Jaguars trying to escape pattern of mediocrity

Few NFL coaches last eight seasons with just one playoff

victory.

Jack Del Rio beat the odds, getting a second chance to rebuild

the Jacksonville Jaguars. Owner Wayne Weaver stuck with Del Rio in

January and gave him another shot at getting the small-market

franchise out of a pattern of mediocrity. If it doesn’t happen, Del

Rio and his assistants probably will be gone.

So Del Rio will be under as much scrutiny this season as the

quarterback competition between David Garrard and rookie Blaine

Gabbert, the health of running back Maurice Jones-Drew and

defensive end Aaron Kampman, and the team’s overhauled defense.

”The pressures and the demands, that’s part of what we do,”

Del Rio said. ”I enjoy it. I love that part of it. It becomes a

little more enjoyable when you know that you’re getting closer to

being on equal footing.”

The Jaguars believe they’re finally there, having replaced 15 of

22 starters over the last three seasons. The most significant

changes came on defense, where the Jaguars ranked 28th in the

league last season and allowed a franchise record 419 points.

How the revamped unit performs will determine whether

Jacksonville can overtake perennial power Indianapolis in the AFC

South – and save Del Rio’s job.

”We can be the best defense in the league with the talent we

have,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.

The Jaguars certainly have upgraded every position on that side

of the ball. They signed linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint

Session, safety Dawan Landry, end Matt Roth and nickel back Drew

Coleman. With the return of Kampman (knee) and tackle D’Anthony

Smith (Achilles tendon) from injuries, the Jaguars are confident

they will see a defensive turnaround in 2011.

”We’re going to be good on defense,” Del Rio said. ”I don’t

think there’s any doubt. There’s not anybody here coaching or

playing that’s part of our defensive unit that doesn’t think we’re

going to be pretty good.”

There are doubters outside the facility, though.

Some oddsmakers have the Jaguars projected to finish last in the

division. There are reasons to be skeptical, and they have more to

do with Kampman, Jones-Drew and Garrard than Del Rio.

Kampman tore the anterior collateral ligament in his right knee

midway through last season. He tore the same ligament in his left

knee the year before, meaning the 31-year-old defender hasn’t made

it through a full season since 2008.

The Jaguars responded by limiting Kampman’s workload in training

camp, and they plan to reduce his repetitions in the regular

season.

”I’ve always loved to just be a guy that never comes off the

field,” Kampman said. ”The reality is if it helps our team, if

I’m fresher and able to mount a better rush in crucial situations,

then absolutely I think it’s a wise move. I’ll trust the coaching

staff and our guys that make those decisions, our medical staff to

know what is best.”

Jacksonville has taken a similar approach with Jones-Drew, who

had arthroscopic knee surgery in January. Jones-Drew played most of

last season with torn meniscus in his right knee. He learned the

severity of the injury during camp, but kept it hidden because he

didn’t want opponents taking shots at his knee.

The injury became more painful after his sixth consecutive

100-yard game, but he still tried to play at Indianapolis on Dec.

19 – a game in which Jacksonville could have clinched the AFC

South. After that, and with the team no longer in control of its

postseason chances, Jones-Drew shut it down.

Eight months later, he insists he’s healthy. And he’s eager to

silence critics.

”Pretty much every reporter, ‘Will he be back? Is it possible

to come back and do what he’s done?”’ Jones-Drew said. ”A lot of

fantasy football gurus who have never stepped on the field before

or ever been in the locker room, they know the most about football.

… I just have to go out there and prove to my teammates and to

the guys that are around me that I am back to who I used to

be.”

Garrard has something to prove, too.

Even though he had a career-high 23 touchdown passes to go along

with five of the top eight games of his nine-year career, the

Jaguars selected Gabbert with the 10th pick in April’s draft. The

plan had been to bring Gabbert along slowly, but his quick progress

and Garrard’s sore back have made the competition closer than

anyone expected.

Garrard doesn’t plan to make it easy for the rookie, and

teammates believe they can win with Garrard under center. But

whether they can win enough to make the playoffs – and save Del

Rio’s job – remains to be seen.

”This team definitely has the makeup,” Garrard said. ”I’ve

seen teams that maybe didn’t have the same kind of makeup with the

same kind of quality guys on and off the field. I definitely think

we have the potential to do a lot of great things and that is

definitely making it to the playoffs and making a nice run in the

playoffs.”