|Garrard eager to prove his worth with Jaguars|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 27 July 2008 11:01|
It was a much different welcome than he received during any of his previous six training camps in Jacksonville. And for good reason.
Garrard emerged as a legitimate starter last year. He had 18 touchdowns passes, just three interceptions and made the biggest play of Jacksonville's season.
He was rewarded with the richest contract in franchise history, a six-year, $60 million extension that included $18 million guaranteed.
Now, Garrard wants to prove he was worth it.
``I'm at that point in my career where I should be playing at a little bit of a different level,'' Garrard said.
The Jaguars expect more from Garrard, too.
``The step he took last year is something we think we can build on,'' coach Jack Del Rio said.
If so, the Jaguars could have another successful season. Garrard completed 64 percent of his passes last year and ranked third in the NFL with a passer rating of 102.2. Only New England's Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger were better.
It was a breakthrough season for a longtime backup.
Even though he missed three games with a sprained ankle, Garrard was a big reason Jacksonville went 11-5 in 2007 and won its first playoff game in eight years. He certainly had the key play in the first round of the postseason at Pittsburgh.
Garrard struggled most of the night, and his two second-half interceptions helped the Steelers overcome an 18-point deficit.
But when the Jaguars needed to make a play, they turned to Garrard. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter called a quarterback draw on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 43. Garrard dropped back, took off behind the left side of the line and ended up gaining 32 yards.
The run set up Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining, which gave Jacksonville a 31-29 victory. It also provided some validation for Garrard.
``That play changed the way people saw me,'' he said. ``It changed the way I saw myself.''
When Garrard called his wife, Mary, after the game, she repeatedly screamed, ``Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!'' into the phone.
Garrard played much better the following week at New England, completing 22 of 33 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't enough to beat Brady and the Patriots. But it was enough to convince the Jaguars they had found their franchise quarterback.
``This dude is special,'' tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ``I'm glad it's his time. You can tell out there on the field, just from the confidence he has to making decisions to leading the team. It's just different this year. I'm happy for him and happy to be on the same team.''
Garrard signed his new deal in April, then settled into a new home and bought a 41-foot boat that he named ``Hail Mary.'' On one of his first fishing trips, he went 60 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, spent all day in 1,000 feet of water and caught absolutely nothing.
Fortunately for Garrard, the Jaguars had more luck in free agency. They signed receiver Jerry Porter and traded for former first-round draft pick Troy Williamson, hoping to surround Garrard with more talent and give him a better chance of winning the AFC South and getting to the Super Bowl.
The sky-high expectations are just fine with Garrard. After all, he spent his first five seasons in Jacksonville wondering where, if at all, he fit into the team's long-term plans.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2002, Garrard thought he would eventually replace Mark Brunell. But Del Rio selected Byron Leftwich the following year, a move that dropped Garrard farther down the depth chart.
Garrard finally got his chance in 2006, when Leftwich missed most of the season because of an ankle injury, but he ended the year on the bench at Kansas City. It looked like he would be behind Leftwich again last season - there was even talk about bringing in Daunte Culpepper to add to the mix - but Garrard outperformed Leftwich in every way imaginable during training camp and the preseason.
Although Del Rio had repeatedly said he was committed to Leftwich, he made a surprising decision to cut Leftwich a week before the season and turn things over to Garrard.
Garrard was relieved - and ready.
Now, nearly a year later, the former East Carolina star has given Jacksonville quarterback stability for the first time in years. And he's given Jaguars fans good reason to chant his name.
``The whole year really felt like a dream,'' Garrard said. ``I just hope I can continue to do some of the same things and also do some things better.''