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Del Rio in season-ender


In his season-ending address to the media on Sunday, Jack Del Rio reaffirmed Byron Leftwich's status as the team's starting quarterback for next season, but Del Rio expressed concern for Leftwich's vulnerability to injury.

"I am concerned about that. I want him to get rid of the ball sooner. He'll sit in there and take shots. He's not afraid at all. That's something we have to help him improve because if you continue to take shots you're going to spend time on the sideline. He's taking too many shots," Del Rio said.

Leftwich, of course, missed the final five games of the regular season due to a broken left ankle. David Garrard replaced Leftwich and led the Jaguars to a 4-1 record in his five starts.

"Byron is our quarterback. He's got to stay healthy. David was better this year. He's a capable starter in this league," Del Rio said.

Leftwich was the starter in Saturday night's 28-3 playoff loss in New England. Though the Jaguars were unable to score a touchdown, Leftwich completed eight straight passes in the first half and appeared to be on his way to a big night before the Patriots scored three touchdowns in an eight-minute span to seal the win.

"He was sharp. He did some good things for us," Del Rio said of Leftwich's performance.

The Jaguars coach addressed a wide variety of questions in a 45-minute news conference. He said he expects to have wide receiver Jimmy Smith back with the team for the 2006 season and described running back and wide receiver as two of the strongest areas of the team.

"As a wide receiver corps, we have to catch the ball more consistently. That'll be an area we'll give a lot of attention to. I feel good about our wide receivers. Those two groups (wide receiver and running back) have good, young players," Del Rio said.

"That's an area I feel pretty good about," he added of the running backs. "Collectively, that group had an outstanding season. That situation may be a little more settled than people think."

The Jaguars qualified for the playoffs for the first time in six years. Their 12-4 record is second-best in the team's 11-year history.

"I think we're right there with a clump of teams that are on the verge," Del Rio said of his team's position and place in the league. "We like our football team. We'd like to add to it. We think we're going to be better because we're going to build what we have and add to it. We're going to target a few free agents and continue to draft well."

Del Rio said it's a "safe bet" the Jaguars will not draft a wide receiver with their first draft pick for the third consecutive year. "One of these days we're going to take a defensive guy," he said.

"Personnel-wise, we're going to evaluate that. We're going to look for ways to be better. Where can we strengthen ourselves to be a (playoff) team resting on wild-card weekend? That's next on the wish list," Del Rio said.

"The biggest thing about playoff exposure is if you have a weak spot, normally in the playoffs it gets exposed. We still have work to do with this football team. It just gives us a firmer resolve to build this into a team that can compete for the title," he added of the disappointing loss to the Patriots. "When you get a taste of the playoffs, it makes you hungry for more."

Del Rio expects to begin negotiations with owner Wayne Weaver on a new contract.

"I've got two years left on my contract. Wayne and I have spoken and he's expressed a desire to sit down and talk to me when the season is over," Del Rio said.

Linebacker coach Brian Van Gorder departs to Georgia Southern as that school's new head coach, leaving Del Rio to begin the search for a replacement. Del Rio said he expects to retain everybody else on his staff.

Del Rio said middle linebacker Mike Peterson is likely to undergo surgery this week on his injured wrist, and rookie left tackle Khalif Barnes played nearly the whole game on Saturday with a broken bone in his lower right leg. Barnes sustained the injury early in the game.

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