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Active in upgrading talent


As Gene Smith sees it, the process is an ongoing one.

Smith, in his third season as the Jaguars&39; general manager, said strides have been made in recent drafts and off-seasons toward where the Jaguars want to be – i.e., a team that contends annually and consistently for division championships and Super Bowls.

A plan is being followed and talent is being acquired.

But while progress has been made, Smith said the reality is the Jaguars aren&39;t where he envisions them being. Not quite.

"I think we&39;re getting closer to where we want to be, but we&39;re not there yet," Smith said recently while discussing the Jaguars&39; roster and outlook with the NFL Draft just past and pro free agency not yet begun. "We knew going into the draft we&39;d be able to help our team some, and also in pro free agency we&39;d be able to do some things there."

That, Smith said, is the next step:

Pro free agency.

The period typically would have begun and be all-but over by now, but the ongoing lockout delayed the process. Whereas usually it would have begun in early March with most of the high-profile signings occurring in the first several weeks, it won&39;t begin this season until the lockout concludes.

When that happens, Smith said the Jaguars will be active.

Most of that activity will occur on the defensive side of the ball, with Smith saying last week he expects to acquire at least two starters in pro free agency. Smith declined to provide specifics, because the players remain under contract with teams until the lockout is over, but starters likely will be pursued at safety and at linebacker.

"We&39;re trying to be active in upgrading talent, specifically on the defensive side of the ball," Smith said. "We&39;d like to bring in at least a couple of starters who can help us take a step as a defense."

Smith said that doesn&39;t necessarily mean the highest-priced player at each needed position.

"We want to fill some needs on our team," Smith said. "Certainly, you can&39;t do it all. Every team goes into a season with some needs. We&39;re just trying to have less."

Smith said while the veterans acquired in pro free agency will join the team later than normal the players still can improve the team.

"They will be players who have been in an NFL system and do know a lot of the players in the league," Smith said. "That should be less of an adjustment for bringing a pro player in here than a rookie."

Smith believes in building strong offensive and defensive lines as part of the foundation of a roster, and said progress has been made in three drafts in that area. The team drafted offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton in Rounds 1 and 2 in 2009, then used the first two selections in the 2010 NFL Draft on defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (first round, No. 10 overall) and defensive tackle D&39;Anthony Smith (third round).

They traded up in Round 1 to get quarterback Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 overall in last month&39;s 2011 NFL Draft, and traded up to get offensive guard Will Rackley of Lehigh in Round 3.

In each case, Smith said the moves are part of a long-term plan.

"I&39;d like to believe we&39;re standing behind what we say – that it all starts up front," Smith said. "Two offensive tackles, two defensive tackles – now we have a young quarterback and an interior offensive lineman with our first two picks in the last three drafts.

"I do feel like we&39;re building inside out and that we&39;re laying the foundation for sustained success in the future. We&39;ve been fortunate that in the last three drafts there have been some quality players available on the offensive and defensive lines. There has been some good depth in the offensive and defensive line groups. There haven&39;t been a lot of quarterbacks."

Smith said the move to get Gabbert in the first round was a matter of taking advantage of a rare opportunity to obtain a potential franchise cornerstone.

"This was an exception with Blaine to have the opportunity to add him to our organization." he said. "There aren&39;t as many quarterbacks year to year as there are other positions."

Smith said he expects to add about 19 more players through pro and collegiate free agency, and said, too, he expects players already on the roster to improve in 2011 – that, despite in some cases a lack of name recognition.

"We&39;re expecting some young players to emerge as well," Smith said. "It happens every year in college football, where there&39;s a second- or third-year player who makes a move."

Smith said such development is the by-product of quality drafting and signing capable players in collegiate free agency.

"Some players who end up impacting your team during the season, a lot of people were unaware of the progress they had made," Smith said. "The only disconnect this year is the uniqueness to the year we&39;re in."

Smith also said a group of players who spent all or most of last season on injured reserve – a group that includes not only veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman and Britton but Smith, wide receiver Jarett Dillard, safety Terrell Whitehead, cornerback/returner Scotty McGee and center John Estes – could  contribute next season.

"I like some of the players coming off IR," Smith said. "We&39;ve always done well in college free agency. We feel like we&39;ll have a chance to add some quality depth there, so with five draft picks and the players we&39;ll be able to sign in pro free agency and the guys coming off IR we&39;ll have a good group of talent coming in to make a good roster better."

Smith said without question that process is occurring – even if it&39;s not completed. Not quite.

"As a scout, you have to be a visionary," Smith said. "It&39;s not about winning the next game, or even next year. It&39;s about winning every year. The goal would be – once you&39;re able to sustain success – to try to draft a year ahead. That isn&39;t always possible.

"It is a goal of mine. We&39;re trying to win a Super Bowl and trying to sustain success and we&39;re trying to do it the right way. It does take some patience and conviction." 

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