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Is right side of OL set for future?


They are two players who give the Jaguars reason to believe the right side of their offensive line is set for the next several years.

"Yeah, I'd like to think we're settled," offensive line coach Mike Maser said, referring to veteran right guard Chris Naeole and second-year right tackle Maurice Williams.

Naeole came to the Jaguars in free agency, following five seasons with the Saints. Naeole is one of the game's best right guards, but his reputation has been dogged by the stigma of having been selected higher than expected in the 1997 draft.

"Most people look at the 10th pick and say the kid better be a great one. From a financial standpoint, that's great, but he had a lot of expectations. Here, the pressure's off him," Maser said of Naeole, a native Hawaiian who was attracted to Jacksonville's beaches.

"I'm here, I'm happy and I'm ready to play," Naeole said.

In New Orleans, Naeole became the "whipping boy" for critics of Mike Ditka, who was ridiculed for making a guard a top-10 pick. Naeole admits the notoriety damaged his reputation, and it certainly didn't help that Naeole missed most of his rookie season with a broken ankle.

"I didn't think I was going to go that high either, but I'm not going to tell him to throw me back," Naeole said.

He developed into the kind of durable and productive guard Ditka sought for his run-the-ball offense, and new head coach Jim Haslett is said to have been very pleased by Naeole's play the past two years, but the Saints didn't have the salary cap room to retain Naeole, and then there was the matter of bitterness between Naeole's agent, Jim Steiner, and Saints General Manager Randy Mueller, who was recently fired by Saints owner Tom Benson.

Steiner represented linebacker Mark Fields, who left the Saints for division rival St. Louis prior to last season, and Saints first-round draft choice Deuce McAllister, who didn't sign a contract until after the regular season had started.

It was a good time for Naeole to find a new team.

"A lot of key guys were let go, such as Joe Johnson and La'Roi Glover. In this business, you have to move on and this is a great place to be. You've got the beach and you've got more breeze than you do in New Orleans. Growing up in Hawaii, it's more natural for me here," Naeole said.

Jacksonville was very attractive to Williams a year ago. It offered the rookie from Michigan a chance to earn a starting job at right tackle. He did, and he held that job through 16 regular-season games, making him only the fourth player in Jaguars history to have started every game in his rookie season.

"I think I'll be a lot better (this year)," Williams said, following another morning in an offseason strength and conditioning program that has added 15 pounds and significantly more strength to Williams' 6-5, 315-pound frame.

Williams' rookie season was a testament to his dedication and athletic ability. To say the least, he was not a master technician. The results were better than his execution.

"He was OK. I'm not going to say he was ready for enshrinement. He's a kid who needs to see things and experience them before he knows what they are. He has to understand he's not a rookie any more and those mistakes won't be tolerated," Maser said.

Williams would seem to understand.

"I got a lot stronger this offseason and it's going to help my game a lot. there were times last year when I didn't feel I had enough strength. Last year, I learned about schemes; picking up blitzes," he said.

Prior to this year's draft, there were rumors Williams would be moved to left tackle, but those thoughts died when the Jaguars selected Mike Pearson in the second round. It's hoped Pearson, a natural left tackle, can take the job and hold it, as Williams did at right tackle last season. If that occurs, it would be the third consecutive year the Jaguars had drafted an offensive lineman in the second round and he became an immediate starter.

"I was getting psyched about it," Williams said of the move to left tackle. "Left tackle is supposedly the most critical position to play on the offensive line, but I would've been starting all over."

Instead, he will stay at right tackle, where Williams will be allowed to settle in for the long haul as Mark Brunell's all-important blind-side blocker.

"My personal goals are to improve week by week and start to become a leader on this team," Williams said.

Naeole, the easy-going Hawaiian, would seem to be the perfect guy to assist the fun-loving Williams in his pro football development. In fact, they could grow into the best one-two punch the Jaguars have ever had on the right side of their line.

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