Every team ends the spring with the same high hopes for fall. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio reiterated his high hopes for the 2005 season, as the team concluded spring practices today at Alltel Stadium.
"I think it's time for us to take the next step. We get the opportunity at the end of July to get back together and earn our way," Del Rio said, referring to the July 29 start of training camp that's a little more than a month away.
For the Jaguars, the "next step" means making the playoffs. In Del Rio's two years as head coach, the team has improved from 5-11 in 2003 to 9-7 last season, when the Jaguars missed making the playoffs by one more win. Nevertheless, last year's record marked the Jaguars' first winning season in five years.
Is this the year the Jaguars make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1999? The expectation for this team is that it will answer that question affirmatively. The Jaguars are being picked on many fronts to win the AFC South title, however, those predictions are often accompanied by this disclaimer: if Fred Taylor is fully recovered from his knee surgery.
Taylor is the key to the Jaguars' hopes. He did not participate in any of the team's spring drills. Del Rio steadfastly maintained throughout the spring that Taylor's recovery has been on schedule and without setback, and the expectation has been that Taylor will be ready to go when training camp arrives. Now, of course, training camp is almost here.
So where is Taylor in his recovery? That question was put to Del Rio following this morning's workout.
"He has between now and the start of training camp to increase his activity. We're going to monitor that. Thus far, in both cases," Del Rio said, referring to Taylor and Mike Pearson, "those guys are on track."
Pearson, the Jaguars' starting left tackle, suffered a major knee injury in the fourth game of last season and was also held out of practices this spring as he recovers from knee reconstruction surgery. Pearson has said he'll be ready to go for the start of training camp.
"We feel good about the work we put in this spring," Del Rio said. "The guys who are emerging as leaders on this team are football junkies."
Del Rio announced that 63 of the 88 players on his roster had perfect attendance in the team's offseason conditioning program, and 80 of the 88 participated in 90 percent of the conditioning workouts.
"That speaks volumes about this team; tremendous work ethic," Del Rio said. "We've thrown the whole playbook at them."
One final piece of business before Del Rio goes on vacation: Veteran cornerback Ty Law will arrive in Jacksonville this evening for the purpose of a physical exam and a workout that will be conducted tomorrow morning.
"We want to see where he is. We're going to see where he is physically. If he was healthy, we would have interest," Del Rio said.
Law, one of the game's all-time great cornerbacks, underwent foot surgery last winter for a Lis Franc injury. He is currently auditioning for interested teams. It's unlikely the Jaguars would be willing to spend at a high level for Law, as the team remains impressed with young talent it has competing for the starting right cornerback job.