Jaguars GM Smith believes arrow pointing up
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)
When the Jacksonville Jaguars promoted Gene Smith to general manager in 2009, it came amid a groundswell of support.
The motto ''In Gene We Trust'' become a popular phrase on Internet message boards and talk-radio shows.
Nearly three years later, and after the worst start in franchise history, that confidence has seemingly been shaken.
Although team owner Wayne Weaver has expressed faith in Smith's rebuilding project, he declined to extend the contract of his longtime scout-turned-personnel chief in January. So much like everyone except coach Jack Del Rio, who has two years remaining on a four-year, $21 million deal, Smith is in the final year of his contract.
''We ask players to play out contracts and we have players who sign one-year contracts. I'm no different,'' Smith said last week as the Jaguars (1-5) prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (4-1) on Monday night.
Smith wants to stick around. He believes this team will be a playoff contender soon, regardless of what happens against the Ravens.
''People can doubt you, but you can never doubt yourself,'' Smith said.
There are plenty of doubters these days.
The Jaguars have lost eight of nine dating to last season and have dropped five in a row for the first time in a decade. Much of the blame has fallen on Del Rio, but the franchise struggles also raised questions about Smith's direction.
Smith agreed with the decision to cut veteran quarterback David Garrard five days before the opener, a poorly timed moved that didn't look good until Garrard announced last week that he needed surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back.
Of Smith's 20 draft picks over three years, only eight have become starters. Of those eight, rookie guard Will Rackley already has been benched, and cornerback Derek Cox and offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries.
''Injuries are something you can't control in football,'' Smith said. ''Availability supersedes ability. They've got to be on the field to help you win. As frustrating as it is, you've got to get them healthy, and at some point, they'll be back out there.''
Making matters worse, Smith's most significant draft pick - franchise quarterback Blaine Gabbert - has been slow to develop.
Gabbert took over the starting job in Week 3 and has done little to improve the NFL's worst offense. The 10th overall pick in April's draft, Gabbert has the same number of turnovers as touchdown passes (four) and has really struggled in crunch time of close games.
''The offense will grow as Blaine grows,'' Smith said. ''He's done some things that will help us win games in time and help us stack some wins. As things function better around him, you'll see better performance out of that position. He's got a legitimate skill set to lead us where we want to go. But there's a learning curve and some patience that go along with it when you're playing arguably the most difficult position to play in football.''
When Smith replaced former personnel chief James ''Shack'' Harris, the Jaguars were a mess. The roster was spotted with free-agent failures and draft-pick busts. Smith wanted to rebuild mostly through the draft, a time-consuming process that often yields sustained success.
Few can question what Smith has done with the defense. Jacksonville ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category in 2010.
Smith drafted stout defensive tackles Terrance Knighton (2009) and Tyson Alualu (2010), then added linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry, cornerback Drew Coleman and defensive end Matt Roth in free agency this summer. Together, they have made Jacksonville one of the league's top defenses.
The unit has been mostly overshadowed by the offensive problems.
Smith isn't sure what the future holds. Weaver said in January that ''if we're not in the playoffs next year, there won't be many people around here.''
Smith insists the team is close, closer than most outsiders think, and on the verge of something special. If it does get turned around, ''In Gene We Trust'' will be the talk again.
''People have a short memory as where we were as an organization two and half years ago,'' Smith said. ''This was a very trying situation. I know the arrow's up; I know winning will come. It does take patience when you're trying to do things the right way. But when you do sustain winning, it can be something that over the course of time we can be proud of. We don't want to try to win one year. We want to be competitive every year.''