3 Jacksonville Jaguars It's not quite a rebuilding year, but after salary-cap losses, youth will have to serve

September 01, 2002

Bobby Shaw should not be this happy. Not after signing a
one-year, $550,000 contract with the salary-cap-strung Jaguars,
who lost 10 starters in the off-season and figure to struggle
this year. So why--after turning down a three-year, $2.1 million
offer to stay with the AFC Central champion Steelers--is the
27-year-old wideout smiling? "I didn't want to look back on my
career and wonder if I could've done more," says Shaw, who caught
92 passes but made only one start in three seasons with
Pittsburgh. "Coming here, I knew I'd get a real opportunity to
start, and let's face it, who dreams of being a backup? I'd maxed
out my upward mobility in Pittsburgh. Yeah, times are tough right
now, but I like this challenge. Money and comfort zones aren't
everything."

That's music to the ears of Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. The
team's chief architect since its 1995 inception, Coughlin spent
freely to build Jacksonville into the most successful expansion
franchise in NFL history (four playoff berths in its first five
seasons). But with the team $23 million over the salary cap at
the end of last season, Coughlin was forced to rebuild with
inexpensive veterans.

"In our situation," says Coughlin, "we need people like Bobby,
who're hungry for the chance to play and willing to accept the
responsibility of setting an example for our young guys. I never
thought we'd have to let so many guys go, but we still can't
lower our expectations. We'll struggle at times because we're
unpolished. I just have to be more patient."

That's an understatement given the gaping holes in the roster.
Among the missing are five-time Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli,
stalwart receiver Keenan McCardell and steady linebackers Kevin
Hardy and Hardy Nickerson (who led the club with 88 tackles last
season). What's more, injury-prone tailback Fred Taylor is coming
back from a torn groin muscle that caused him to miss all but the
first two games last season, and wideout Jimmy Smith--the team's
best playmaker after Taylor--missed training camp as a holdout
after Jacksonville refused to meet his contract demands. When SI
went to press, Taylor seemed to be back to full strength and
playing well, and Smith was still a holdout.

Smith's absence, coupled with the poor play of free-agent wideout
Darnay Scott, makes Shaw an even more valuable addition to the
offense. (Scott, whom Coughlin criticized for a sluggish effort
in camp and demoted to the second team, suffered a sprained right
shoulder and has been in and out of practice since.) Signed as a
replacement for McCardell (a cap casualty who will start for the
Buccaneers), Shaw is fearless and excels in third-down
situations. Ever the optimist, he refuses to think about a season
without Smith, who last year returned from major abdominal
surgery to catch 112 passes for 1,373 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I came here not just to play, but to play opposite Jimmy," Shaw
says. "I don't even want to consider what it would be like
without him."

Nor does quarterback Mark Brunell, who was already disappointed
that the Jaguars had lost injury-plagued Boselli, his good friend
and protector, in the expansion draft. Brunell was sacked a
whopping 57 times last season, and with a newly assembled
starting line, it seemingly will be even harder for him to remain
upright. "We're young in a lot of places, so we can't think about
rebuilding and then go out and try to win," Brunell says. "It's
hard, but we have to fight off those thoughts. I've pulled some
of the guys aside and told them to ignore all the talk. If they
don't, we're in trouble."

On defense Jacksonville is in even more trouble. The best players
among the front seven are the ends. Former Redskins end Marco
Coleman is another veteran signee being counted on for
leadership, but Tony Brackens's status is in question because of
his injured left knee. The linebacker corps and the
secondary--with the exception of hard-hitting strong safety
Donovin Darius--lack the depth and playmaking ability needed to
keep games close.

Call this season what you want, as long as you don't use the r
word around the Jaguars. Rebuilding, as Shaw points out, "means
accepting defeat, and no one here will do that. Trust me. We'll
get through this." --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: RICK WILSON/FLORIDA TIMES-UNION/AP The hard-hitting Darius's playmaking moves could keep Jacksonville in games. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS NAEOLE

NEW TWIST

Last year coach Tom Coughlin delegated play-calling duties to
offensive coordinator Bob Petrino, with disastrous results. The
Jaguars' offense ranked 20th in the league. Petrino's gone, and
Coughlin's back at the helm. Look for more two-tight-end sets
and, despite the rumors, a peaceful partnership between the
coach and quarterback Mark Brunell.

ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Jaguars

"When they let all those guys go in the off-season, it was clear
they were waving the white flag. Still, they could surprise
people, but only if Jimmy Smith, Fred Taylor and Mark Brunell
play all 16 games. With those guys on the field, this team
compares with the Colts. If Smith ends his holdout, he'll be
good again. But he's 33 and only a year removed from major
surgery, so I think the Jags are smart not to rework his deal.
Once he loses a step, he's done. When Taylor's healthy, he's as
good as any back in the AFC, but his body just doesn't hold up
to the pounding. You need him in there to keep the heat off
Brunell. He's the key to everything, which has to scare Tom
Coughlin.... Stacey Mack was impressive last year, but he's not
the game-breaking back that the offense needs.... The offensive
line is too young to be effective, though signing Chris Naeole
was a great move. He's solid and savvy and can play guard or
center.... Jacksonville's defense looks really bad. Their two
young tackles, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, lack
intensity.... Fernando Bryant is an underrated corner, and he's
the only one who offenses will worry about.... Jason Craft has
to play more confidently, because teams will be going after
him.... Donovin Darius has to stay healthy. He hits a ton for a
safety and has Pro Bowl ability back there.... If Coughlin loses
the locker room, this will be a long year. He's going to have to
be careful not to wear on his veterans."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 INDIANAPOLIS
15 at Kansas City
22 Open date
29 NEW YORK JETS

Oct. 6 PHILADELPHIA
13 at Tennessee
20 at Baltimore
27 HOUSTON

Nov. 3 at N.Y. Giants
10 WASHINGTON
17 at Houston
24 at Dallas

Dec. 1 PITTSBURGH
8 CLEVELAND
15 at Cincinnati
22 TENNESSEE
29 at Indianapolis

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 21
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .487
Games against playoff teams: 4

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Tom Coughlin; eighth season with Jacksonville (62-50 in
NFL)
2001 RECORD: 6-10 (fifth in AFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 26/18/20; defense 10/22/T16

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Mark Brunell 64
473 att. 289 comp. 61.1% 3,309 yds. 19 TDs 13 int. 84.1 rtg.

RB Fred Taylor 51
30 att. 116 yds. 3.9 avg. 2 rec. 13 yds. 6.5 avg. 0 TDs

RB Stacey Mack 146
213 att. 877 yds. 4.1 avg. 23 rec. 165 yds. 7.2 avg. 10 TDs

FB Patrick Washington 471
0 att. 0 yds. no avg. 5 rec. 36 yds. 7.2 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Jimmy Smith 56 112 rec. 1,373 yds. 8 TDs
WR Patrick Johnson [N] 169 5 rec. 57 yds. 1 TD
WR Bobby Shaw [N] 218 24 rec. 409 yds. 2 TDs
TE Kyle Brady 205 36 rec. 386 yds. 2 TDs
K Hayden Epstein (R)[N] 310 37/37 XPs 13/20 FGs 76 pts.
PR Damon Gibson 426 38 ret. 8.8 avg. 0 TDs
KR Elvis Joseph 306 17 ret. 25.2 avg. 1 TD

LT Zach Wiegert 6'5" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Brad Meester 6'3" 304 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C John Wade 6'5" 302 lbs. 15 games 0 starts
RG Chris Naeole [N] 6'3" 313 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Maurice Williams 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Marco Coleman [N] 32 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Larry Smith 3 tackles 0 sacks
T Marcus Stroud 21 tackles 0 sacks
RE Paul Spicer 23 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Danny Clark 23 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Wali Rainer [N] 53 tackles 1 sack
OLB T.J. Slaughter 41 tackles 1 sack
CB Fernando Bryant 49 tackles 0 int.
SS Donovin Darius 65 tackles 1 int.
FS Ainsley Battles 50 tackles 2 int.
CB Jason Craft 53 tackles 2 int.
P Chris Hanson 82 punts 43.6 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"Signing Chris Naeole was a great move. He's solid and savvy and
can play guard or center."

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)