Jaguars face issues before draft

The team has shown improvement during the tenure of Jack Del Rio.

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 12:51 a.m.

At 9-7, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars most successful season since 1999, but nonetheless, it ended without a playoff berth.

So, Jacksonville heads into its 11th offseason looking for some resolution as well as a few answers as to what it will take to go from this close to Super Bowl contender.

  • Expect two coaching situations to be addressed in the near future.

    First, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver and head coach Jack Del Rio are scheduled to meet this week. Among the topics that likely will be discussed is Del Rio's flirtation with the LSU job, which went to Oklahoma State's Les Miles two days after Del Rio cancelled a scheduled meeting with Tigers' representatives in Daytona Beach.

    Del Rio, a 41-year-old former NFL linebacker, is 14-18 in two seasons with Jacksonville, so he has the team moving in the right direction. Weaver, though, probably will want assurances of Del Rio's commitment to the organization.

    The Jaguars also must make a decision on offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, whose unit finished 20th in the league this year with an average of 313.1 yards-a-game. That is down almost 22 yards from last season's effort.

    Under fire a great deal of the season, Musgrave's play calling and schemes have come into question, as Jacksonville hasn't scored more than 28 points in any game the last two years and were shut out for the first time since 1995 in Week 16 by Houston with a playoff berth on the line.

  • The Jaguars have to decide if veteran safety Donovin Darius is worth more than $5-million-a-year, the cost it would take to franchise the unrestricted free agent for the third straight season.

    Darius received a lot of heat around the league for a clothesline-like hit on Packers' wide receiver Robert Ferguson that resulted in a $75,000 fine, but no suspension. However, in Jacksonville's year-ending 13-6 victory at Oakland on Sunday, Darius may have been the best player on the field, recording six solo tackles, grabbing two interceptions and breaking up two passes.

  • Needs on the offensive line and at cornerback are expected to be addressed through free agency and the draft, where the Jags will pick 20th overall, its lowest slot since 2000.

    The line features no elite blockers, but will be helped by the return of tackle Mike Pearson, a former Gator, who was lost early in the year with an ACL tear. Adding some depth is a necessity.

    Jacksonville appears set for years to come at one corner with Rashean Mathis, who, after just two seasons, is growing into one of the AFC's better cover men. However, veteran Dewayne Washington was beaten often at the other corner and no one else stepped up to take his spot.

    Another area of concern could be defensive end, but don't look for the Jaguars to do much shopping there. Seventh-round pick Bobby McCray (UF) grew into a valuable contributor late in the season and likely will continue to get better. Plus, the return of injured starter Paul Spicer will help tremendously, and when injured rookie third-round pick Jorge Cordova comes back, it will give Jacksonville versatility with two pass-rushing outside linebackers/defensive ends in Cordova and Greg Favors.

    Also, backup quarterback David Garrard, who will become a free agent after next season, has numerous teams intrigued with his run/pass skills and could be traded, as he won't receive the opportunity to beat out Byron Leftwich with the Jags. If Garrard is traded, Jacksonville either will search for a veteran backup or go with Quinn Gray, who just finished his second year as the club's No. 3 quarterback.

    You can reach John Patton by calling 374-5074 or by e-mail at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

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