Through the spring mini-camp sessions, all eyes have been on David Garrard and Byron Leftwich. But as the Jaguars turn toward their final five spring workouts and the sense that training camp is just around the corner, Mark Brunell re-emerges as the most important figure on the field.
It has always been this way. He's the quarterback, which means he's "The Man." He's still "The Man." This may be a new era in Jaguars football, but that much hasn't changed.
"I feel good throwing the ball. The arm feels good. I feel good about the progress," Brunell said as he kicked back and evaluated this spring of change.
He talked of the Jaguars in general; of the "West Coast offense" in particular. Brunell looked at himself and his teammates and offered this forecast for the 2003 season.
"Shooting for 10 (wins). That's the goal. Ten will get you in (the playoffs). That's a realistic goal. Any team can get 10. We're a better team than we were last year," Brunell said.
Of course, the Jaguars won only six games last season, so, this year's edition will have to be significantly improved to "get 10," especially against what is considered to be a significantly more difficult schedule.
But six could very easily have been eight, the eternal optimists would say. What about that final-play "Hail Mary" by the Browns, and that throwback punt return by the Texans? The Jaguars should've won those two games.
"I like what we're doing," Brunell said of spring drills. "I like that it's different. It's an opportunity to learn, again. It's a challenge. It's exciting. It's fun. To have to open up a playbook again? I haven't done that in awhile," Brunell said.
So what will it take to "get 10?" That's the big question as late-spring sprints toward July and training camp.
• A number two wide receiver must emerge. "At this point, yeah, we could use another guy," Brunell said.
• The offensive line, as coach Jack Del Rio promised, must be improved.
• Defensive production must justify the money that was spent on new personnel.
• New faces must deepen the quality of the roster.
"It's early. Our defense looks quick. Our defense is really coming along. Offensively, we're slowly getting better," Brunell said.
Of course, something else must occur for the Jaguars to "get 10." Brunell must have a big year. That much has also not changed. It never has.
"You've got to be accurate. You've got to be smart. You've got to deliver the ball on time. I think I do those things well," Brunell said in evaluating how he fits in the "West Coast offense."
"I don't think I'm the prototypical pocket guy. I like to be able to do a lot of things and not sit in that pocket for 12 seconds," he added.
So it is that, despite all the newness of this new era in Jaguars football, Brunell is preparing himself for another fall as the most important man in Jacksonville. But he can't help but wonder if this will be his final fall in that capacity. He admits the uncertainty of his future is definitely on his mind.
"I'm going to go out and try to have a good year, and we'll deal with it in February," he said of his future with the Jaguars.
But, for now, it's June, training camp is just around the corner and Brunell is still "The Man."
Meanwhile, this morning's practice saw the return of wide receiver Donald Hayes, who had sprained a knee in the post-draft mini-camp. Cornerback Fernando Bryant and Garrard did not participate due to tender hamstrings, and rookie guard Vince Manuwai was held out of drills due to a sore foot.
Del Rio told reporters running back Fred Taylor won't come out of the game in short-yardage situations this season. "He's 230 pounds. I think he's plenty brutish enough. He's too talented not to be out there," Del Rio said.