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Coughlin calls it 'solid'


Tom Coughlin has always been defensive about his draft classes, but maybe more so this year than in any of the previous six Jaguars drafts.

At issue was Coughlin's selection of defensive tackle Marcus Stroud with the 13th pick of the draft. Florida offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker, a player who was universally higher-rated than Stroud, was available when Coughlin selected Stroud.

The pick was met by disfavor from Jaguars fans who are also partial to the Florida Gators. When Coughlin met with the media at the conclusion of this weekend's draft, he was posed with the Stroud-Walker debate, again.

"It's not a debate for me. A gamble? No. I know this football team better than anyone and I know what has to be done with this football team, and this team needed defensive help," Coughlin said.

That answer is a symbol of everything Coughlin attempted to accomplish in this draft, which is to say that he addressed almost all of the Jaguars' glaring needs. If next season is to be the Jaguars' final window-of-opportunity season, this draft had to be about needs. Of course, Coughlin is a needs-drafter in any year.

So, the question is: Did the Jaguars solve their needs?

Stroud should go a long way toward making the Jaguars better against the run. He would have to be a complete bust not to have some impact in the Jaguars' ability to match-up physically against division foes Baltimore, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

Second-round pick Maurice Williams provides the potential to become an immediate starter at offensive right tackle, which would stabilize what had become a precarious offensive line situation.

Third-rounder Eric Westmoreland will probably offer more help on special teams than at linebacker this season, and the same can be said of third-round free safety James Boyd, but both have long-range upside. Boyd is actually being counted on to take the free safety job from Carnell Lake, who will turn 34 this July and would be an overwhelming salary cap hit in 2002.

Fifth-rounder David Leaverton has all but been handed the punting chores, and Leaverton could also become the Jaguars' kickoff specialist.

Sixth-rounder Chad Ward is big and durable and should provide immediate depth at guard.

And the four-man, seventh-round draft crop offers a long-snapper who would seem to be a lock for the job, a linebacker and a free safety who are special teams prospects, and even a candidate for the elusive third-wide receiver job.

Every need was addressed except that for a fullback. It was Coughlin's lone post-draft lament that he hadn't been able to finger a fullback.

Fixed? Not so fast. First, all of these prospects have to prove they are worthy of needs for which they were drafted. Time will tell.

"It's a solid draft. When you don't take the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, people tend to wonder where the play-makers are. This is a different kind of draft. I feel very good about this. We accomplished what we set out to accomplish," Coughlin said in self-analysis.

Eight of the Jaguars' 10 draft picks were captains of their college teams. If that wasn't a theme of the Jaguars' 2001 draft, then certainly the big-time college football programs from which the Jaguars picked their newest rookies were a common thread: Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, Penn State, Washington, Notre Dame, Kentucky.

"That was an important part of it. If these young men are going to help us as fast as we want them to, then they have to have played in big games," Coughlin said.

"The other practical themes were defensive size and answering the special teams questions," he added.

Immediately, Coughlin and his staff turned to signing what was certain to become the Jaguars' largest-ever class of undrafted rookie free agents. It is expected that no less than 16 rookies will make the Jaguars' final roster, which is the product of a salary cap problem with which the Jaguars must deal for at least another couple of years.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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