Jaguars Try to Dig out of Trenches Coughlin Rips Offensive Line, Contemplates Change

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Byline: Vito Stellino, Times-Union sports writer

It's the life of an offensive lineman.

When things go well on offense, the linemen don't tend to get much of the credit. But when they go wrong, they usually get a lot of the blame.

They certainly got it from Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin yesterday as he analyzed the team's 20-7 loss in Pittsburgh Sunday that dropped the team to 3-6 for the second straight year.

Coughlin criticized the performance of the line and suggested he may bench center Jeff Smith, who was beaten by linebacker Kendrell Bell on one of the plays when quarterback Jonathan Quinn fumbled.

"Each one of our lineman took turns getting pretty much run over," Coughlin said. "If there's an area of disappointment, it's that area."

Coughlin said the linemen knew that with starting quarterback Mark Brunell out with a quadriceps injury, they had to rise to the occasion.

"That's the thing that ticks me off," Coughlin said. "That we didn't accept the challenge in that area to play above and beyond, knowing the circumstance with the quarterback position.

"You have to reach down there and give a little bit more. I would have thought that would have taken place without a question, but that's not the case."

Asked if he might consider benching Smith, Coughlin replied, "I'll have something to say about that as we go along [this week]."

Although Coughlin wouldn't go into specifics, the only move he could be considering would be to insert John Wade back into the lineup at center in place of Smith.

Wade, a fifth-round selection in the 1998 draft, started every game during the 14-2 season in 1999, but played in only two games last year. He suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in training camp last season and, after the injury reoccurred in the Monday night game on Sept. 25 against Indianapolis, he was placed on the injured reserve list.

Wade injured the same foot again last June in pre-camp workouts and underwent surgery on June 25.

He was replaced by Smith, a six-year veteran who was signed five days before the start of the regular season, last year and started the final 12 games. He's also started every game this year, giving him a string of 21 starts in a row. A guard in Kansas City before being waived by the Chiefs last year, Smith was switched to center after signing with the Jaguars.

The Jaguars don't have much depth on the line behind Wade and the current five starters.

The only other offensive linemen on the roster are three young players. They are Aaron Koch, who started the Cleveland game at left tackle when Tony Boselli was injured, but was replaced by Todd Fordham, Patrick Venzke, a former practice squad player who's yet to make the active list this year, and Derrick Chambers, who was signed from the Tennessee practice squad on Oct. 22 and is being converted from a defensive lineman to an offensive lineman.

"It's difficult," Coughlin said. "You have a group of guys who work together and you've got some kids who are on the 53-man roster because they are futures. …