Commentary

Maurice Jones-Drew has high hopes

The Jaguars' RB believes the team is poised to grab the nation's attention

Originally Published: August 11, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Move over, Dallas Cowboys. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew declared that Dallas has company.

When Jones-Drew signed the back of the ESPN tour bus Wednesday -- in what has become something of a representative theme for each team -- he wrote atop the Jaguars' sticker logo, "America's Team."

It didn't matter that seven of Jacksonville's home games last season were blacked out because the Jaguars failed to sell out.

It didn't matter that the national media largely has ignored the Jaguars this summer.

Jones-Drew was aware of some of the positive developments surrounding the Jaguars. They recently sold the naming rights of their stadium and will play this season at EverBank Field.

They sold the naming rights to their practice area and are now calling it Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Field.

They've had a 90 percent renewal rate on season tickets and have less than 4,000 tickets remaining for each of their home games in hopes that no more will have to be blacked out, according to Jaguars vice president of communications Dan Edwards.

Jacksonville is expected sell out the opener against the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow. It likely will sell out its next home game, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Its third home game will be against the division rival Indianapolis Colts. So three games should be good to go before the real ticket-selling challenges ensue.

Jacksonville's final five home games are against Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland, Oakland and Washington. If the Jaguars are winning, tickets will be selling. If they are struggling on the field, they will struggle off it. But they know the importance of starting quick and energizing their fans.

Jones-Drew believes his team is about to grab the attention not just of the area, but the nation. Some will scoff at it, but Jones believes it. He wrote it. And he stood behind it.

"People will see," Jones-Drew said after he autographed the sticker on the ESPN bus. "We're America's Team."

Other observations from Jaguars camp:

• Last season, Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker exploded onto the scene, much to the pleasure of Jacksonville and his fantasy football owners. This season, Sims-Walker is predicting that wide receiver Mike Thomas will do the same.

"He's going to be special this year," Sims-Walker said about Thomas, who set the franchise rookie record last season with 48 catches. "He's so versatile. He can play inside or outside, be a return man. He does it all."

Sims-Walker went so far as to call Thomas, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona, the Jaguars' training camp MVP.

• No team in the league generated a worse pass rush last season than the Jaguars. They finished the season with a league-low 14 sacks, which is unacceptable against quarterbacks such as Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Houston's Matt Schaub. It helps explain the Jaguars' offseason game plan. For starters, they rewarded former Packers free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman with a four-year, $26 million contract. Then Jacksonville used its top four drafts picks on defensive linemen -- California tackle Tyson Alualu in the first round, Louisiana Tech tackle D'Anthony Smith in the third round, Central Arkansas end Larry Hart in the fifth round and Murray State end Austen Lane in the fifth round. Jacksonville thinks its front is going to be significantly improved. Through the early part of camp, injuries have hampered the young players' development. Alualu has missed some time with a calf injury and Smith could miss the season with an Achilles injury that will require surgery. But Jacksonville knows it cannot generate only 14 sacks again this season -- and it believes it won't.

• Slowly but surely, this team has begun to rebuild itself through the draft. Each of Jacksonville's nine 2009 draft picks made the team last season. Each of the six picks is expected to make the team this season, and that does not include the pick the Jaguars traded to Oakland for linebacker Kirk Morrison. General manager Gene Smith is a little like his team: He doesn't generate much attention but continually goes about doing his job with an eye on the future.

• While a certain Jets cornerback in New York continues to generate big headlines, Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis also is unhappy with the two years remaining on his contract. He wants a new deal, too. But Mathis is in camp. No one has heard a peep. And it stands as another stark contrast between the markets in Jacksonville and New York.

•  Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is going to have to overcome some of the inconsistencies in his game for the Jaguars to overcome some of the inconsistencies in their play. Jacksonville will be as good as Garrard.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.