Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio's expectation for 2010 is for the team to make it into the playoffs.
"We're a young team that fought its way into (playoff) contention. Another strong offseason and we ought to knock the door down," Del Rio said at his season-ending press conference on Monday.
Del Rio summarized 2009 as a year in which the Jaguars rebuilt their roster, finishing the season in Cleveland on Sunday with 33 new faces on the roster from a 5-11 finish in 2008. At 7-9, the '09 Jaguars were in playoff contention until the final seconds ticked off in a 23-17 loss to the Browns.
"Each year, we set as a goal to qualify for the playoffs and compete for a championship. At the same time, you have to be realistic. You realize it's probably not going to happen," Del Rio said.
"The organization will benefit. We took a very aggressive route to turn over the roster. We will benefit going forward because of that experience," he added.
Del Rio finished his seventh year as the team's head coach. The rebuilding job to which he and General Manager Gene Smith committed in '09 was similar in scope to the one the team faced in Del Rio's rookie year as coach, 2003, which produced a 5-11 record.
Upgrading the defense, the team's calling card through his first five years as head coach, will be the "focal point of our offseason," he said. "We have to strengthen ourselves there. It's what wins. We've got to maximize what we get out of our personnel and we have to have personnel that can win the one-on-one's when you have them. You can create one-on-one's, but you can't create free-runners."
The Jaguars didn't win the one-on-one's nearly often enough in '09, finishing last in the league with a franchise-low 14 sacks. The NFL record is 10.
"Our ability to win the one-on-one's and to affect the quarterback would be number one," Del Rio said. "We were nowhere near where we needed to be. When we've been matched up against the better offensive teams, we've been exposed a little bit."
Smith was promoted to general manager at the end of last season and he quickly began a youth movement that resulted in four rookies in the starting lineup on opening day and six on the final day of the season in Cleveland. Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox and several other young players on the roster are the team's building blocks for the future.
"Gene and I have mapped out a plan to make this franchise healthy again. We have a good nucleus of young players," Del Rio said.
One star player emerged in '09. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew became the first Jaguars player to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Fred Taylor, the man Jones-Drew replaced, was selected in 2007. Jones-Drew and Taylor are the only Jaguars offensive players selected to the Pro Bowl since 2001.
"Some games we were great, others we weren't. Some games we were physical, some games we were finesse. We have to figure out what we want to be. We have to have that physical dominance. We don't have it," Jones-Drew said as he left the locker room on Monday.
"It takes a little time to instill that violent demeanor. We played well enough to make the playoffs, but at the end we didn't do it. We just have to be more physical. This is not a nice-guy sport. This is a character league, but you can't have a room full of nice guys. I'm not saying we do," Jones-Drew added.
What's most important to Del Rio is adding to the room of players he has. He said the roster turnover isn't likely to be as dramatic as it was in '09, and he defended his quarterback, David Garrard.
"David is probably in the middle tier (of quarterbacks in the league). You could be doing a whole lot worse. It's not just about him. That's what's most important, that we be strong around him. Not being strong defensively hurts your quarterback," Del Rio said. "Yeah, I think he has another level, yet. We've got to get the ball out. We cannot take these shots."
"We need to add some talent; add to this mix and then let them fight for roster spots," Del Rio said.
Should the Jaguars add talent as they did last offseason, Del Rio said "we ought to expect to be in that postseason tournament."