Jaguars eager to move on after tumultuous season

Jacksonville Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker had a simple

message for the team following Sunday’s season finale: ”We’re

undefeated in 2012.”

No doubt, the Jaguars are ready to forget about 2011. It was one

of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.

The Jaguars released starting quarterback David Garrard five

days before the opener, switched QBs again two weeks later and

matched the worst start in franchise history (1-5).

Things didn’t get any better from there.

Owner Wayne Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio on the same late

November day that he announced he was selling the team. Tucker took

over and made significant changes, cutting starting receiver Jason

Hill, firing receivers coach Johnny Cox and reassigning

quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard.

The Jaguars (5-11) went 2-3 under Tucker, probably not enough

for him to get the full-time job. Coaches were told they had to be

out of the building by Friday.

”The picture is cloudy, but it will become clearer at some

point in time,” Tucker said.

General manager Gene Smith is leading the coaching search. New

owner Shahid Khan officially takes over Wednesday and insists money

will not be a factor in assembling the right staff. The search took

off Monday, with at least five offensive coordinators to be

interviewed.

The list includes Atlanta’s Mike Mularkey, the New York Jets’

Brian Schottenheimer and Carolina’s Rob Chudzinski. ESPN reported

that Denver’s Mike McCoy and New England’s Bill O’Brien also will

be interviewed.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith confirmed the Jaguars have requested

permission to interview Mularkey and that the team has ”signed off

and granted that opportunity.”

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wants Schottenheimer back

in New York next season, but confirmed Monday that Schottenheimer

will speak to the Jaguars.

And a person familiar with the negotiations said the Jaguars

have also requested permission to interview the Panthers’

Chudzinski. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the

condition of anonymity because neither team had publicly announced

the request.

”I’m excited to get a new direction,” tight end Marcedes Lewis

said. ”We’re ready to figure out what we’re going to be doing and

just get better.”

Even though the Jaguars had the worst offense in the league,

players believe they are close to piecing together a

playoff-caliber roster that features running back Maurice

Jones-Drew, Lewis and a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL

despite several key injuries down the stretch.

Jones-Drew bounced back from a knee injury in 2010 to break the

franchise’s single-season rushing record with 1,606 yards, which

also led the league. His accomplishment was even more impressive

considering the Jaguars had the NFL’s worst passing offense.

Only three others since 1978 – New Orleans’ George Rogers in

1981, Los Angeles’ Eric Dickerson in 1986 and Baltimore’s Jamal

Lewis in 2003 – won the rushing title on a team ranked last in

passing.

Jones-Drew routinely faced stacked lines and run blitzes.

Nonetheless, he averaged 100 yards a game.

”It was an eight- or nine-man box consistently,” guard Uche

Nwaneri said. ”For an offense to be able to accomplish that

against those kind of odds, it was great to see, really proud of

that. … Teams are just saying, `We know you’re the only player

that’s a threat to us and we’re just going to focus all our energy

on stopping you,’ and they couldn’t.”

MJD finished with 1,980 yards from scrimmage, second in the

league behind Baltimore’s Ray Rice, and accounted for 47.7 percent

of Jacksonville’s offense.

But in a passing league, the Jaguars realize they need more.

They have to get Lewis back to Pro Bowl form and need to get Blaine

Gabbert better prepared to handle the most important position in

football.

A first-round pick in 2006, Lewis had 58 catches for 700 yards

and 10 touchdowns in 2010 and was rewarded with a five-year, $35

million contract that included $17 million guaranteed.

He had 39 receptions for a team-high 460 yards this season,

including just two catches in the red zone and no scores.

”Obviously, I didn’t have the year that I wanted to,” Lewis

said. ”But my work ethic was never a question. I always came out

and worked hard. Sometimes, things happen that tend to hold you

back. I’m hungrier than ever to get back out there.”

The Jaguars plan to get at least two play-making receivers,

either in free agency or the draft. With better receivers and

better coaching, the team believes Gabbert will prove worthy of the

10th pick in last year’s draft.

The rookie completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 2,214 yards,

with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 40 times and

lost five of his 12 fumbles.

His most troubling trait was pocket presence. Gabbert often

seemed scared under the slightest pressure and struggled all season

with his accuracy, especially on short throws.

”Got to make strides in year two,” Gabbert said. ”Everything

is going to get sorted out.”

The Jaguars failed to make the playoffs for the 10th time in the

last 12 years and have the seventh pick in April’s draft. More

pressing will be free agency.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, cornerback Rashean Mathis, safety

Dwight Lowery and place-kicker Josh Scobee head the team’s list of

free agents. The Jaguars are about $25 million under the salary

cap, plenty of room to re-sign anyone they want and add a few

quality starters in March.

”We’re going to have a lot of new people,” Lewis said. ”We

don’t know who’s going to be back; we don’t know what’s going on.

We’re going to need camaraderie. Once we have that and everybody’s

in the same direction, we’ll go anywhere we want to go.”

AP Sports Writers Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., Charles Odum in

Flowery Branch, Ga. and Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J.

contributed to this report