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"I know I haven't reached my potential"

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Years later, David Garrard now knows what the veterans meant.

This was 2002, his rookie season, and older players on a very different version of the Jaguars gave him advice veterans give younger players.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Work.

Because an NFL career passes fast.

Garrard, entering his 10thseason with the Jaguars and fifth as the team&39;s starting quarterback, said while he understood the words then, he has lived the NFL and really gets it now.

"I can sit here and definitely tell you that it does fly by," Garrard told jaguars.com this week. "Ten-to-12 years was like a dream – a goal of mine. To be able to make it that far with the same team is truly a blessing."

But while that&39;s true, Garrard said this is, too:

As he sees it, he&39;s a long way from the end – and in fact, he agrees with Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith, who recently said Garrard&39;s best seasons may be ahead of him.

"I know I haven&39;t reached my potential," Garrard said. "I feel like I&39;m getting close. I feel like I took a step last year with the number of touchdowns I threw, but I feel like I left something on the field. I can raise my game to another level."

The number of touchdowns was 23. It was a franchise record, one on which Garrard said he can improve. He said he believes because he has not started his whole career, he is still learning. He said, too, that one of his goals for the coming season is to be nearer 30 touchdowns, and to have his interceptions near 10, but he said those goals are only part of a bigger issue.

The Jaguars last season won eight games, finishing .500 after leading the AFC South with an 8-5 record in early December. They lost their final three games, including a game at Indianapolis in which a victory would have clinched their first AFC South title, and Garrard said that is how the season will be remembered.

Garrard also said that is where improvement must come. The Jaguars lost four consecutive games to end the 2009 season and Garrard said late-season fades are a trend that needs to change.

"We just have to find that last part, where we continue to fight, and continue to pick our game up, and not burn ourselves out for whatever reason," he said. "We have to take ourselves to that level in the latter part of the season.

"We have to tighten up once we get past that halfway mark, get extra film work, get extra time on task with your receivers. It&39;s not a race. It&39;s a marathon."

Garrard missed the regular-season finale, and that was far from the only adversity he faced last season. The season began with speculation about his job security, something that heightened during a season-opening stretch of four losses in seven games.

Garrard was the quarterback in three of those losses, and in those three games, he threw one touchdown and six interceptions.

What he didn&39;t do was dwell on the performances.

In three early-season victories, he threw eight touchdowns and an interception. He also had 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions during a stretch of five victories in eight games that moved the Jaguars into first place in the AFC South in early December.

Throughout 2010, Garrard showed an ability to follow difficult games with effective ones, a trait he said he traces to playing for Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant Steve Logan while Logan was head coach at East Carolina.

"He always taught me to stay even keel and never be too high or low in any given moment," Garrard said. "A quarterback has to have a short memory. For myself, always having to battle – from losing my mother, to having Crohn&39;s disease – you always know there are going to be bad times in a game. You&39;re going to have ebbs and flows."

Garrard said Logan called the lows "lightning bolts."

"When those lightning bolts come, when that rough water comes, how are you going to weather the storm?" he said. "For me, my spiritual side helps me, too. I know I&39;m playing a game, a game that I love. So what? I&39;m still playing football.

"I don&39;t let the game become too big. I don&39;t let it go beyond what it really is. I know when I get home my family&39;s going to be there, and my son is going to tell me, &39;Daddy, you played good today,&39; regardless of how I did. That helps me move on to the next game.

"I know my team needs me. I know the fans are looking for a better day, a better game, so I put it behind me. I really did. I know my life&39;s not going to end because I had a bad game."

At the recent NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio spoke of Garrard needing to be more consistent, to have fewer highs and lows. But Del Rio, like Smith, also spoke of Garrard&39;s importance to the team&39;s immediate future, with each emphasizing that whatever the Jaguars do next season it almost certainly will be done with Garrard at quarterback.

That&39;s how Garrard said he is approaching it, too. He said this week he is committed to preparing for the 2011 season whatever ongoing labor negotiations bring. Personally, he said he wants to improve in the fourth quarter and in come-from-behind situations, and as a team, he said his goal is to have players remain focused on team goals in an uncertain off-season.

"If I prepare the right way and prepare more, that&39;s me doing my job," he said. "It&39;s not me being Superman. It&39;s me doing my job. If my job isn&39;t getting it done, the proof will be in the pudding. It&39;s not like I have to develop a rocket arm, or become a faster runner. It&39;s me doing what I do and preparing well. If you have the tools, if you prepare each week to be your best, that&39;s all you can require of yourself. That&39;s what I&39;m doing to continue to do and try to do it a little better.

"I know as a complete leader I can take this team to where it wants to go and that&39;s the championship. It doesn&39;t start by me talking about it.

"It&39;s every Sunday, battling, and leading this team like it should be led."

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