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Del Rio in season-ender


Jack Del Rio gave reporters a review of his team's 2004 season and a deeper look into his courtship by LSU, in a season-ending press conference that lasted nearly one hour at Alltel Stadium on Monday.

"I'm very committed to the Jacksonville Jaguars," Del Rio said during his introductory remarks. "(Wayne Weaver's) goal and my goal remain the same, to win a championship. In the end, as I stand here today, I am firm in my commitment to build a championship team here in Jacksonville."

Those remarks pertained directly to recent reports that Del Rio was to be interviewed for the vacant LSU head coaching job last Friday. Del Rio was questioned at greater length on the matter.

"We were contacted about interest and that's flattering. It's a good thing to be wanted. In the end, it wasn't something I would entertain. I'm happy to be here in Jacksonville," said Del Rio, who reportedly bailed out of the LSU interview because he was unable to speak to Weaver before the interview was to take place.

"In terms of maintaining integrity and honesty with (Weaver), that was never an issue," Del Rio added when asked if he believed he handled the matter properly. "I'm pleased with that part. An open and honest relationship with Wayne is important to me.

"I've never wavered in my commitment," Del Rio said.

LSU announced Monday afternoon that Les Miles is the school's new head coach, effectively ending speculation about Del Rio's future in Jacksonville. Weaver is expected to speak with his coach in a meeting with him this week.

Meanwhile, Del Rio spoke to the media about several issues today. He was quizzed about potential changes on his coaching staff, and Del Rio did not deny that possibility.

"I will take my time and make sure I do my due diligence and not make a hasty decision, and determine where we want to go," Del Rio said.

Monday was mostly a day for review. Del Rio began the session with a positive evaluation of his team's performance in a 13-6 win in Oakland on Sunday, and he maintained that tone throughout his review of the total program.

"I'm happy we were able to bring home a winning record and second place in our division," he said of a 9-7 record that marks the franchise's first winning season in five years.

Del Rio took particular pride in the team's five road wins: Buffalo, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Oakland. He also singled out a 7-3 non-division record.

The major negatives in the Jaguars' season are an 0-3 home record against AFC South opponents and three home losses in the second half of the season. A win in any of those three games would've earned the Jaguars a playoff berth.

"That's an area we will spend a lot of time on," he said of the Jaguars' division record.

"Our goal coming into the season was to make the playoffs. The AFC is very strong this year. I told the guys that what we were able to do, as far as building a core of guys; I think we've showed character that bodes well for the future," Del Rio said. He had made that remark to his players in a farewell address shortly before meeting with reporters.

"Our guys showed grit. I think that's what the story is about," he said in response to another LSU question. "The Jaguars are on the rise. I really think (Sunday in Oakland) was a gut check."

If the Jaguars passed the gut-check test this season, it can also be said they failed in some rather critical statistical categories. They ranked 29th in the league in points scored.

"The one quality we could add that would really help us is explosiveness," Del Rio said of his offense, which finished the season ranked 21st in the league (16th in rushing and 19th in passing) in total yards.

Quarterback Byron Leftwich was on his way to a big season following the Jaguars' upset win in Indianapolis on Oct. 24, but Leftwich suffered a knee sprain the following week in Houston. He missed two games with that injury and Del Rio said Leftwich was never quite the same after the injury.

"Byron was making tremendous improvement prior to his injury. I don't think it was ever quite as crisp, quite as sharp. He's a terrific player and he's going to be a terrific player for a long time," Del Rio said.

The coach added that Leftwich will be entrusted with more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage in the future. "As we go forward, that's one of the things we're going to build on," Del Rio said.

Wide receiver Reggie Williams never delivered the kind of production the Jaguars expected of him when they made him the ninth pick of the draft. Williams caught 27 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown in 2004, and was shutout in Oakland on Sunday.

"The biggest thing missing is opportunities; the chances to make plays. You look at (Michael) Clayton in Tampa; he had chances and he made plays," Del Rio said.

Some will interpret those remarks to be a criticism of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Del Rio said, however, that he and Musgrave do not have differences in their philosophy of offense.

"I like to run the ball but I like explosiveness on offense. There's never been a rift between us," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars will have lots of salary cap room in 2005 to spend on free agents who might provide the explosiveness Del Rio seeks. The team is expected to have about $20 million in cap room when free agency begins in March.

"We're going to be smart about what we do. We're not going to be timid in free agency. We're going to be wise. We're not going to shy away from a high-priced guy because we had a high-priced guy who didn't pan-out," Del Rio said.

"I think a realistic expectation for us would be the playoffs," he said of an early goal for '05. "You have to find a way to be that one game better.

"We know we're building something. I want more and we'll get more," Del Rio added.

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