It is just an unsubstantiated rumor. At this moment sources in
Florida are scrambling to confirm perhaps the most amazing event
in the history of the Jaguars' franchise. It appears that
draconian coach Tom Coughlin--whose legendary list of team rules
includes no slouching in the huddle, no wearing sunglasses at
practice and no leg-crossing during team meetings--may have
actually cracked a smile during a recent practice.

"Coach has loosened up a little bit," says defensive tackle Don
Davey. But Coughlin turned peevish when it was suggested he was
adopting a kinder, gentler approach. "I don't see it as being
that much different," he says. "I see it as a progression of
knowing the players a little better than we did a year ago. From
the players' standpoint, the attitude is better. They seem to be
having a bit more fun."

And why not? The Jaguars, after all, have the easiest schedule
in the league and play in the AFC's Comedy Central, a division
in which an 8-8 record might keep you playing into January. Last
year the team averaged more than 73,000 fans per home game.
Revenues from Jacksonville Municipal Stadium's 10,000 club seats
have made the franchise one of the NFL's most profitable.
Green-lighted by all the green, Coughlin and vice president of
football operations Michael Huyghue spared no expense in
replacing nearly a third of the team's starting lineup in the
off-season.

The Jags' offense, ranked 28th in the league in '95, was in need
of a major facelift. Coughlin, who loves massive offensive
lines, spent $17 million to sign Steelers tackle Leon Searcy to
help beef up a front that allowed a league-high 57 sacks in
1995. At an average of 6'6", 317 pounds, Jacksonville's line
will be one of the largest in the NFL.

Colonel Coughlin was feeling so good that he even claimed
troubled San Diego back Natrone Means off the waiver wire.
Means, 23, who rushed for 1,350 yards while leading the Chargers
to the Super Bowl in 1995, has lately become known as an
injury-prone slacker with an attitude. So what was the running
back's first move in Jacksonville? Means issued a
tail-between-the-legs public statement in March, thanking the
organization for signing him. He then joined his new teammates
at a voluntary workout session. Witnesses say Coughlin was
sporting a Mona Lisa.

Another member of Jacksonville's organization who is all smiles
these days is quarterback Mark Brunell, who threw just six
passes of 30 or more yards in '95 due to a breathtaking lack of
speed at receiver. To add some zig to the Jags, the team signed
wideout Keenan McCardell, who had 56 catches for Cleveland last
year. During minicamp in May, fourth-rounder Reggie Barlow, a
smooth receiver from Alabama State, was praised by Coughlin over
two straight days, which is about as common at Camp Coughlin as
a night off for team karaoke.

With the second pick of the draft, the team grabbed Illinois
linebacker Kevin Hardy, the 1995 Butkus Award winner, who will
play strong-side linebacker. Free-agent signee Eddie Robinson,
formerly of the Oilers, will take the weak side. Second-year
linebacker Bryan Schwartz, who led the team in tackles as a
rookie, will man the middle.

The Jacksonville defense finished with a league-low 17 sacks
last year, half a sack fewer than Buffalo linebacker Bryce Paup
corralled on his own. To keep Coughlin beaming, the Jags will
need pressure up front from veterans Jeff Lageman and Kelvin
Pritchett. They will be joined on the line by Texas end Tony
Brackens, the SWC Defensive Player of the Year. When Brackens
was still available at the 33rd pick, the Jags' war room
exploded into dance in a moment of insubordination straight out
of Footloose.

If the sacks come along with a few more wins, who knows what
kind of mass hysteria could break out in Jacksonville? Players
might actually be allowed to wear earrings or take calls after
11 p.m. on Saturdays. Don't hold your breath.

--D.F.

COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KEE/ROSATO PHOTO INSET [REGIONAL] Mark Brunell puts the bite in the Jaguars COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE With the Jags' league-low sack output, the pressure is on Lageman to keep the pressure on. [Jeff Lageman]

BY THE NUMBERS

1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)

Rushing Passing Total

OFFENSE 106.6 (17) 174.4 (27) 280.9 (28)

DEFENSE 125.2 (24) 219.5 (17) 344.7 (21)

No Knack for the Sack

The Jaguars had, per number of quarterback drop backs, both the
highest rate of sacks allowed by their offense and the lowest
rate of sacks executed by their defense last year. No other team
since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger has finished atop both of these
lists in one season.

Highest Rate of Lowest Rate of
Sacks Allowed Sacks Executed

Drop Sacks Pct. Drop Sacks Pct.
backs backs

Jaguars 552 57 10.33 Jaguars 526 17 3.23

Colts 483 49 10.14 Buccaneers 582 25 4.30

Buccaneers 563 56 9.95 Falcons 680 30 4.41

Cardinals 615 55 8.94 Seahawks 582 28 4.81

Giants 525 46 8.76 Browns 602 29 4.82

PLAYER TO WATCH

Receiver Jimmy Smith did what few others have been able to do in
the '90s--beat Dallas owner Jerry Jones. In August 1993, Smith,
then a Cowboys wideout, complained of stomach pain and was
treated by the team trainers with Pepto-Bismol. Three days later
he had an emergency appendectomy and subsequently had part of
his intestine removed. He filed a grievance against Dallas for
his salary, which the team had withheld, and won $350,000. Last
year Smith, who averaged 22.5 yards per kickoff return, caught
22 passes for 288 yards in the Jags' last eight games.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

Head coach: Tom Coughlin

Offense

QB Mark Brunell 346 att. 201 comp. 58.1% 2,168yds. 15TDs 7 int. 82.6 rtg.

RB Natrone Means[*] 186 att. 730 yds. 5 TDs
FB La'Shai Maston 41 att. 186 yds. 0 TDs
TE Derek Brown 0 rec. 0 yds. 0 TDs
WR Keenan McCardell[*] 56 rec. 709 yds. 4 TDs
WR Jimmy Smith 22 rec. 288 yds. 3 TDs
WR Reggie Barlow (R)[*] 40 rec. 657 yds. 2 TDs
LT Tony Boselli 6'7" 323 lbs.
LG Ben Coleman 6'6" 335 lbs.
C Dave Widell 6'7" 308 lbs.
RG Brian DeMarco 6'5" 314 lbs.
RT Leon Searcy[*] 6'3" 304 lbs.
PK Mike Hollis 27/28 XPs 20/27 FGs

Defense

LE Joel Smeenge 4 sacks 0 fum. rec.
LT Kelvin Pritchett 1 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RT John Jurkovic[*] 0 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RE Jeff Lageman 3 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Kevin Hardy (R)[*] 11 sacks 3 int.
ILB Bryan Schwartz 0 sacks 0 int.
OLB Eddie Robinson[*] 3 1/2 sacks 1 int.
CB Vinnie Clark 1 int. 0 sacks
SS Travis Davis 0 int. 0 sacks
FS Chris Hudson 0 int. 0 sacks
CB Mickey Washington 1 int. 0 sacks
P Bryan Barker 82 punts 43.8 avg.
PR Reggie Barlow (R)[*] 12 ret. 20.8 avg.
KR Jimmy Smith 24 ret. 22.5 avg.

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)