As far as positives go, Garrard is a good leader. It seems like the offense rallies around him, evident by the number of game winning drives he engineered last season. He’s mobile in the pocket and can make plays with his legs. He can make all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make, and best of all, he’s tough. Garrard has sustained a lot of damage over the past two years but hasn’t missed a start in that time.

Is Jack Del Rio on the hot seat this year? What are team expectations and how well does Jacksonville need to do in order for Del Rio to keep his job?

Del Rio may not be on the hot seat, but he’s very close to sitting down. Since taking over in 2003, Del Rio has lead the Jaguars to only one post-season win, and has undergone two rebuilding phases (2003-2005 and now). Wayne Weaver has come out and stated that expects more than mediocrity from the team and especially the coaching staff. It doesn’t mean that we’ll see a playoff berth this year, but I imagine that the team needs to be at least in contention for a playoff spot for Del Rio to return as head coach.

Who are two players who need to step up and have big games on Saturday if they want to make the squad?

The battle between Tiquan Underwood and Troy Williamson will be interesting to watch. They’re competing for the same role on the team, and more than likely, only one of them will win it. Underwood has an advantage in both age and cost. Williamson has veteran experience, but may have run out of chances to prove himself.

At the end of Saturday’s game, predict what you think the final score is, and who shined for the Jags.

23-21 Jaguars. Garrard looks much better than last week, tossing a touchdown pass to Mike Thomas. The special teams looks good once again, and the defensive line manages around 2 sacks.

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