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Defensive coaches positively upbeat


Their offseason losses were staggering: Gary Walker, Seth Payne, Renaldo Wynn, Hardy Nickerson, Kevin Hardy, Aaron Beasley. Hey, that's five starters from their starting front seven of a year ago.

Sounds pretty bad, right? The preseason experts say, yes, it does.

But the Jaguars staff of defensive coaches are claiming they have each improved the personnel at their specific position groupings. A quick listen to Jaguars defensive coaches might leave you with three thoughts: 1.) Change may have created genuine enthusiasm; 2.) maybe the Jaguars aren't going to be as bad this season as everyone seems to think; 3.) head coach Tom Coughlin and his staff are making a concerted effort to be energetic, positive and supportive of a team in the midst of change that may turn out to be better than its preseason forecast.

"This will be, collectively, the best group I've ever had," linebackers coach Steve Szabo said. "These are young guys who play aggressively and with a lot of enthusiasm, and you can't replace that. I have no qualms at putting any of these guys on the field."

Those are somewhat shocking remarks, coming from the coach of a unit that is thought to be the team's area of greatest concern. After all, the Jaguars currently have a cast-off (Wali Rainer) as their starting middle linebacker, a young weakside linebacker (T.J. Slaughter) who has yet to make it through a full season as a starter, and a young strongside linebacker (Danny Clark) who's only been a starter in three games. And depth may be an even greater concern.

But Szabo isn't a rose-colored-glasses kind of guy. When he says it looks good, you tend to believe him. His positive remarks about this year's defensive personnel may be the most heartening of all.

"I like to think we're going to be smart and we're going to be tough because those are the two things I harp on the most," Szabo added.

Defensive backs coach Perry Fewell responded affirmatively when asked point-blank if the talent in his secondary this year is better than it was a year ago. "Jason Craft has really improved. Fernando Bryant has had a healthy offseason and he's beginning to return to form. Kiwaukee Thomas has shown us he can play man and two-deep. Ike Charlton is a big corner. We have to find out what he does best for us," Fewell said.

"These guys have been selected. From a talent base, I think Marcus Stroud is a talent, John Henderson is a talent, Tony Brackens is a talent, T.J. Slaughter is talented. They bring some heart and talent to the table we may not have had in the past," Fewell added.

John Pease is a naturally positive person. This summer, as Pease approaches his first season as a defensive coordinator, the Jaguars' former defensive line coach is brimming with enthusiasm.

"I feel good about our talent," Pease said. "In Marco Coleman and Wali Rainer, we stole two players. Marco is an older Renaldo Wynn. From Marcus Stroud, I look for big things this year. In Akin Ayodele, we have a kid who can run. If we come together, and if Marco Coleman is what we think he is, and those linebackers (Slaughter, Clark, Ayodele and Eric Westmoreland) are what we drafted them to be, I'll fell pretty good."

Pease compares the prospects for 2002 to what happened in 1996, when the Jaguars uncovered a lot of defensive personnel late in the season to make a run to the AFC title game.

"That's my only reference," Pease said of '96. "We picked up Clyde Simmons; we've picked up Marco Coleman.

"You better be positive. I think our guys are good enough, if they step up to their potential," Pease added.

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