JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was challenged by his head coach, criticized by his team owner and chastised by his fan base.
His response? He insists he's had the best offseason of his career. He has been working with young receivers, taking on a leadership role and doing everything he can to make Jacksonville's offense more potent.
"I think any time any man is challenged it's going to bring something out of you," Garrard said Sunday. "It should. If another man is going to challenge you, and you are really a man, then you're going to rise to the occasion. I want to be better. I want to be greater."
If it doesn't happen, the Jaguars could move in another direction.
Sure, the small-market franchise passed on local icon Tim Tebow and fellow quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy in last weekend's draft, and chose not to upgrade an offense that ranked 24th in the league in points scored last season. But even Garrard knows the team's three-day minicamp kicked off a make-or-break season for him.
"Absolutely," Garrard said. "It's a pivotal year for all of us, no bigger year than it is for me."
Coach Jack Del Rio and team owner Wayne Weaver made that clear in January.
Del Rio said Garrard was in the "middle tier of quarterbacks in the league." Although it wasn't groundbreaking news considering Garrard has thrown 30 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions the last two seasons and been sacked 84 times, it put the nine-year veteran on notice.
"Honestly, I knew what he was doing," Garrard said. "It didn't make me hate him or dislike him. I did understand what he was saying. He was putting a challenge out there and that's OK. I'm a man. You challenge me and I'm going to step up and do what I can to meet that challenge.
"That is how you have to be. If you get bent out of shape over it or huffing and puffing, are you trying to say you can't step up to a challenge? That is what I took it as, a challenge. I plan on doing the most with the challenge that has been presented to me."
Weaver's comment were even more biting.
The owner quietly questioned Garrard's leadership skills by relaying a story about Indianapolis star Peyton Manning driving several hours twice a week in 2008 to work out with rookie receiver Pierre Garcon during the offseason.
"We need to do more of that here," Weaver said. "Those are the kinds of accountability things that we're talking about here."
Garrard vowed to do his part. He spent countless hours with receivers in recent weeks, even playing catch with tennis balls in hopes of improving hand-eye coordination and taking a more active role.
"I have had everybody here on days when we are not supposed to be here, just doing little things extra," Garrard said. "If you want to be great, you have to do extra. You can't do what's required of you."
Garrard took over the starting job in 2007, had 18 TD passes and just three interceptions and led the Jaguars to their first playoff victory since 2000. He was rewarded with the richest contract in team history -- a six-year, $60 million extension that included $18 million guaranteed.
But his numbers have dipped since. He finished with 15 TD passes and 13 interceptions in 2008, and had 15 TD passes and 10 INTs last season. He also fumbled 13 times (lost seven) in 2009, was sacked 42 times and knocked down even more often.
The Jaguars expect better results from Garrard this fall, especially since the pieces around him are starting to fall into place.
They believe offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton have improved after starting nearly every game as rookies. They think guards Vince Manuwai and Uche Nwaneri, who have swapped sides, will provide more push in the middle. They feel the receiving corps, which includes youngsters Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard, will take a step forward.
"Last year wasn't good enough, and as an offense we've got to work harder and be a better group," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "We feel like we have a solid nucleus that we just have to grow. ... Everyone tries to put pressure on David, but he does a great job running our offense. I think more than anything a quarterback is only as good as the people around him."
The Jags didn't add much on that side of the ball. They signed receiver Kassim Osgood during free agency and drafted running back Deji Karim in the sixth round, but their biggest contributions this fall could be on special teams. So the decisions to stand pat seemingly show confidence in Garrard, but for how long?
"Sometimes you can have guys that are scared to be great," Garrard said. "That's just the reality of things. We don't have any scaredy cats around here. We all want to be great and we have to do extra to be great. You just can't do what the coaches ask of you. You have to do more."