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Evaluation, health a priority


Overall, Head Coach Jack Del Rio said the approach won't much change.

The Jaguars in recent seasons have played starters sparingly if at all in the final preseason game, the idea being to ensure optimum health for the beginning of the regular season.

When the Jaguars play the St. Louis Rams in the preseason finale Thursday, starters Maurice Jones-Drew and Aaron Kampman will get their first preseason playing time, and some starters around them will play, but Del Rio said there won't likely be a dramatic difference from past seasons.

Yes, Del Rio said, the Jaguars will want to win.

But evaluation and having players available for the regular-season opener will remain the priority.

"It feels different, but in the end, the reality of the season that is upon us and the desire to be as healthy as possible for that season I think remains a priority," Del Rio said Tuesday as the Jaguars (1-2 in the preseason) prepared to play the Rams (3-0) at Everbank Field Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Kampman, a 10-year veteran and a starting defensive end, and Maurice Jones-Drew – a Pro Bowl running back the last two seasons – will play, Del Rio confirmed Tuesday. Neither has played yet this preseason and Del Rio confirmed each likely will play about 10-15 plays.

"That's not a bad range," Del Rio said.

Quarterback David Garrard also is expected to start, and Del Rio said overall, "We'll play everybody we feel is healthy enough."

"If there's a decision or two to be made, we'll make it and not play a guy or two," Del Rio said. "Ultimately, we want to make sure we're as healthy and fresh as possible for the opener, but there are a couple of guys we want to get some time, get a little game action – get some speed and get the feel for it. We'll do that a little bit, then we'll turn it over and solve some of those evaluations we need to finish."

A week ago, Del Rio talked about the need for improved offensive efficiency. The first-team offense went scoreless in its first three possessions in a 35-32 overtime loss at Buffalo Saturday, but scored two touchdowns and a field goal on its final three possessions.

"We're coming," Del Rio said. "We've been working through issues, sharpening the blade so to speak. We've been busy preparing for the season that is about to unfold in front of all of us. You don't want to get too caught up in preseason. You have to kind of keep perspective on what it is and what it stands for. . . .

"There's been a lot of progress made over the last month. We still have a ways to go and we want to be a team that as we go through the year that we continue to improve as the year goes on. I think there's no question that we've just been together now a month, and a month from now we should look back and we should be further ahead as a football team and growing. And that should happen throughout the season, and that's how we're going to approach it and look at it that way."

While observers have worried about various aspects of the preseason, Del Rio said the reality is it's just that – the preseason.

"I was part of the '89 Cowboys; we were undefeated in the preseason and went on and won one game, and so you don't want to put too much stock one way or another," Del Rio said. "We want each guy to focus in on his assignment, understand to the fullest extent possible his duties, his assignment, and then play as fast as he can play and pull together and play as a unit, and that's what we're looking to do."

With Tuesday's media availability his last of the preseason, Del Rio discussed training camp and preseason. The Jaguars since the end of July have added at least six players expected to play a key role – safety Dawan Landry, linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, defensive end Matt Roth, cornerback Drew Coleman and offensive guard/center Jason Spitz – while incorporating the rookie class and preparing for the regular season.

They also have dealt with an early injury to Garrard, the early absence of tight end Marcedes Lewis, as well as the prolonged absence of Jones-Drew and Kampman from games.

 "It's been a very productive off-season, a shortened off-season obviously," Del Rio said. "We've been very business-like in what we've done from Day 1. That part has been exactly what we needed. We had to have a workmanlike camp to get in the volume we had to try to squeeze into the short window we had to prepare for the year.

"The regular season's going to begin, and we need to play at a high level coming out of the gate. We feel like we've maximized the time we have been allowed in terms of structure in practice, repping guys and pushing and pulling back when we've had to. It's been a good process."

Also Tuesday:

*Del Rio said he is being told tight end Zach Miller (knee) and right tackle Eben Britton (back) should be ready to play against Tennessee on September 11.  "That's the feedback I'm getting from them and from trainers, but as a coach, I've got to see them on the field and see them perform at a certain level before I actually play them," Del Rio said. "They are on track to return. That is the word I'm getting. We'll see."

  • Del Rio said rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts and rookie left guard Will Rackley "are going to have an immediate impact on our football team.  They've done a nice job to this point. They need to close the deal and be ready to go."

*Del Rio said while the off-season lockout curtailed the development of some rookies, "we can't spend a lot of time worrying about how it hurt or didn't hurt or affect it or didn't affect. The time that some of the young guys would have typically had has been shortened and so it gives a little more of an advantage in some other places, but that's just the way it is."

*Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, who sat out Saturday's game after missing a day of practice with his leg wrapped, missed the portion of practice open to the media while working on a stationary bike. Offensive right tackle Eben Britton (back), tight end Zach Miller (knee), cornerback David Jones (hamstring), defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith, defensive end Larry Hart, running back Rashad Jennings (knee), defensive end Marc Schiechl, center Bradley Vierling and long snapper Jeremy Cain also were held out. 

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