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An altered approach

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Jack Del Rio wouldn't call the approach a mistake, exactly.

Del Rio, entering his ninth season as the Jaguars' head coach, said there was a well-considered reason he approached last season as he did – and that the approach helped the Jaguars get where they were in early December.

Still, Del Rio said it's necessary to learn from the past, and the final three weeks of the 2010 NFL regular season taught him a couple of things:

Rest is critical. Fresh legs are, too.

Because the first can very much bring about the second, Del Rio said he expects the approach throughout the 2011 season – and perhaps the off-season – to be significantly different than it was through much of last season.

"We had a young, achieving team that ran out of gas," Del Rio said recently as he prepared to attend this week's NFL Owners Meetings in New Orleans, La.

The Jaguars, who started this past season 8-5 and moved into first place in the AFC South with three games remaining, lost their final three regular-season games – this, a year after losing their final four regular-season games.

Del Rio said while injuries to front-line, core players such as running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Aaron Kampman and quarterback David Garrard factored significantly in the 2010 season, there was another dynamic.

"Some of our better football players were hurt, but our younger guys ran out of gas," he said.

Del Rio said the point was best illustrated by the case of Larry Hart, a second-year defensive end who played 14 games as a rookie. He played the first 11 games of the season, missed two, and returned for the final three games.

The difference after the two games out was marked, Del Rio said.

"We actually put him down and made him inactive," Del Rio said. "He came back a couple of weeks later, and he looked like a different guy. He was like, 'Coach, I can't believe how bad I needed that break.' "

Del Rio said he worked the Jaguars extensively throughout last season mentally, physically and emotionally, and did so out of necessity.

"We pushed a young team, because we had to," Del Rio said. "We had to give ourselves a chance to be good. I would probably do it again given the opportunity. Our guys didn't back down and I thought that put us in a position to have a chance."

The Jaguars entered a Week 15 Game in Indianapolis needing a victory to clinch their first AFC South title. They lost, 34-24, then lost their final two regular-season games.

"It allowed us to go into Indy with a chance to bring home the crown," Del Rio said of the high-intensity approach to the season. "Now, we didn't get it done and in my self-analysis I think that I can do a better job of having our team fresher for December and January."

Del Rio said the reality is each team, and each season, must be approached differently.

"I thought we did a good job with our veterans," Del Rio said. "We took steps to make sure (center) Brad Meester and (cornerback) Rashean Mathis and (linebacker) Daryl Smith and some of the older guy were taken care of. They made it through the year fine.

"It was the younger guys who ended up not making it, and I can help them. They'll help themselves. They'll understand what the grind of an NFL season is and be better prepared for their next turn."

Del Rio also said should there be an off-season with organized team activities and off-season conditioning in the coming months adjustments will made there, too.

"How long you go – when you start, when you ended – varies," he said. "Last year, we pushed it right up to within two weeks of camp. In years past, we've given them a month prior to camp. Some teams give five or six weeks.

"That break to re-charge not only emotionally, but getting your body re-charged, also varies. You still have to work out, but there's something about really being in a competitive atmosphere – pushing and grinding – that can drain the battery a little bit.

"When this off-season began, there was talk of, 'Once we get things done, it could be shortened up a little bit.' I said, 'That would be fine by me, because I intend to shorten it anyhow.'''

Del Rio said the focus since the end of the season has been self-evaluation and self-analyzing, and that the overall feeling is the Jaguars can improve their approach. Continuity at quarterback and at the coordinator positions will be a positive, he said, and he also said he expects the defensive approach will change somewhat as coordinator Mel Tucker takes on added responsibility.

Del Rio said much attention has been given to defensive approach, and he – as Tucker also said recently – said the defense in 2010 will focus on simplicity.

"There is self-analysis every year," Del Rio said. "This year in particular there are so many areas where we feel like we can help ourselves by focusing more on technique and freeing up our players to play fast. Assumptions are made about how much people are doing and how creative they are and how exotic they are. We probably don't have a reputation for doing a lot. We did too much, but it's really not about how much you do as much as how well you do it.

"We probably got to where we were doing a little too much. I think we can help our guys that way."

Del Rio said he and Tucker have talked "ad nauseam" about making the defense clearer and simpler, and therefore allowing players to play faster.

 "We're going to do a much better job of creating more black and white and allowing our players to play faster," Del Rio said. "We're committed to that." 

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