Jags counting on Garrard to lead rebound

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Having lost 15-20 pounds, David Garrard gets a constant reminder that his diet worked.

"Button downs, suits, jeans, everything is too big," he said Monday after the Jaguars held an OTA practice.

Garrard held nothing back when he talked of the wardrobe alterations he needs.

"Even my drawers, but I'll just buy new ones of those," said Garrard, sporting about 225 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame. "It's time to get more of my stuff done, because I've had very little to wear."

So, about 30 pieces of clothes are in the back of his black Mercedes Benz S Class, ready for a stop at Garrard's tailor.

Jacksonville's general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio have been doing some tailoring of their own: Their major offseason moves have been intended to reshape the roster and place Garrard in more optimal situations.

Gone are receivers Jerry Porter, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones and left tackle Khalif Barnes.

Three new tackles -- veteran Tra Thomas and draft picks Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton -- are here to help protect Garrard and make the running game more effective. Four new receivers -- veteran Torry Holt and draft picks Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood -- were brought into to improve the arsenal.

Since he was elevated to be the team's starting quarterback just before the 2007 season, Garrard's been good (102.2 passer rating in 2007 with 15 more touchdowns than picks) and not-so-good (81.7 passer rating in 2008 with two more touchdowns than picks).

The Jaguars endured an injury-plagued 2008 season. They saw their locker room come apart during a 5-11 campaign that started with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. Garrard's third season as the starting quarterback will go a long way to telling his story, he understands.

Is he a quality, dependable NFL quarterback? Or is the eighth-year veteran a question mark?

"People that doubt Dave just have to look at 2007 film," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "I mean Dave can do it. We've got to help him, we've got to play better around him. He is a good distributor of the ball, he's good at what people want to call being a game-manager. But Dave can win the game for you too. Dave can make all the throws, he's mobile, he can beat you running. We've got to give him some help and he's got to do his part, which he will."

Having watched the roster reshaping and gained endurance and a quicker first step with the slim-down, Garrard's in a happy place.

"I feel real good right now," Garrard said. "I feel like I can sleep at night."

His job going forward is a simple one, he said: Limit turnovers while getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers, starting with running back Maurice Jones-Drew and including Holt, those rookie receivers and the holdovers like receiver Mike Walker and tight end Marcedes Lewis.

Critics point to two weaknesses in Garrard's game. He doesn't always seem thorough in scanning the field ticking through progressions and, while he's accurate short and intermediate, his deep stuff hasn't been great.

Koetter said the deep-ball question depends on how you define deep. While Garrard might not be the best throwing the ball over the top, he's excellent in another down-the-field department.

"What we call seam throws, throwing the ball in a seam somewhere in an 18- to 25-yard box where you've got to fit it between the linebackers and a safety or in a hole between the safety and the corner, Dave throws those as good as anybody out there," Koetter said. "Throw-it-on-a-line-posts, drive it in there, he throws great and those are really harder throws. He just hasn't had very many chances to throw the big air-it-out over the top throw. He could do better throwing those, but we haven't given him very many chances."

Garrard said he needs to trust that his guys will go up and make a play for him and not be reluctant to take shots, and promises he will do both with the new crew. He said he feels confident he'll connect or be returning to the huddle after an incompletion, not heading to the sideline after a turnover.

"Now, it's my guy or nobody," he said.

The defensive look dictates where Garrard starts his progressions, and opponents work hard to disguise those keys.

"Just being completely honest, there are guys in the league that are better at that than Dave is, but I also don't think he's at the bottom either, I think he's somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as that goes," Koetter said.

"I think he has other strengths about his game: how he can get it out of his hand quick, how he can throw it from different release points. He can be in traffic and kind of flick it and still get it there, he's got the release quickness and the arm strength to get it there."

There were rumblings before the 2009 draft that the Jaguars, slotted to draft No. 8 overall, might seek USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

But just a year removed from making Garrard the richest player in team history with a six-year, $60 million contract with $18 million guaranteed in April of 2007, the Jags didn't try to line up a potential replacement for him. Instead, they included Garrard in their courtship of Holt.

The former St. Louis Rams star who helped "The Greatest Show on Turf" win Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans to cap the 1999 season, Holt accompanied quarterback coach Mike Shula and Garrard for a dinner at Jacksonville's Capital Grille.

"I didn't have any nervousness doing it, I wasn't feeling like 'What am I doing here,'" Garrard said. "I felt like it was a great opportunity to get a potential Hall of Famer, a definite Pro Bowl guy here in this organization that needs him so desperately. I was telling him how much we needed him and listening to a guy that's been around, doing the right thing for a long time."

Holt was a huge acquisition for the Jags, becoming their best receiver the moment he signed.

The post-Fred Taylor, post-Mike Peterson Jaguars need Garrard to lead, and it's crept into his life away from the field and the locker room, said holdover receiver Mike Walker.

"He's really taken over," Walker said. "The big difference I see in David is communication. We could be in the lunchroom and he [remembers that he] sees something in practice and he's going to correct it. We could be anywhere. We could be playing pool and he's like, 'Remember in practice that day when you ran that? Well, you see this?...' I mean, just talking: 'Man, don't just go out there and play free styling, and be a system player.'"

At the OTA Monday, Garrard appeared to be in command of an offense that wasn't always in sync. The short crossing patterns or slants are there. He threw one of those seam passes Koetter points to, connecting with Marcedes Lewis. The longer stuff on the sidelines didn't come nearly as easily.

Garrard's got plenty of time to sort out that timing and know how much the team craves more of those big plays that can turn a game.

"I know watching him and listening to how he's going about it, he wants to come out and play better," Holt said. "...He's very accurate. He has good timing and I would say he has a better understanding of this offense. As we go, I'll get a better feel for what he does well and he'll get a better feel for what I do well."

The tailored clothes will be finished before the tailored offense, but the hope is he'll look equally good in both.