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Kicker and Leftwich


It was a night of mistaken identity. We envisioned Jack Del Rio as being some kind of wild, throw-it-every-down, trick-play-a-minute, blitz-blitz-blitz whirlwind of a coach who would put the excitement back into Jaguars football by turning the Jaguars into a Sunday circus.

This isn't to suggest that "no more three yards and a cloud of dust" has become "four yards and a trail of blood," but there isn't much doubt that we had Del Rio all wrong on that night he was named this team's second head coach. Maybe all that cheering numbed our brains.

Gullible? Naïve? Unrealistic? Yeah, all of those things because we forgot who and what Del Rio is, and how and why teams win in this league.

The guy played defense. He coached defense. He comes from the Jimmy Johnson school of the "lead draw" with Emmitt; the same Johnson who attempted to turn Dan Marino into a hand-off machine.

And we forgot that in the first three seasons of this century, the Super Bowl champion was all defense. Why did everyone want the Jaguars to be any different? Fortunately, they aren't.

Maybe it's too early to make this statement, but based on what we saw from the Jaguars in Del Rio's rookie season as head coach, and based on what we've seen in the training camp just concluded, the Jaguars are being built in the classic mold of the time-honored way of playing championship football.

This team is about defense; always defense first. Del Rio believes it's the way to win. So does Bill Belichick and John Fox, last season's Super Bowl coaches.

But there's more.

In addition to a strong defense, the Jaguars are going to rely on a good kicking game and special teams, field position, a ball-control running game and a pocket-passing quarterback who keeps mistakes to a minimum.

It is the time-honored way of playing football, and it is the Jaguars' way under Del Rio.

Wait a minute, you say. A good kicking game and a mistake-free quarterback?

Ah, yeah, those are the keys. The Jaguars have the other ingredients. They have a strong defense. They have a punter who'll swing field position in their favor. They have a ball-control running game. But they need to find a kicker who can convert field position into three points, and Byron Leftwich has to prove he can be the mistake-free quarterback that must accompany that overall style of play.

The Jaguars' ability to find that kicker and to develop Leftwich in the classic drop-back mold will decide how far this team goes this season. That's the opinion with which this reporter left training camp on Tuesday.

And that's the way it should be because that's how you win in this league.

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