Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jags' Defense under del Rio May Be Big Hit

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jags' Defense under del Rio May Be Big Hit

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

All we really know about tonight's debut on ESPN of The Playmakers -- a series that has gotten Super Bowl-type promotion from the cable network -- is that it can't be a historical documentary of the Jaguars' defense.

Because for most of this franchise's existence, the defense never adopted an offensive mentality.

It has been a unit that waited for opponents to make mistakes. The Jaguars lived to react, not to intimidate.

The hiring of Jack Del Rio, who spent 11 years in the league being a tough-guy linebacker, figured to change the Jaguars' vanilla reputation. During a preseason in which the Jimmy Smith fiasco has taken center stage, any Jaguars shortcomings on defense seem to get overlooked.

Until Del Rio, in a rare unsolicited criticism after the team's 10-6 loss Saturday night to Tampa Bay, called out his defense for not doing a better job of shutting down the Buccaneers' running game.

"I guess that kind of proves I'm a defensive coach when I'm riding the defense if they only give up 10 [points]," Del Rio said.

What it does prove is that Del Rio cares passionately about having a defense that will out-tough opponents. Given all the uncertainty on offense, the ability of Del Rio to radically improve the Jaguars' defense -- as he did last year as the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator -- may be the best hope this team has at real improvement in 2003.

But if that's going to happen, some old faces are going to have to come through in the game's defining moments.

John Henderson, who looked like a future star in 2002 when he had three sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles, can't fade out again in the second half of the season.

Safety Donovin Darius, deemed good enough to be given a franchise tag, has to do more than just make tackles. …

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