Don't try to tell Maurice Jones-Drew that he'll carry a heavier burden in the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive backfield next season. As far as he's concerned, all Fred Taylor's release and subsequent free-agent signing with the New England Patriots means is a change in the cast with which Jones-Drew will share the load.
And the operative word is sharing.
"Being the No. 1 guy is one thing," Jones-Drew said. "My thing is being the guy that helps the team win, and in '07 (when the Jaguars went 11-5), that's what we did. Fred ran the ball. When he got tired, I came in and I contributed to helping us win games. As long as everybody takes that role, we'll be fine.
"One guy is not going to be the team, and that's the atmosphere and attitude we're trying to get in Jacksonville. A slap is not as powerful as a fist."
The Jaguars didn't have a whole lot of punch last season. They weren't particularly strong in any phase, ranking 20th in the NFL on offense and 17th on defense, on the way to a 5-11 finish.
Taylor was a fixture, but after 11 seasons, the Jaguars determined he was too old to still be an effective primary back. They were comfortable with turning over the job to Jones-Drew, who stepped into the role late last season after Taylor wound up on the injured-reserve list.
Now, it's Jones-Drew who will be periodically spelled. In three seasons since joining the Jaguars as a second-round draft pick out of UCLA, he has rushed for 2,533 yards (while averaging 4.8 yards per carry) and 34 touchdowns. He also has caught 148 passes for 1,408 yards and four touchdowns.
"We have a boatload of guys that can play, so it's not just me," Jones-Drew said. "That's one thing that everybody has to understand. There are a lot of guys that can go."
The Jaguars have taken some significant steps to make sure that will be the case. Aside from giving Jones-Drew a four-year contract extension, they beefed up their offensive line by adding former Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas in free agency and also using their first two draft picks on tackles -- Eugene Monroe of Virginia and Eben Britton of Arizona.
In addition, Jacksonville's offensive line is healthier. Starting guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams are returning from the season-ending injuries they suffered last year.
"We're back to where we were in the beginning," Jones-Drew said. "When I first got (to Jacksonville), we were a powerhouse running attack, and we could block and do whatever we wanted to. And with these guys coming back healthy and getting ready to play, it gets really exciting because I know we're going to be able to run the ball and throw it.
"It's going to be an explosive offense again."
The Jaguars want their backs to be highly versatile and contribute in more ways than simply running the ball. Kennedy Pola, the running backs coach, constantly preaches to members of Jacksonville's backfield to be "available" when they're on the field.
"That means you have to be able to catch," Jones-Drew said. "If you can't catch, you can't be in on third down. If you can't block, you can't be in on third down. So, as a group, we've (each) prided ourselves on being an all-around back -- running, blocking, catching. Anybody can make plays. We've just got to be in the right spots and get the ball in our hands."
Among the biggest problems that Jones-Drew believed the Jaguars had last season was too many players trying to make up for struggling teammates rather than worrying about their own responsibilities. Too often, Jones-Drew saw them tighten up in critical situations. He saw them panic and make costly mistakes.
"But you learn from those mistakes, and that's how a team becomes great," Jones-Drew said.
Jones-Drew views himself as one of the Jaguars' leaders. However, he doesn't believe in being all that vocal with his teammates. He believes he can make much more of an impact by allowing them to watch what he does and how he does it.
"I'd rather show players that I'm going to do everything that you're doing," Jones-Drew said. "You're going to see me work as hard as I can. If it's blocking â¦ whatever it is, I'm going to go out there and give it the best I have because people are attracted to that.
"But if you go out there and you're just a talker and you don't work hard, nobody's going to respect you, and that's what the game's all about, really -- creating this level of respect and showing people that it's OK to work hard and be great. You might fail, but it's OK because at the end of the day, you've gotten better."