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Jags becoming a good story


It's a good story. It's the story of a franchise fighting back, a coach and quarterback steeling themselves against fan criticism, a general manager desperately trying to rebuild a roster decimated by bad drafts, and a town trying to hold on against a national media bashing it as a small-market mistake.

At midseason, the Jaguars are 4-4 and everything is on the table. With a second-half run, the franchise, the coach, the quarterback, the GM and the town might all have reason to celebrate at season's end. Should the Jaguars falter in the second half of the season, however, doubt would, again, dominate the picture.Yes, it's a good story because it has real-life drama to it. It's a drama that began the day after last season ended. Let's go back and look at the important dates that shaped this season.

Jan. 4—Head Coach Jack Del Rio delivers his season-ending review one day after the team concludes its 2009 season with a loss in Cleveland. "We ought to expect to be in that postseason tournament," Del Rio says boldly in establishing the expectation for 2010.

Jan. 12—A morning-long meeting between Del Rio, General Manager Gene Smith and team owner Wayne Weaver leaves Weaver to say at a press conference later that day: "I feel good about our meeting. I feel good that the team of Gene Smith and Jack Del Rio is going to take this franchise to an elite level." Weaver's words end speculation that Del Rio might leave the Jaguars to become the coach at his alma mater, USC. At a "Team Teal" rally that evening, Tony Boselli says: "I'll be darned if I'll let Los Angeles or any other city come and take our team." Mayor John Peyton adds: "The measuring stick of viability is ticket sales."

Feb. 4—Joe Cullen is named the team's new defensive line coach. Cullen is a renowned pass-rush guru who is making a comeback from a much-publicized event while as an assistant in Detroit. The Cullen hire makes it clear to everyone that the team's number one offseason priority is to fix what was the league's worst pass-rush in 2009.

Late Feb.—The team conducts a voluntary "quarterback camp," the significance of which is that David Garrard responds to criticism from his coach and owner that he needs to work harder at his craft. He then dedicates himself to the best work ethic of his career.

March 7—Though he is only three months off knee reconstruction, the Jaguars sign veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency. They give Kampman $11 million to be the team's featured pass-rusher. Kampman's reputation for hard work precedes him.

April 22—With the 10th pick of the draft, the Jaguars select little-known Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, sending Tim Tebow fans into a firestorm of protest. With the selection of Alualu, GM Smith leaves little doubt who's in charge.

July 27—Weaver announces at a jam-packed press conference in the stadium's Terrace Suite that EverBank has purchased the naming rights to what previously had been Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for three worrisome years. The announcement creates a wave of feel-good for the future of the franchise. A few days later, the team announces a similar naming rights deal with Florida Blue for the team's practice fields.

Sept. 5—Smith trades safety Reggie Nelson to Cincinnati as part of final roster cuts. Nelson's departure leaves the Jaguars with only two first-round picks, Marcedes Lewis and Derrick Harvey, remaining from "Shack" Harris' six years as personnel director.

Sept. 12—Tebow jerseys abound at the Jaguars' season-opener, but Alualu stops Tebow for no gain on the first of two rushing attempts by the former Florida star and hometown hero. The Jaguars win the game and hope springs eternal for the team's effort to avoid a TV blackout in 2010.

Sept. 19—The San Diego Chargers bring the Jags and their fans back to earth with a 38-13 thrashing of the visitors. Right away, Garrard is under fire from fans, and criticism snowballs a week later when the Jags are walloped at home by Michael Vick and the Eagles, 28-3.

Oct. 3—Just when it appears the Jaguars are headed for another bad season, Garrard comes to life against the visiting Colts. Josh Scobee kicks a walk-off, 59-yard field goal in one of the greatest home victories in Jaguars history.

Oct. 20—Two days after a demoralizing 30-3 loss on Monday Night Football to the visiting Tennessee Titans, Del Rio says that young safeties Courtney Greene and Don Carey will be installed as starters and will be given a chance in what remains of the season to prove they can be the team's future at what has been the two most troubled positions on the defense.

Oct. 27—Following a loss in Kansas City in which defensive end Derrick Harvey did not appear on the final stats sheet for having even made a tackle, Del Rio says Cullen has recommended that Harvey be demoted. It means that Lewis is the only first-round pick during the Harris years that is still in the starting lineup.

Oct. 31—With six first-year and second-year players in the starting lineup on defense, the Jaguars turn in their most impressive effort in more than a year, scoring a 35-17 win at Dallas Cowboys Stadium that leaves the team at 4-4 and with hope of being a playoff contender in the second half of the season.

So, here we are. It's a good story with two months of writing left in it. How will it end?

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