By Vic Ketchman, jaguars.com senior editor
Dennis Northcutt won’t go so far as to say he’s the missing link, but he understands he was signed by the Jaguars this past weekend for the purpose of upgrading a pass-offense that sagged to 24th in the league last year.
“Absolutely,” Northcutt agreed, in an interview with jaguars.com on Monday morning. “When you look at the stats, when you’re 24th in the league, you need improvement. I’m not saying I’m the key and I can do it all, but I’m part of the puzzle. Together we have to figure this out.”
Northcutt was at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Monday to undergo a physical examination that was the final step before signing a five-year, $17 million contract to play for the Jaguars.
“We have to work so they’re not talking about us as the weak link; they’re talking about us as the strength of the team. We have to fix that. I look forward to trying to change that. I look forward to a defense that is really good and will give me a chance to get back on punt returns,” Northcutt added.
The Jaguars signed Northcutt for two major reasons: 1.) He fits a specific need for a slot receiver and punt-returner; 2.) the Jaguars believe Northcutt still has the speed to be a deep receiver.
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do,” Northcutt said emphatically when asked if he still has deep speed. “I have seven years under my belt but I feel like I’m still in my prime. I train to try to get faster.”
His production fell last season to 22 catches for 228 yards, but the reason for that was obvious: A new regime in Cleveland featured recent first-round draft choices Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.
“When you have a new staff come in and a new system and they draft their guys and had Kellen Winslow coming back and Braylon Edwards coming back, you want to get your guys going; the guys you spent all your money on,” Northcutt said.
Prior to last season, Northcutt had averaged nearly 50 catches a season for four years. He made a career-high 62 catches in 2003 and a career-best 806 yards receiving in ’04. Northcutt has receptions of 43 yards or longer in five consecutive seasons and has punt returns for touchdowns of 87, 74, and 62 yards. Northcutt had an 81-yard punt-return last season.
“I’m pretty excited,” Northcutt said about joining the Jaguars. “I’m happy about the opportunity to come here and play for a good football team; to try to get to the Super Bowl.
“I see myself doing my part to help this team win: show how to approach the game and how to prepare, move the chains, give a spark, maybe help the younger guys,” he added.
It’s hoped Northcutt will give quarterback Byron Leftwich the deep threat he needs to “stretch” the field and open the passing lanes for Reggie Williams, Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford.
“I’ve watched him and I think he’s a great quarterback; strong arm, get the ball anywhere on the field,” Northcutt said of Leftwich. “I look forward to catching some of those deep balls he throws.”
The Jaguars are also looking forward to it.