Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

To Renew Optimism, Restore the Defense

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

To Renew Optimism, Restore the Defense

Article excerpt

Byline: GENE FRENETTE

In his seven years as Jaguars head coach, Jack Del Rio has never seemed more outwardly upbeat during the preseason. His on-the-job personality leans toward the unpredictable and moody side, which at times can make his players and assistant coaches uneasy.

So far, there's been less irritable Jack and more affable Jack leading up to the 2009 season. Some of Del Rio's gracious tone can be attributed to putting last year's disappointing season behind him, but it's also being energized by the chance to start over with an overhauled roster and a fresh attitude.

Del Rio doesn't dispute that he's in a better frame of mind, even if he has no idea how much the Jaguars' bottom line will improve after the 5-11 disaster of a year ago.

"I had a lady fan say to me [during training camp], 'Gee, coach, you just seem so pleasant this year,' " Del Rio said. "There's just something about the whole atmosphere that feels great. When I asked her if she had children and she said yes, I said, 'Well, you know when your children make you proud, how it makes you feel.' The way my guys are working now, it gives us a chance [to win]. It's what I'm looking for. That's what makes me happy as a coach."

But if Del Rio is going to be as satisfied after this season as he is now about the Jaguars buying into his program, more than just his demeanor must change. So must his trademark commodity - defense -that helped Del Rio land his first NFL head coaching gig.

For all the angst and focus directed at quarterback David Garrard, as well as his new group of receivers, the fate of the '09 Jaguars will rest largely upon something else -Del Rio and first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker upgrading what has been two years of mediocrity.

Don't be misled by the team's last playoff appearance. The Jaguars' defense started to decline two coordinators ago, before Mike Smith left to coach the Atlanta Falcons. Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady exposed it in the 2007 postseason, and when Del Rio turned the unit over to Gregg Williams last year, his attacking scheme proved a bad fit because the Jaguars couldn't get to opposing quarterbacks fast enough.

The Jaguars hit practically rock bottom defensively last season, finishing 17th in the league overall and 24th against the pass. How bad was it? Five times, the other team's quarterback posted a rating over 112.0. Even worse, it happened against every AFC South division foe.

Sadly, the Jaguars became everything on defense that Del Rio vowed he'd never allow to happen on his watch. They weren't very physical, allowed too many big pass plays, let quarterbacks stand in the pocket too long, and didn't get off the field enough on third down.

All those things cut right to the core of what Del Rio prides himself in as a coach. …

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