Mobile, Ala. – Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio conducted his first practice on Monday as coach of the South Team at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Del Rio and his coaching staff led the team through a two-hour workout at Fairhope Stadium in front of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and media.
"Right out of the box, we are just trying to get lined up and make sure everyone knows where they are supposed to be," Del Rio said. "We want to do all we can in one week's time to put together a unit that can go out and play well as a team and compete and show well for themselves. We are really not involved with a lot of strategy or game-planning. We just want to try and put our guys in a position where they can show their skills and be able to play fast."
The team practiced in shorts on Monday and will suit up in full pads for today's practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The staff has meetings during the morning with the players before hitting the practice field. Del Rio believes his staff has an advantage being around the players for an entire week.
"I'm getting ready to find out," Del Rio said. "It's my first time doing it. I would think spending a week with these young men and getting an opportunity to see them in meetings, see them interact with one another. To be able to get with them for three, four, five days into a week and see how they really are when they get tired and get pushed when they are sore. That will give us a true indication of who they really are. It's a unique insight for coaches working the game."
MIKE SHULA RETURNS TO ALABAMA
One of the more interesting subplots to the week is the return of former Alabama quarterback and head coach Mike Shula. Shula played three seasons for Alabama (1984-86) and returned to lead the Crimson Tide as head coach for four seasons (2003-06) that included three consecutive bowl games.
Shula has the opportunity this week to reunite with several players he recruited, including quarterbacks John Parker Wilson and Pat White. Wilson led Alabama to the SEC Championship Game this season. White finished his fourth season at West Virginia. The other quarterback on the South roster is Clemson's Cullen Harper.
Shula remembers offering Wilson a scholarship to Alabama even though he weighed 180 pounds as a senior, 35 pounds lighter than the 215 he weighed on Monday.
"He just had good arm strength for a skinny kid back then," Shula said. "He did a lot of things smoothly that you like for a guy at that position coming out of high school. It's kind of fun. That is one of the things I learned in college football, when you get them coming from their senior year of high school and watching them grow. It's kind of a neat feeling to see them now. We have already rekindled our relationships and our friendships. I am looking forward to a good week."
Shula has a history with the Senior Bowl, having played in one game and this is his third time coaching in the game. In 1987, Shula was coached in the game by his father, Don, and brother, Dave, as the South outlasted the North squad 42-38 in a driving rainstorm.
"A lot of good memories," Shula said. "You really have a unique advantage when you coach this thing. It's really a week-long tryout. You get to see them up close physically on how they perform on the practice field. You get to see how quickly they pick things up, how they interact in a different system with different players, getting used to new centers. That stuff will definitely help in our evaluation for the draft."
Shula, who was surrounded by media following the practice, was asked if he would ever like to return to college coaching.
"There are a lot of things I miss about it," Shula said. "There are some differences with the NFL and college. When I decided to take the job at Alabama it really was because it was Alabama and it was my alma mater. I'm not sure at that time I would have taken another job in college football. I was enjoying doing what I was doing. My background has been in the NFL and now that I am in back I am really enjoying it."
ENTIRE STAFF RELOCATES TO MOBILE
Del Rio and his coaching staff aren't the only members of the Jaguars organization in Mobile this week. The scouting staff is in attendance led by general manager Gene Smith, along with the equipment, training and video staffs.
DEL RIO TALKS OFFSEASON NEEDS
"We are going to fortify our lines, offensive and defensive lines. That is an area we are going to need to address as we go forward. We have some age there and some injuries. We have a good group in the South team. There's some big boys on the South that will be some options for us. It's great to get a close up look at them."
DEL RIO ON THE FIRST DAY OF PRACTICE
"One of the better things on the first day is to see how they handle all the newness, all the learning of new terminology, getting a couple of new teammates and those type of things. Many of the guys have been in the same place for four or five years in some cases in one system and one way of doing things. That is all stuff we are evaluating."