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Hype is over; time to earn it


When Jack Del Rio addresses his players on Friday, the eve of the start of training camp, they are likely to hear a message that'll challenge them to return to the playoffs, and more.

"I have some thoughts that'll be delivered," Del Rio told on Thursday. "The biggest thing is to understand where we are as a football team. We've earned our way into the company of contenders. We've been in the playoffs and you can't take for granted why things have happened. We want to earn our way back to that level and advance, get hot.

"To do that," Del Rio added, "we have to mature as a team. We have to have our young players mature into star players. David Garrard is a great example of a guy who emerged (last year). He can be better. He can take his game to the next level."

The 2008 season is seemingly all about the next level for the Jaguars. Last year, the Jaguars scored the franchise's first playoff victory in eight years. The national media was so impressed by the Jaguars last season that a lot of media outlets have made the Jaguars a Super Bowl favorite. Del Rio will, no doubt, caution his team against relying on its press clippings.

"If we do the little things right, the big things will take care of themselves," he said.

The first goal is to win the AFC South. "We'd like to have a home (playoff) game," Del Rio said.

"I feel like we've been building this thing strong for the last several years. We have more pieces in place to make a run (at the division title), but I don't believe in one year. You don't win the title by assembling the best. You win the title by playing the best," he added.

Garrard is the Jaguars' centerpiece player. The quarterback burst into prominence last year and capped his season with a sterling postseason performance in New England that might have been good enough to beat the Patriots, had it not been for dropped "touchdown" passes by Dennis Northcutt and Matt Jones.

The Jaguars got Garrard a veteran wide receiver in Jerry Porter in free agency, but Porter will miss all of training camp and the preseason following recent hamstring surgery. He is expected to return to action for the start of the regular season.

Former high draft choice Troy Williamson was acquired in a trade and showed great promise during spring practices, and 2007 third-round pick, Mike Walker, continues to make progress in his rehab from knee surgery.

"Walker's been solid this offseason. We're not going to run him out there twice a day. We're going to be smart in how we work him because we want to see him in the fall," Del Rio said.

Jones, of course, was arrested recently on drug charges. Del Rio explained his decision to bring Jones to training camp.

"My emotions ran the gamut from angry to disappointed to doing all I could to help him grow up as a man. He'll have a chance to compete and we'll go from there," Del Rio said.

It's hoped an improved receiving corps will put the Jaguars offense over the top. A strong running game remains intact, with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew expected to continue to share the load.

"He's one of our premier playmakers," Del Rio said of Jones-Drew, "and we will continue to find ways to put the ball in his hands."

The number one question of training camp is likely to be: Do the Jaguars have the talent on defense to play the attack style new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams prefers?

"I think our roster is most suited do the things he wants to do," Del Rio said. "We have extremely fast, athletic linebackers that will allow them to exist in a system that blitzes more. I think it's a good match."

The first practice of training camp is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. on Saturday.

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