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Battles rage in Tampa


Jack Del Rio didn't want to speak in specifics, but it didn't require much reading between the lines to know Del Rio is facing major roster and position decisions as the Jaguars head into their final two preseason games.

"Everything has an effect," Del Rio said in response to a reporter's question about whether or not Jimmy Smith's four-game drug suspension will impact roster cutdown decisions the coach will have to make on two separate occasions next week. "Things happen. There's a ripple effect. What is that final result? We'll find out.

"Does that factor in?" Del Rio asked, referring to the Smith suspension. "Absolutely."

Del Rio may have been referring to the big-picture direction of his team, as he spoke with reporters following this morning's practice. Should he stick with high-priced veteran players who give the team its best chance of winning now? Or have circumstances, such as Smith's suspension, compromised winning now to the point that addressing the future is the way to go?

Of course, Del Rio isn't about to offer an answer until time forces him to do so. He'll use what time he has left -- most notably Saturday's preseason game in Tampa and next Thursday's against Washington -- before he announces his ultimate decision on the direction of this team.

"I'm not going to talk about individual guys," he said when asked about Mark Brunell's status. "Mark has clearly been our best quarterback. We'll see. We're going to keep the best 53. We'll let that play out."

So, the Jaguars head into a game against the Bucs that could produce major ramifications. It is the third preseason game, which traditionally provides the longest playing time for starters. Del Rio said he wants to give all four quarterbacks playing time, but Brunell should be expected to get the bulk of the work.

Roster battles and position fights are all over the place. Competition seems only to increase as time passes, and training camp would seem to have only stimulated speculation on who are winning those battles.

There are major battles for starting jobs at left tackle, left guard, wide receiver, defensive end, safety, linebacker and placekicker. Is there also a competition at quarterback? It's a question Del Rio doesn't want to answer, but he will not deny his belief in the merits of competition.

"Competition is the only way. Guys are at their best when there's competition," he said.

And he includes the waiver wire as part of the competitive process.

"We will always actively try to upgrade this roster. We will always look with an eye toward what is available, to upgrade," Del Rio said.

Meanwhile, Del Rio observed that running back Fred Taylor "looked good today," and when asked if Taylor might play in Tampa Saturday, Del Rio added that it's "possible." Of course, Taylor has been out of action with a bone bruise in his left knee since the fifth day of training camp.

Tony Brackens was limited in his practice regimen today and Del Rio said it would be a game-time decision Saturday as to whether Brackens would play. It would be Brackens' first action of the preseason and Del Rio clearly wants to know if Brackens' comeback from microfracture knee surgery is far enough along to warrant a spot on the roster.

"He's going to have rough moments," Del Rio said of Brackens' knee. "It doesn't ever come all the way back. It's the aging of a player.

"We'll just have to see. If he makes it back and he's healthy, he'll have an impact. He's practicing. He looks good in practice and we just hope in the next couple of weeks he'll be able to show enough to make him a Jaguar this year," Del Rio added.

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