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Del Rio speaks his mind


(Aug. 22)—Jack Del Rio touched on a number of hot-button topics, including Byron Leftwich's quarterbacking and Reggie Williams' celebrations. If you like food for thought, Monday's press conference was a feast.

"He's a good young player and he's just going to get better. He's blossoming right before your eyes," Del Rio said of Leftwich.

When asked about the continued fan criticism of Leftwich, Del Rio added: "It's kind of comical to me. You've got one of the greatest young players at his position in the league. You look around at guys he came in with; he came in with Carson Palmer. Is he dealing with that in Cincinnati? I doubt it. I think he's a very special young man. He's a good football player right now and I think he'll continue to get better because he works at it so hard. This guy is a gym rat, loves to compete and has done everything a coach could ask to help himself and the football team. I'm expecting big things from him this year."

The Jaguars head coach staunchly supported his players in a press conference in which he bristled at what he considered to be a negative tone of questioning.

"You can find the negative of the week; the flavor of the day. This is a young, exciting football team on the rise. You're missing the big story here. This is a young team on the rise that gets bombarded with negativity," Del Rio said.

His remarks were in response to criticism that has ranged from Leftwich not having quarterbacked the first-team offense to a touchdown in this preseason, to defensive end Reggie Hayward not having produced a tackle or a sack. Clearly, Del Rio thought the questioning was more deserving of a team that had lost its first two preseason games, instead of a team that's 2-0.

"I like what Reggie Hayward is doing. It's a little different than the Hugh Douglas watch we had a couple of years ago. This guy is in the prime of his career," Del Rio told reporters.

One of the growing hot-button topics of the summer is Reggie Williams' penchant for celebrating catches and taunting defenders. The second-year wide receiver unveiled his new personality in spring drills and has continued to flex his biceps and his vocal cords through the summer. It's a practice that has drawn criticism from fans, but not from Del Rio.

"I hope to see (him) do it a lot. It means (he's) made a big play. The more he does it," Del Rio said of the celebration antics, "the more he'll get tired of it. I like the energy. I like it. I like what he's bringing to the offense."

Monday was a day to establish mid-summer perspective. Halfway through the preseason, Del Rio also talked about plans for getting star running back Fred Taylor playing time in Thursday night's game against Atlanta, and about rookie Chad Owens' ascent at wide receiver.

"It'll be great to see Fred come back," Del Rio said of Taylor, who has yet to test his knee in a preseason game. "We just want to see him play. We know what he can do. We just want to give him a little taste of live action. If everything goes well, we won't play him (against Dallas); get him a little live action and then get him ready for Sept. 11 (season opener)."

Taylor has spent the spring and summer recovering from knee surgery performed last January. Del Rio said Taylor's limited practice regimen in training camp still probably amounted to more practice time than Taylor had logged in either of the previous two years' training camps.

Owens, a sixth-round draft choice from Hawaii who has been the Jaguars' training camp sensation, leads the team in receiving with five catches for 98 yards and a 19.6 yards-per-catch average. Owens was elevated to third-wide receiver status for last Saturday's game in Tampa and he responded with three receptions for 37 yards.

What's the limit for the 5-7 Owens? How high can the diminutive pass-catcher climb?

"In the history of the league there haven't been many (number) one or (number) two receivers of his stature. Can he sustain it?" Del Rio said.

Hmmm, lots of food for thought.

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