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Leading the charge


Mobile, Ala. – With Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa a little more than a week away, the postseason is just beginning for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and his scouting department. Smith and his staff spend each day during the Senior Bowl week attending both practices, watching each drill intently and then meeting with players throughout the day.

It's a process that never really ends, but the draft in April is the culmination of their work. Smith says this week is especially beneficial to the Jaguars with their coaching staff spending all week with the players in the meeting room and on the practice field.

"You get to know the person," Smith said. "Obviously we have studied the player on film all fall and have had exposure to practices and games. We really have the opportunity to get with them one-on-one in the meeting room, in other environments other than just the football field.

Smith has been impressed with this year's senior class.

"I think it's an outstanding group," Smith said. "We are very fortunate to have some of the guys on our team that we do this year. There are a number of guys who have opted out of the all-star games that were committed early, but the group that is here is an outstanding group."

The next stop for the Jaguars staff is the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on February 18-24. The 2009 NFL Draft will be held on April 25-26. The Jaguars own the eighth pick. The Jaguars selected defensive end Derrick Harvey with the eighth overall pick in 2008. The Jaguars traded their first round pick (26th) along with two third round picks (71st, 89th) and a fourth round pick (125th) to Baltimore to move up to select Harvey.


It's hard to miss LSU offensive lineman Herman Johnson in Mobile. Johnson, 6-7, 382, is the heaviest player at the Senior Bowl this year. He was born 15 pounds, 14 ounces and is known as the largest baby born in the state of Louisiana. In fact, Johnson's mother gets a phone call every year from the doctor who delivered her boy to let her know she still holds the record. The tallest player participating this year is Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt, who was measured at 6'8".


Southern California head coach Pete Carroll and several members of his coaching staff visited practice on Wednesday. Carroll was on a recruiting trip and stopped in for a quick visit to see his six USC players. This is the second straight year USC has the most players in the Senior Bowl.


Jack Del Rio didn't hesitate when asked to recall the most impressive workout he has ever seen at the Senior Bowl throughout his years as an NFL coach. It was former University of Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson, who was selected to five Pro Bowls after being selected with the 31st overall pick by Denver in 1999.

"He was very impressive that day," Del Rio said. "We were right down on him. I was almost in the huddle. He was just real infectious with his passion. He would rally the guys. He took charge of the huddle. He played with a great deal of energy and had some real jarring hits during the week. I knew he was going to play well and make it in the NFL and be a good player, which he was."


Temperatures reached the high 40s on Wednesday for the final practices of the week in pads. The South team will hold their final full practice today at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The squad will go through a walkthrough on Friday morning before the game on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. EST.


"In my coaching background, I played for Denny Green in Minnesota and Tony Dungy was my coordinator. I coached with Brian Billick in Baltimore and in both of those stops, those programs were derivatives of the Walsh system. They were offshoots, not so much X's and O's west coast, that type of thing, but in terms of the structure of how practice is put together, the percentage of things you are working on, the scripting and the organization, the drill work, all the things that are spelled out. It's just one of those examples where Bill was kind of leading the way. Here we are many years later still using some of the things he made the first imprint with. The game evolves and it's constantly evolving. You do see a tendency of teams to want to get you in space. You need athletes to function in space. There are some principles that are timeless and certainly Bill Walsh passed on a few to some coaches that were impactful to help shape who I am and how I coach now."


Del Rio has spent most of the week overseeing the defense, but he won't be able to put his imprint on the unit with just five practices. There are numerous rules for the game including no overload blitzing, no cover-two and the middle safety has to be between the hashes.

"We're not trying to trick each other or outscheme each other," Del Rio said. "There are limitations to what you can do structurally, defensively and offensively as well. They really want it to be about the athletes competing against each other. You want to give them enough offense and defense so they can go out and play a football game, but not so much that they are swimming and don't have a chance to go out and play. We want our guys to play fast, have fun and have an opportunity to represent themselves well."

Del Rio said one of the issues is getting some players used to wearing pads again.

"Guys come from different parts of the country," Del Rio said. "You're talking about some guys that were in bowl games not long ago and you're talking about other guys who haven't played since November."


The Senior Bowl Hall of Fame will add two new members to its prestigious group on Friday with the induction of NFL greats Jason Taylor and Shaun Alexander. The two inductees will be honored during a ceremony sponsored by Regions Bank and Mobile Gas at the RSA Towers on Friday, January 23rd. The class of 2009 brings the total number of Senior Bowl Hall of Famers to 94. It's a group that includes football greats such as Brett Favre, Walter Payton and Dan Marino.

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