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Uninsured at QB, Jags rely heavily on Garrard returning to form

The fan and media outcry, if there truly was one, landed on deaf ears.

The Jacksonville Jaguars never did draft Tim Tebow or any other quarterback. They made no significant move whatsoever that would indicate a desire to replace David Garrard as their starter.

Make-or-break season

Steve Wyche gives five players in make-or-break years in 2010, including David Garrard, who struggled during the Jags' season-ending four-game losing streak. **More ...**

When it comes to judging the Jaguars' plan to improve their quarterback position, there really isn't much to it beyond seeing how Garrard responds to the collective psychological tactics that coaches and team owner Wayne Weaver have used to motivate him since the end of last season.

And that raises the question of whether this even qualifies as an actual plan, especially when you consider the enormous challenge the Jaguars face.

They want Garrard to be the player he was in 2007, when he threw for 18 touchdowns, had only three interceptions and led the team to the playoffs. For that, and the promise of more elite production, the Jaguars awarded him with the richest contract in franchise history: $60 million over seven years.

Since then, Garrard has declined so dramatically that it's difficult to imagine almost any words being enough to get him back to his previous level. Still, the Jags' decision-makers have tried, despite the fact that he has thrown just 30 touchdowns to 23 interceptions in the past two seasons.

The first attempt to prod Garrard came from coach Jack Del Rio, who, soon after last season's 7-9 finish, described him as a middle-tier quarterback.

Then came Weaver's assessment that Garrard had to become a better leader and do his part to help in the development of his younger receivers.

Most recently, after the Jaguars' minicamp earlier this month, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter offered this observation about backup quarterback Luke McCown to "This is a time for Luke to show he can compete with Dave. He's athletic, he's sharp. Can he push Dave when they're hitting you for real? We like what we see out of Luke in the meeting room and what we saw of him in minicamp."

By all accounts, McCown threw well during minicamp drills. He displayed good accuracy and delivered the ball smoothly. He showed the sort of confidence that the coaches want to see from the No. 1 man at the position, let alone a challenger.

But if you listen to Del Rio, McCown isn't on the roster to do anything more than provide depth. That was what the Jaguars had in mind when they acquired him last September in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Anyone who has followed McCown's six seasons in the NFL wouldn't argue with the characterization that he's a career backup.

"You would never turn away talent at (the quarterback) position," Del Rio said before the draft. "But we do like David. We do think we can win with David. We're not a team desperate at that position. There are a few (critics) that maybe feel that. We don't feel that way."

Garrard apparently didn't give Del Rio a reason to change his mind with what most observers considered an impressive performance during OTAs earlier this week. He told reporters in Jacksonville that he has invested greater time this offseason studying videotape and working with his receivers. His daily interaction with the men who are paid to catch his passes has included tossing and catching tennis balls in an effort to enhance hand-eye coordination.

However, all of those encouraging developments don't change the fact that Garrard has considerable ground to cover to return to the quarterback he was in '07. After leading the Jaguars to an 11-5 record and a wild card victory over the Steelers, Garrard has managed to produce only 12 wins in 32 games, with no trips to the postseason. Although it's true that these shortcomings aren't solely his fault (he was sacked 42 times and took more than 100 hits last year), he is getting paid to generate much more impressive numbers.

Garrard's body of statistical work the past two seasons is, to borrow from Del Rio, the textbook definition of a middle-tier quarterback. Of course, after so much fuss was made about what was perceived as a public dissing of Garrard, the coach felt the need to add some context.

"I have also said -- and people haven't really picked up on it -- some guys have found (elite status) later in their careers," Del Rio said. "(Rich) Gannon is an example. I played with Rich in Minnesota, and years later he was with the Raiders and he was MVP of the league. It can happen later in careers, especially at the quarterback position, when all the pieces kind of come together and the game slows down for them.

"Dave's got the ability to beat you several ways. He is mobile enough; he can hurt you with his feet. He is intelligent; he can make checks and do things to put you in the right play at the line."

Yes, Garrard can do all of those things. He did them consistently during his breakthrough season. His defining quality that year was the ability to avoid mistakes while still doing his share to make plays.

After the disappointment of the past two seasons, the Jaguars need that -- and perhaps even more -- from Garrard. He has to give them a solid reason to keep him beyond this season, which would figure to be his last in Jacksonville unless he does make a surge to the top tier.

"He needs to continue to keep the peddle down and continue to develop his skill and continue to reach for more, and he welcomes the competition," Del Rio said. "Those are all good things."

But in the end, will they be good enough?

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