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ALLTEL has good feeling


There's a certain bounce in his step this week. The coach's mood has been light and energetic; far removed from those tense moments following the Jaguars' loss to Tennessee two weeks ago, when Jack Del Rio sharply criticized his football team.

The Jaguars locker room has also been a different place this week. All of a sudden, and for no apparent reason, it has the look and feel of a place of purpose. There is an energy within its walls that previously didn't exist.

What is this all about? Are these, in fact, accurate observations, Del Rio was asked?

"Yes," he said, on all counts. Del Rio agreed he is developing a degree of comfort as the rookie coach of this team. "You get a sense of what you have and where you need to work; I have a good grasp of where this team is and where it needs to go," he said.

At 1-7 and tied with Atlanta and San Diego for the worst record in the NFL, you wouldn't think anything at ALLTEL Stadium these days would be of a positive nature, but it has been this week, and it's an unmistakable feeling. Players appear to be happy and energetic. The same goes for their head coach.

"We're working and doing the things that give you an opportunity. More and more each week I'm seeing the things we need to see. How soon we get to the stage that we can pull these things out, it's hard to say," Del Rio added.

Maybe the reason for the good feeling that's bouncing off the stadium walls this week is the result of a lineup that's beginning to show signs of pieces being put into place. Young core players are being identified. Del Rio nodded his agreement.

"I think you're talking about quality being put into place; guys you can grow the franchise with," Del Rio said.

Brad Meester is one of those "pieces." He was drafted in the second round in 2000 to be one of the final "pieces" to Tom Coughlin's Super Bowl puzzle. Meester settled in at guard, which represented a position switch from college center.

This summer, Meester made the move back to center. It was an easy switch and the Jaguars identified him as a player around whom they want to build. This week, they announced they had signed Meester to a five-year contract extension.

"I'm very happy. This is where I want to stay. It's a great team and I know there are great things coming up here," Meester said following practice today.

"We've consistently gotten better. We're 1-7 and this team is fighting like anything is possible. Who knows what we can do the rest of this season and next year.

"I want to win a Super Bowl. I believe we can do that with this team," Meester added.

"He shows the characteristics you want in a leader and in a football player," Del Rio said of Meester.

What's most interesting about Meester is that he came to the Jaguars under Coughlin, which makes him a Coughlin guy, but he's been identified as a player for the Jaguars' future, which makes him a Del Rio guy. "Before long we'll all be Del Rio guys," the coach said, responding to a question that suggested his treatment of the previous regime's players has not been as favorable as it has been to the players he's brought on board.

"There's a certain way we're going to do things, and that's my way. I'm tough on everybody," he said.

When he took this job last January, fans immediately decided Del Rio was a "players' coach," but he scoffs at the suggestion. "I'm a former player who now coaches. I'm a coach. It's my responsibility to get the best out of my guys. I'm not trying to make friends or be popular. I'm trying to win games," he said.

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