Jack Del Rio longs for the day when he won't have to deal with the kinds of off-the-field issues that have dogged his rookie season as head coach. But today wasn't to be that day.
Del Rio was still battling the "hangover" from yesterday's disappointing loss to the Titans when he received word this morning that one of his players, linebacker T.J. Slaughter, had been arrested and charged with an arms violation. Just when Del Rio thought it couldn't get any worse, it did.
"(Slaughter) was charged with assault, was released this morning and will have a hearing. As an organization, we take this very seriously. We make every effort to educate our players. We're going to let the (legal) process run its course," Del Rio told reporters at this afternoon's press conference. The Jaguars head coach confirmed Slaughter was at Alltel Stadium this afternoon.
This most recent episode is one in a series of incidents that have hindered the Jaguars in their "new era" season. Those incidents also include Jimmy Smith's drug suspension, the Mark Brunell-Byron Leftwich "Great Quarterback Debate," and the Chris Hanson "ax-ident."
"I'd like to spend my time thinking, talking and coaching football, and not dealing with these incidents," Del Rio said. "That would be helpful."
It would be helpful because Del Rio certainly has issues directly related to his team's on-the-field performance that must be addressed. His team played its worst game of the season yesterday in its 30-17 loss to the Titans, and it was especially galling to the coach and the team's fans, since it was on the heels of a bye week.
Immediately following yesterday's game, Del Rio blasted his defense for having allowed the Titans an 11-minute and 14-second field-goal drive in the fourth quarter. He said players responsible for that collapse would be "revealed and replaced," and though Del Rio offered no such roster or lineup decisions today, he left reporters to believe changes are forthcoming.
"I vented pretty good after the game; disappointed, angry. The bottom line is we have a 24-hour rule in effect and we'll go back to work," he said, referring to the 24 hours he permits his players to dwell on the game they've just played. "As far as lineup changes, personnel thoughts and so on, we'll have time for that as the week goes on," he added.
Del Rio talked about his responsibility "to teach the team how to win," and in cases in which learning does not occur, "We need to find somebody else. We look every week to make sure we have the best 11 going for us," he said.
His offensive line is receiving most of the criticism for Sunday's loss, largely because one of rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich's three interceptions was the result of a heavy pass-rush by Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter. But Del Rio came to his line's -- especially left tackle Mike Pearson's -- defense this afternoon.
"If there's one area of the football team I think has done a solid job, I think it's the offensive line. There are very few assignment errors," Del Rio said.
And of Pearson: "I wouldn't say he had a bad (game). He had a bad play," Del Rio said, referring to the Kearse pass-rush play mentioned above. "There was one glaring play. I do believe he's doing some good things. To say he's a guy not capable of playing left tackle or can't play, I'm not saying that."
But Del Rio did not defend the play of his linebackers. "They can play a whole lot better," he said.
No Jaguars linebacker was credited for anything more than a tackle, and Slaughter and Akin Ayodele led Jaguars linebackers with four tackles each. Mike Peterson had three tackles and no other linebacker appeared on the "tackles" sheet, which was headed by safety Deke Cooper with 10 tackles.
What to do? Go back to work, Del Rio said, which he'd like to do minus the kind of nagging incidents that have distracted this team.
"It just hasn't unfolded the way we had hoped. This isn't excuse-making. We've just had to adjust and that's life in the NFL," Del Rio said of the unforeseen problems. "They all add up, particularly when a team is not deep and talented."
On the injury front, quarterback Mark Brunell will return to the team on Thursday and will have a 2-4 week window of recovery and rehabilitation from his elbow surgery of two weeks ago. Defensive back James Trapp re-injured his ankle, Leftwich twisted an ankle on the Kearse-Carter play, and cornerback Jason Craft (knee), linebacker Keith Mitchell (neck) and wide receiver Jimmy Redmond (foot) are expected to return to practice on Wednesday.