They have come to count on him even when he is injured.
Mark Brunell didn't practice yesterday and was not scheduled to practice today, due to a two-week-old right quadriceps injury. The situation this week is the same as it was last week, when Brunell missed the Jaguars' Wednesday and Thursday practices and worked out in a somewhat limited fashion on Friday. On Sunday, he was in the starting lineup and he led the Jaguars to a 30-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I felt he needed some quality rest and rehab time," coach Tom Coughlin said at his noon press conference today. "It's the same scenario we had last week. I expect him to practice tomorrow and play Sunday."
Brunell's ability to play hurt is something the Jaguars have grown to take for granted. He's often injured but seldom out of the lineup. This Sunday, in Pittsburgh, the Jaguars will need him more than ever.
"They're playing better. They're playing with a lot of aggressiveness, a lot of emotion. When I see them on defense, there's not a weak link," Brunell said of the Steelers' top-ranked defense.
The Steelers are the only team in the league that still plays the 3-4 defense. They've maintained the scheme because of their depth at linebacker, which includes Earl Holmes, Jason Gildon, Joey Porter and this year's front-runner for rookie of the year honors, Kendrell Bell.
"They play it very well and they play it fast. Those are the problems," Coughlin said when asked about the difficulties the 3-4 presents.
Coughlin said Stacey Mack will be the Jaguars' starting running back Sunday, though Coughlin did not rule out the possibility Fred Taylor might be in uniform for the game. Taylor, of course, has missed six consecutive games due to a severe groin injury.
Mack was the star of the Jaguars' second-half rally against the Bengals, and the Jaguars will need a similar effort from Mack to level the all-important time of possession. Brunell, however, embodies the Jaguars' greatest hope of winning.
The Steelers are experiencing major red-zone difficulties. Though it is an improved offense, it continues to struggle to score. Brunell gives the Jaguars' quick-strike potential the Steelers don't have.
"I think Jimmy Smith is the best receiver in the game today," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said of the Jaguars' star wide receiver.
Brunell will be looking in Smith's direction this Sunday. It is the Jaguars' most enduring constant, along with Brunell's trademark for playing hurt.