JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In his first season as the unquestioned starting quarterback, David Garrard provided top-flight leadership.
But only now, with a full offseason and training camp, has he been able to assume full ownership of the Jaguars.
Following a year in which he posted a 9-3 record and won a playoff game in Pittsburgh, he got the most lucrative contract in team history -- $20 million guaranteed and the possibility of $60 million over six years.
"I think David has been outstanding," coach Jack Del Rio said. "He's everything you want in a good, young quarterback that is appreciative of being on this team, a part of this organization, being here in this community. He's a good solid family man, he's well spoken and he's a darn good football player who's getting better every day. We believe as good as he was last year he's got a lot to go, a big upside."
The Jaguars' formula centers on a run-based offense and a physical defense. Garrard proved a supereffective game manager operating like a doctor who pledged to first do no harm.
He completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing 18 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. That 0.9 interception percentage was the second lowest in league history. His 102.2 passer rating trailed only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
Can he do it again?
"He's smart with the football, he understands what they are trying to do, their running game helps him and I don't see any reason why his level of play would diminish," said one personnel man in the AFC South. "He really did an outstanding job of protecting the football and making plays for his team."
His first year as a starter came after a late decision to jettison Byron Leftwich.
Now, the team knows Garrard's steady demeanor and looks to fall in line with the tone he sets.
"He's a great guy, never too high, never too low, always the same, ice water running through his veins, cool as a cat," rookie defensive end Quentin Groves said. "Deceptive too. I saw him run one day at practice and I was like, 'That's David?' You better get ready, because he can run."
After the Jaguars blew an 18-point lead on Jan. 5 in Pittsburgh, Garrard's 32-yard run on a fourth-and-2 with less than 2:00 left proved the play of the season, positioning the Jaguars for a field goal that sent them to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Patriots.
After a recent practice, Garrard navigated a path lined with fans begging for his autograph, carrying on a conversation while periodically stopping to sign. He gracefully made multiple people feel like the center of attention, a good quality for a quarterback to have.
He seems completely comfortable with all the responsibilities that come with being the face of the franchise.
"It's the first time I am going into the season like this as a starter, and it's been great," Garrard said. "I'm having a good time right now and I hope we can continue this into the season, just have fun and do big things."
1. Can the Jaguars generate a sufficient pass rush against the AFC's elite teams?
In its two wins over Pittsburgh, Jacksonville produced 11 sacks. But as the Jaguars went 1-3 against Indianapolis, San Diego and New England, they took the quarterback down just four times. They were aggressive in the draft, moving up for end Derrick Harvey with the No. 8 overall pick and taking Quentin Groves with their second-round pick. But Harvey's still a holdout, and seems unlikely to be an impact player early on. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is a creative blitz designer, and the Jags are likely to send extra people more often.
2. Will the receivers be better?
Jacksonville attacked the position in the offseason, signing free agent Jerry Porter and trading for Troy Williamson. Porter's missing the preseason after hamstring surgery and Reggie Williams has been out after knee surgery. If everyone is healthy, Dennis Northcutt will work in the slot and could be better playing the role the team envisioned for him when he signed in 2007. The most intriguing guy could be Mike Walker, who missed his rookie season with a knee injury and could be in the starting lineup. The passing offense won't be on par with the run game, but it should be better and can be more than good enough for the Jaguars to remain a serious contender in the AFC.
3. Do changes in the secondary make them tougher?
The plan right now is for free-agent acquisition Drayton Florence to play opposite Rashean Mathis at cornerback. That frees up veteran Brian Williams to move to safety, where he and Reggie Nelson can overlap on a lot of plays. In the nickel package, Williams moves to the slot with Gerald Sensabaugh coming on at safety. If the plan pans out, the Jaguars should feel confident enough in the back end that they won't have to worry about sending extra people to help the pass rush.
4. Can the run game be as strong?
Yes. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew might be as good a one-two backfield punch as there is in the league. The Jaguars' offensive line is a big, physical group that's built to open holes for them. At 32, Taylor is coming off a season in which he posted a career-best 5.4-yard average. He shows no signs of a drop off. The explosive Jones-Drew is difficult to catch. The duo keyed the league's No. 2 rushing offense in 2007. The Jaguars will be right at the top again.
Linebacker is a big strength for Jacksonville. The sure-tackling and athletic Daryl Smith could be the next Jaguar to build a reputation for being under-recognized. As the defense expands its blitz packages, might he add some more sacks to all those tackles?
Newcomer to watch
Harvey was supposed to lead the charge, but his contract stalemate means the Jaguars can't plan on him making a contribution. Groves looks to be a third-down pass-rusher at the start. After dealing with toe issues at the end of his career at Auburn, he's healthy and potentially disruptive.
Defensive tackle John Henderson's mean streak seems to be right at the surface. He was in the middle of a series of tussles with the offense at one evening training camp practice. Del Rio added fiery assistants when he hired Williams and defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson. Those two veteran coaches should produce some good results. Mike Peterson is in the last year of his contract and the Jags feel so good about the rest of their linebackers it could well be his last season in Jacksonville. Justin Durant and Clint Ingram are quality players, but if everyone is healthy, one won't start this season. Like a lot of teams, the Jaguars will be in trouble if their starting quarterback goes down. Cleo Lemon wasn't getting great reviews in the early part of camp.
Paul Kuharsky covers the NFL for ESPN.com