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Leftwich watch begins


Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio went out of his way to praise the play of defensive end Lionel Barnes. Oh, by the way, Del Rio also mentioned in his press conference this afternoon that Mark Brunell has a significant elbow injury.

"The major injury is Mark's elbow. We had to put some stitches in there and we'll have to see where he is in the next couple of days," Del Rio said. The Jaguars will release their official injury report on Wednesday.

Will Brunell be the starting quarterback if he's healthy?

"Yes," Del Rio said.

Or might this Sunday's game provide the professional debut of rookie Byron Leftwich as a starting quarterback?

"I think we have three quarterbacks capable of starting this Sunday," Del Rio said.

Reporters broached the subject from all angles, attempting to find a crack in Del Rio's veneer that would offer a hint as to who might be under center in Houston this Sunday. But Del Rio met every question with a non-answer. Obviously, the rookie head coach was being coy.

Here's a little press conference flavor:

Is it fair to make a blanket statement about a quarterback without having Jimmy Smith in the lineup?

"Do I think it's fair? Does it matter? No, it doesn't. Make all the statements you want. We're looking for production. We're not looking to use one player as an excuse," Del Rio said in providing an answer that was as confusing as the question. But Del Rio knew where the line of questioning was headed.

What about when Smith comes back?

"We critique ourselves based on who is there," Del Rio said.

Are you eager to get Smith back?

"I'm eager to see us win. Will I be glad to see Jimmy come back? Yes," Del Rio said.

All right, let's cut to the chase.

When will you announce who you're starting quarterback will be? Del Rio was asked.

The coach paused. There was no way out.

"Probably Sunday," he said.

And with that the Leftwich watch officially began. With each day the suspense will build. Will Sunday's game in Houston be the backdrop for Leftwich's quarterback coronation? Sorry, we'll all have to wait.

For now, it's back to Barnes, the journeyman defensive end whose performance in Indianapolis Sunday afternoon lit a fire in Del Rio. When asked which of his defensive linemen was impressive against the Colts, Del Rio shot back, "Lionel Barnes."

"Lionel has been the most pure technician in the group. He's the least known of the defensive ends, but with each snap he's getting more work," Del Rio said.

The mention of Barnes is significant because the Jaguars are not getting much in the way of pass-rush production from Tony Brackens or Hugh Douglas. For the second consecutive week, the Jaguars went sackless Sunday and Del Rio is desperate for a pass-rush to help his beleaguered secondary.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars defensive line got kudos from the head coach for having stopped the run for the second consecutive week. At the same time, the Jaguars rushed for 152 yards and a 6.1 yards-per-carry average.

"It was what we wanted to go out and do. We gave them a good dose of Fred (Taylor). We'd like to use him even more," Del Rio said.

Now, if the Jaguars can only stop the rain of touchdown passes. Over the first three games of the season, the Jaguars' pass-defense has been torched for seven touchdowns.

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