On April 22nd, 2010, Gene Smith was on top of the Jaguar world. He brought in one of the Jaguars best drafts in 2009; then started off 2010 with a bang adding free agents Aaron Kampman and Kassim Osgood. Pundits were calling him one of the bright young GMs in the NFL.
And then Roger Goodell went up to the podium and said “The Jacksonville Jaguars select Tyson Alualu, Defensive Tackle, California.”
With those nine words, the perception of Gene Smith changed forever.
The aftermath of that pick and the Jaguars 2010 draft has been repeated constantly. The most famous part was Gene Smith telling Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he didn’t care what people thought of the pick, he was there to build a championship team.
The 2010 season was in some strange fashion both a vindication for Gene Smith and cause for further skepticism towards his moves. During training camp and the preseason, things got off to a rocky start. 3rd round pick D’Anthony Smith (Alualu’s expected primary back up) and 6th round pick Scotty McGee (the man most pegged to be the Jags chief punt returner) both went on IR. In addition, KR Deji Karim would be sidelined for 5 games with a hand injury, while DE Austen Lane spent most of the first half of the year deactivated.
As the Jaguars moved into the regular season, it seemed Smith’s moves would come to payoff. Alualu and Kampman gave Jacksonville the pass rush it lacked for over two seasons. When Deji Karim finally made his regular season debut, he burst onto the scene accounting for over 200 yards vs the Buffalo Bills. And then Austen Lane would crack the starting lineup, replacing the benched Derrick Harvey.
Then as the season continued and the Jaguars were looking to make a playoff push, the pieces once again began to come undone. First was the loss of Aaron Kampman to another torn ACL, becoming another potential high dollar free agent bust for the Jaguars. Tyson Alualu’s play dipped considerably in the 2nd half as well. Even though Lane saw considerable playing time, it was clear he wasn’t quite ready for the NFL.
So, now Gene Smith enters the 2011 offseason tasked with simultaneously making sure the Jaguars make the 2011 playoffs and to continue building for the future. The inherit contradiction in those tasks, in addition to labor unrest throwing free agency for a spin, will ensure the Smith will need to walk a fine line with his draft choices.
Does he choose a QB in the first round, even if means moving up and trading away some picks? Does he take a QB even when it appears likely David Garrard will get another year as the Jags starter? Or does he go defense in hopes of finding the missing piece in the defensive back seven?
There are a lot of questions and very few answers at this point. Gene Smith has made his reputation as a “Scout’s Scout” and has made some definite hits for the Jaguars so far (Eugene Monroe, Terrance Knighton, Mike Thomas, Deji Karim, Kassim Osgood). However, this will be a make or break period in his tenure as Jaguars General Manager. What he does in this draft will impact the franchise for years, and potentially be the point where the franchise’s stability is finally determined.