Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Finds New Target for Bus

Tim McClellanCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2009

It is a curious thing. Following a disappointing loss in Indianapolis, Jack Del Rio has once again started up the coach speak bus, put it in gear, and targeted another veteran player to be his press conference speed bump. 

Del Rio has used the media in the past to motivate veteran players. Most recently, John Henderson found himself squarely in the headlights of the "Jackliner" as it rolled down the road. 

The one exception is Henderson, who actually did flip a switch and appears to be playing with a higher level of intensity than he did previously.

Aside from the Henderson situation, players who have become the proverbial deer in the headlights of the Del Rio bus have wound up on the short end of the stick, eventually winding up on different rosters.

Byron Leftwich, Deon Grant, Mike Peterson, and Marcus Stroud have all felt the wheels of the bus, and none of them came away from the experience wearing teal.

It has become almost formulaic. 

It starts with a brief comment alluding to an issue with a player during a Del Rio press conference. That seed, once planted, begins to sprout. As it takes root, speculation begins to heat up about player X being caught in the cross hairs of the head coach. The story simmers quietly and never quite disappears from the periphery. 

Suddenly, the player in question sees his play count starting to dwindle, and the next thing you know, he is gone.

Perhaps Jack is feeling the heat in a year of rebuilding. Rarely does he say something in the press that gives some room for misinterpretation. If anything, Jack has become a masterful technician in the art of coach speak, usually offering very little in the way of content while speaking volumes.

A skilled forensic grammarian can find the nuggets in his comments, but the tedious process of finding the content can often be frustrating.

There are times when candor slips out, making life easier for people tasked with interpreting Jack's commentary.

That happened yesterday afternoon during his press conference with the local media as Del Rio cranked up the Jackliner, tossed the bus in gear, and punched the pedal. When he was done, the latest victim of the magic fairy dust bus excursion was his starting quarterback, David Garrard.

The seeds have been planted.

For the first time in the media, Del Rio actually called out his quarterback.

Perhaps he waited this long because he did not have a viable alternative previously?

Maybe he has just grown tired of seeing his quarterback making mistakes usually attributed to other guys?

Regardless of the motivation behind the hit and run, it is clear Del Rio has finally come to the realization that the NFL is a quarterback league and his team is never going to get to the next level if his starting signal caller continues to languish in mediocrity.

Garrard apologists flare up immediately any time someone dares to point out even the most blatantly obvious flaws in his game.

Last season, when his poor decision making was called into question, the usual litany of responses included blaming the receivers, the offensive line, the running game, and the play calling. Not once did this group of Garrard supporters deign to admit the possibility their guy might have been part of the problem.

Based on the quantity of excuses used over the past season to explain away David Garrard's flaws, you would think he was a high ranking member of the Obama administration.

At some point, one of these apologists will declare George W. Bush to blame for David missing a receiver or taking a sack when throwing the ball away would have worked just fine.

The era of passing the buck appears to be winding down with Del Rio beginning to show signs of fatigue in defending his quarterback. 

In his press conference yesterday, Jack finally pointed out the simple fact that his quarterback missed open receivers.  He felt compelled to mention it more than once during the discussion.

The message was crystal clear.

This team is not going anywhere unless they get better play from the quarterback position.

Are we witnessing the first seeds of discontent growing between Del Rio and Garrard? 

Is Jack firing off the first test balloons signaling the impending end of the Garrard era?

There is precedent for this tactic being deployed previously, and the careers of several former Jaguars were ended once the bus was returned to the yard for storage, awaiting the next target.

David Garrard has benefited greatly from following a particularly unpopular player in Byron Leftwich.

He rode this good will masterfully in 2007 by playing an efficient brand of football that landed the Jaguars in the playoffs, and filled his bank account with $18 million in guaranteed money.

When he struggled throughout the 2008 season, the explanations for his struggles usually centered on what others were doing wrong and rarely focused on the mistakes he was making.

One game into the 2009 season and everything has changed. Now, even the head coach is starting to point fingers at his hand-picked quarterback.

That does not bode well for Mr. Garrard and his long-term future in Jacksonville.

That old diesel is warming up, and the Jackliner is rolling out of the parking lot.



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