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Del Rio says nucleus is solid

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At the same juncture in the season a year ago, the Jaguars had the same record they have now, 4-4. There would seem to be, however, a distinct difference between those teams.

"You don't have 33 new guys on a 53-man roster and not be rebuilding," coach Jack Del Rio said during a bye-week press conference on Wednesday. "We purged the roster last year."

More purging occurred during the 2010 offseason, but Del Rio looks at his current roster much differently than he did at last year's.

"Now we have a solid nucleus we can build on and that's what's exciting. We have fortified the trenches. That makes me believe we're a team that can ascend," he said.

At the mid-point in this season, Del Rio took a critical look at his football team on Wednesday and painted a positive picture of where it is and where it's going. He especially spoke with optimism for a defense that is ranked 30th in the league and was a trouble spot throughout the first half of the season.

"I thought our run front took a step forward. I feel like that's becoming a strength for us. I think our pass-coverage is improving. We feel like we're a unit that's beginning to understand what we need to look like," Del Rio said of his defense.

The Jaguars are 22nd in the league against the run and 28th against the pass. Those are numbers Del Rio believes will steadily improve. The number that pleases him the most through the first eight games of the season is the team's 14 sacks, which equals all of last year's total.

"I think it's significant progress," he said of the team's pass-rush. "Another half count and we're getting a bunch more. We think we're getting close to being able to play the kind of pass-defense we need to play."

Offensively, the Jaguars have been feast or famine for much of the season. They've hit the 30-point mark three times, but have also been held to three points in two games and 13 in another.

"We need to get Maurice (Jones-Drew) going. We expect to be able to do that well. If we provide adequate time and David is decisive, then we have a pretty good chance there," Del Rio said of the pass-protection quarterback David Garrard requires for him to be successful. "We've done some things you can build on. We've also done some things I don't want to see again."

The 2008 season was clearly a turning point for the Jaguars franchise. The Jaguars thought they were a player away and then traded away six of their 11 picks in pursuit of that player. What they found out en route to a 5-11 record that season is that they not only weren't a player away, they were an old team in decline.

"We had probably underrated the number of players we had that had gotten up in years," Del Rio said, attempting to be as delicate as possible in his assessment of that sensitive time. "We gave in to some of those thoughts and feelings.

"Clearly, the direction (General Manager) Gene (Smith) is taking us is different. Some of the things he's done haven't been real popular but they've been the right thing," Del Rio added.

A second-half-of-the-season run at the playoffs would validate the team's direction.

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