Jack Del Rio made a point to say his expectations for his team's offense are high, but on the subject of the controversy involving quarterback Mark Brunell, Del Rio chose to remain silent.
"We had a private conversation and I'll leave it at that. I know you guys (media) aren't going away on the issue, but I'm not going to share private conversations," Del Rio said of a discussion between he and Brunell, who spoke out this week on the subject of his future as the Jaguars' starting quarterback.
Brunell was quoted in media reports this week as having been told by Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver that Brunell's contract will not permit him to remain with the team beyond this season. The veteran quarterback didn't retract his comments but softened them somewhat when interviewed by reporters today.
"It's a unique situation. I'm not going to be a malcontent. From my perspective, I'm the quarterback for 2003. To get the team winning and back into the playoffs; those are my goals," Brunell said.
His concerns about his future beyond this season were evident, but he chose to focus on this season, and Brunell didn't surrender the possibility his future with the Jaguars could be saved.
"It looks like there's a chance I could be somewhere else after this season, but my focus is on 2003. That's my stance," he said, then added: "If a team wants a player and the player wants to be there, you find a way to work it out."
Brunell also committed himself to helping rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich, the seventh pick of the draft and who is considered to be the Jaguars' future at the position.
"I can help him; I will help him. I'm going to help the kid," Brunell said.
"He's already trying to help me," Leftwich said of Brunell.
"We have the opportunity to be a dynamic offense," Del Rio told reporters.
On the first day of the team's first mandatory mini-camp, with a full roster of veterans and rookies in attendance, Del Rio was intent on sharpening his team's focus.
"Focus on football. There will be a lot of things that'll distract your attention, and this is the first of '03," he said, referring to the Brunell controversy.
Veteran safety Donovin Darius was in attendance and veteran defensive end Tony Brackens, though not able to participate in practice, was in the first day of a re-structured contract that ends speculation about his future with the team. Tight end Kyle Brady was absent, but Brady's situation is becoming less of an issue as June 2 draws near. The Jaguars remain hopeful Brady will agree to a paycut that will keep him in Jacksonville, but Brady would seem to be intent on forcing his release.
"That's a personal decision he's made and I'm not going to be drawn into anything," Del Rio said.
"Our camp goal is to come in here and gel as a football team. My full focus is on building a football team," Del Rio said.
To that end, the Jaguars unveiled the first draft class of this new era in Jaguars football. The nine draft choices were led by Leftwich, the seventh pick of last weekend's draft.
"He's a little anxious. He wants to do everything right away, but that won't happen," Del Rio said of Leftwich, who got his first schooling in fundamentals and techniques from quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson.
"How'd it look?" Del Rio said to a reporter who asked about Leftwich's footwork. Leftwich played in what was primarily a shotgun offense at Marshall. "That's something he wasn't asked to do a lot of, so that will only improve," Del Rio said of Leftwich's retreat from center.
Leftwich didn't have much of an opportunity to flash his talents during the morning practice. His reps were limited and he was relegated to basic hand-offs and check-down passes.
"The first thing you want to do is learn the offense. I'm trying to get an understanding of the offense, the terminology, so I can just go out and play," Leftwich said.
Following a week of speculation and verbal jousting, the Jaguars locker room appeared to be relaxed and at peace.
"Teams are looking to get better at every position. It's going to happen to me, Mark and Fred," star wide receiver Jimmy Smith said, referring to the time when their careers will end. "We can't treat this as a funeral for Mark Brunell. He's a professional. He's going to go out and play football and we're going to win games," Smith said.
"Each player has to take responsibility and perform. If you perform, you're going to be here. That goes for me. If I don't perform, I won't be here next year," he added.
MINI-CAMP NOTES--Second-round pick Rashean Mathis, who starred as a safety at Bethune-Cookman, will practice at cornerback through mini-camp. "Corner is more valuable to a team and I want to be valuable to the team," Mathis said. "I had to make sure we took a look at him at corner first. We know he can play safety," Del Rio said. … Veteran defensive end Hugh Douglas was overweight at the Jaguars' voluntary mini-camp in April. Del Rio said Douglas is down about 10 pounds since then. … Wide receiver Donald Hayes sprained his right knee while running a pass route early in the morning practice. … The Jaguars have signed former Ravens safety James Trapp and former Carolina guard Jamar Nesbit.