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All eyes on Merling


The Jaguars will be intent on addressing their need at defensive line in this weekend's draft, and the name being associated with the Jaguars' first-round selection is defensive end Phillip Merling of Clemson.

"We will address defensive line," coach Jack Del Rio said at Tuesday's draft preview luncheon.

Will Merling be available when the Jaguars pick? That's the number one question heading into a Thursday workout by Merling that will likely provide the answer.

Merling, 6-5, 270, and considered by most to be the number three-ranked every-downs defensive end prospect, underwent sports hernia surgery this winter that has clouded his draft prospects. Merling will conduct a workout on Thursday and should he excel, he'll likely soar up the draft board and out of the Jaguars' sight.

What if he still shows effects of the surgery? That's where the Jaguars might enter the picture, as concerns about Merling's recovery might cause him to fall to a team that has a distinct need for a player of his skills and at his position.

"He's at a point in his rehab that he's clear to work out," Gene Smith, the Jaguars' executive director of college and pro scouting, said. "He's a takeable player, regardless of what he does on Thursday."

"We have a grade on him," James Harris, vice president of player personnel, said of Merling. "Unless something happens, we'll rely on the grade we have on him."

Merling, in other words, could be that player who addresses the Jaguars' need at defensive end. Kansas City's Jared Allen, on the other hand, won't be that player. The Chiefs recently made Allen available via trade, but the Jaguars declined interest.

"It's just not a fit for us," Del Rio said when asked why the Jaguars weren't interested in trading for Allen, who led the league in sacks last season with 15.5. The Chiefs had put a high trade price on Allen, whose career has been troubled by two DUI arrests. Allen is seeking a huge contract.

"What message are you sending to your locker room about the people you're rewarding?" Del Rio said.

The Jaguars have also been linked to rumors of interest in trading for veteran Miami defensive end Jason Taylor.

"If the price is right, we'll always consider trading for a player who will help our team," Harris said.

Del Rio didn't discount any draft-day possibility, whether it be for trading up, back or for a player, but added: "Rarely are the talented players who still have a lot to offer, rarely are they offered (in trades)."

The Jaguars have eight picks in this draft, with an extra pick in the third round, two extra picks in the fifth round and no picks in the sixth or seventh rounds. Their first choice is scheduled to be at pick number 26.

"You're constantly looking to improve, to replace and to acquire talent. Injuries occur, contracts expire. You're constantly looking for talent," Del Rio said.

Smith was promoted within the personnel department this past winter and is thought to possess a "louder" voice for these proceedings. Asked about his new role and how it will pertain to this year's proceedings, Smith said: "We don't have to change that much."

Another premier pass-rusher who might be available to the Jaguars on Saturday is Auburn DE/LB Quentin Groves. At 6-3, 250, however, Groves may not project as an every-downs defensive end, and the first round may be too early to draft a sub-package player. The Jaguars have drafted pass-rush specialists in the past, but always in the later rounds of the draft.

"You're trying to get a guy who could come in as a rookie and be a sub rusher, but guys at the back of the draft are true DPR's (designated pass-rushers)," Smith said.

Harris believes Groves can put on weight and become an every-downs defensive end. It's the 3-4 teams, however, that are thought to covet Groves the most. They view him as perfect in a rush-linebacker role.

"You're selecting prospects," Del Rio said in general of the draft. "In many cases, it takes time for these guys to fit in. In most cases, for a guy to be a difference-maker is not a realistic expectation. I don't believe in chasing that one guy who can put you over the top."

Smith said that after the 20th pick, "you're really not sure who will be there," and Harris added, "We go into the draft preparing that (a defensive lineman) may not be there."

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