Rarely do the Jacksonville Jaguars have anything concrete that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the national media simply ignores the franchise. This week, with the Michael Vick reinstatement, the Jaguars have been consistently mentioned as having interest in the troubled quarterback, and it has become crystal clear just how little attention the team gets.
On ESPN, Herm Edwards, a friend of Jack Del Rio, was the first to float the suggestion that the Jaguars might pursue Vick. Since then, the suggestion mushroomed into a full-blown rumor, and sparked conversations in every possible manner about the best approach for the Jaguars.
At that time, Jack Del Rio was asked directly about the rumors swirling regarding whether the Jaguars had any interest in Michael Vick during his first weekly radio show of the 2009 season on WOKV AM 690 in Jacksonville. Jack Del Rio simply said, "No."
The Vick dismissal was only the first point Del Rio discussed. He was practically gushing for the remainder of his show about the direction he sees this team headed right now.
He went on to elaborate on the point by focusing on the players the team brought in this year. He said that part of the process was to purge the roster first, eliminating some of the bad elements that had started to develop. Then, they identified new core players the city would be proud of as they ascend to new roles as primary leaders on a team lacking any true star power.
Maurice Jones-Drew was one of those core players Del Rio mentioned. He was approached by fans during a recent golf tournament on the west coast and asked about his new primary running back. These fans were fantasy wonks that had Maurice on their roster, so they were trying to pick the coach's brain to find out what he expected from his back. Del Rio pointed out that Jones-Drew was also on his fantasy team, so he had very high expectations for his guy.
Jones-Drew is the one Jaguar player generating a lot of interest outside of Jacksonville. In the short time he has been on the franchise and in the NFL, he has become one of the biggest stars the Jaguars have ever had on the roster. People are taking notice, which Del Rio said was much deserved. The Jaguars are trying to leverage his celebrity to get people paying attention to the team as a whole.
He also spoke on how underappreciated he feels David Garrard actually is. Garrard has the ability to make plays with his feet, mind, and his arm according to Del Rio. By providing him with better protection, playmakers on the receiving corps, and a more effective running game, David should be able to take the next step in his career progression and rebound from a difficult year.
Vince Manuwai's return was mentioned by Del Rio as a critical piece in the revitalization of the Jaguars roster. The entire offensive line has been extremely upbeat with Manuwai back on the field participating with the starting unit.
According to Jack, Marcedes Lewis has had a great off-season, and is poised to have a productive 2009. He is in the best shape of his career working with the new training staff, and he is focused on overcoming a less than stellar 2008. Lewis has been putting in extra effort to validate the trust the staff has in him.
On defense, Jack feels the linebackers are poised to have a big year. Much of what they want to do defensively will be funneled through them. Based on the spring, the core three—Daryl Smith, Clint Ingram, and Justin Durant—are ready to take their game to the next level.
Jack said he expects all of them to take a step forward, but most of all Clint Ingram. They want him to be more involved in blitzing. Jack referred to him as a "hunting dog" because he is a guy who "likes to go strike people."
Justin Durant is the middle linebacker now, with Smith and Ingram anchoring the outside. Del Rio feels that this will allow each player to play to their strengths.
Right now, if Jack was to set up the depth chart for the defensive backs, Sean Considine and Reggie Nelson would wind up being the starters at safety. But, he said that there is an open competition, and if either Marlin McCree or Gerald Alexander win the starting jobs, he would be fine with this.
Jack talked about the freshness and anxiety he feels about this team. Because of all the changes, he is eager to get started so the coaches can mold this young team into something the city of Jacksonville can be proud of.
Del Rio talked about the huge amount of effort the team embarked upon to fix those things that needed attention. He said that their focus is not on expectations right now, but the rebuilding process itself. They want to get to work to develop these young players, and have them all pull together unselfishly and see where things wind up in the fall. They are focused on reinstating the family vibe the team lost track of last season.
Jack was asked about the three veteran free agent acquisitions: Torry Holt, Tra Thomas, and Sean Considine. Jack felt all three of the players are consummate pros who appreciate the NFL and the opportunity to play in the league. Each has come to Jacksonville to help this team win.
Del Rio was quick to point out that these are not necessarily mentors in the traditional sense. They are there to win the starting positions, and in doing so, lead by the example. By seeing this, the hope is the young players will develop the right habits as they mature as professional athletes.
Regarding the issues with John Henderson, the indication was this is being overblown. Jack feels Henderson has responded well to the challenges issued to him during organized team activities. He is keeping his weight in check and focusing on his conditioning.
Jack discussed Rob Meier and how he really needs to go back into more of a situational role. He said they simply asked too much of Rob last year and it showed. By putting him back into a situation where he can rotate in for 20-25 plays per game, he should return to the high level of play he embodied prior to 2008.
Terrance Knighton is a defensive tackle Jack is high on because he's a guy with a solid base and good athletic ability. They want to see him in pads to determine how his game translates with contact. But, if he continues to impress, he will be competing for a starting position.
Defensive tackle Attiyah Ellison is another guy the coaches expect to compete for not only a roster spot, but significant playing time as well. The unheralded off-season acquisition has shown flashes during the spring, and the coaching staff is eager to see if these will continue when the pads go on during camp.
Jack said they have more depth at defensive tackle than most think. He did say they need John to get back to his Pro Bowl level this year, and they hope this will happen.
Derrick Harvey has bulked up to shed the notion he is a situational player. He is working hard to become an every down defensive end, and not just a guy who comes in on passing downs.
When Jack was asked when the team plans to have their annual rite of passage, the Oklahoma drill, he was somewhat evasive. The first night in pads is expected to be Wednesday night. The first padded practice is traditionally the session where these drills happen. Del Rio joked that he needed to consult Jaguars.com Senior Editor, Vic Ketchman to determine when the drill would happen, and who the matchups would ultimately be for the evening.
The head coach expects the Oklahoma drills to be "spirited" because there are several natural matchups, particularly between the top draft picks from last year and this season. He said there will be some legitimate competition in the drill this year.
On Rashad Jennings, host Brian Sexton gushed about his size, speed, and intelligence. Jack tried to dial it down saying the enthusiasm has to be tempered until they get a look at Jennings in pads to see how he responds to contact.
"After 25 years in the league, you just have to temper it a little bit in the spring until you see it in pads."
Jennings is picking things up quickly. How he responds to Justin Durant coming over the middle looking to throttle him remains to be seen. According to Del Rio, he had a fine spring and Jennings is definitely one of the players they are eager to watch.
Coach Del Rio discussed rookie tight end, Zach Miller, and how they are looking for ways to get him involved. Jack focused on Miller's ability to run and what a tremendous asset his speed will be.
"He's a competitive guy. He's got a lot to learn in terms of playing the position and being a complete player. The one thing he can do is run," he said.
Jack has a sense of excitement about this team. For the first time in a few years, he seems almost eager to get back on the field to see what they can mold this young group of players to become. He will not allow distractions to be a part of the equation, which is encouraging.