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Looking ahead


Jack Del Rio's not much concerned about perception.

Del Rio, in his ninth season as the Jaguars' head coach, said there's an obvious reason he doesn't much worry about what fans, media and anyone else might or might not say about the team as the 2011 regular season approaches. He has heard a lot of things before – some good, some bad.

And none of it ever really matters.

"That's been nine years straight now," Del Rio said Friday, a day after the Jaguars closed the 2011 preseason with a 24-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams at EverBank Field.

"The perception amongst you all, and then obviously the outside takes their cue from you all, has been that, but that's OK. You guys have your opinions and we have ours about what we're doing."

Del Rio cited the past two seasons as examples.

While rebuilding and retooling a roster that finished 5-11 in 2008, Del Rio said the Jaguars were criticized and written off by many entering the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The Jaguars started 7-5 before finishing 7-9 in 2009 and started 8-5 and were in first place in the AFC South before finishing 8-8 last season.

"Just like the last couple of years, when we've been basically tearing down and rebuilding this roster, we said we'll be in it and we were," Del Rio said. "We feel like we have an improved football team that's ready to have a good year."

Del Rio said he is more concerned about preparing for the 2011 regular-season opener against Tennessee at EverBank Field September 11 than outside perception.

"I'd love for you guys to think we're going to be good, because we do," Del Rio said, "but if you don't, that's OK, too. I'm really OK with that. I'm used to it, because you guys have pretty much been that way ever since I've been here. That's OK."

The Jaguars, after a 47-12 loss in New England to start the preseason, beat the Atlanta Falcons 15-13 in Week 2 before a 35-32 overtime loss at Buffalo. The Jaguars' first-team offense scored two preseason touchdowns, and the pass rush generated two sacks, with each coming in the preseason finale.

The Jaguars during the preseason also dealt with injuries at several positions, with running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end Aaron Kampman each missing the first three games after returning from knee surgery. Quarterback David Garrard missed the preseason opener, and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu missed the final two preseason games.

"I don't try to draw conclusions based on certain things that play out during the preseason," Del Rio said. "I'm more concerned with preparing this football team for what we've got coming up in the fall. We've stayed the course throughout.

"We've kept an eye on the opener and an eye on getting this football team as prepared and healthy for that and the season as possible. We've had a plan. We've worked the plan and I feel good about the work that has gone in."

The team must trim the roster from 80 to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday.

"We're working through that," Del Rio said. "The hardest part of this time of year is you have a collection of players who have given you everything you've asked for, in most cases. They have a dream. They have family. They have kids at home in some cases, wives at home. That's their dream. They want to make a career and they want to do it with your team.

"They've done everything you've asked. It's hard to let them go, but that's part of our job. It's part of what we have to do. We treat them professionally, make the decisions we have to make and move forward. But it's always a difficult time."

Also Friday, Del Rio discussed:

*The status of right tackle Eben Britton, saying there is a chance Britton won't be ready for the regular-season opener. He has been out after undergoing back surgery early in the preseason. "There's a conditioning aspect and a timing aspect and some rust that has to be worked through," Del Rio said. "He may return to practice, but it may not be an immediate return to the lineup for us. We'll have to work through that as a team and an offense."  Del Rio said Britton's replacement, Guy Whimper, has been "pretty solid. He and Uche (Nwaneri) have been getting on the same page on things."

*David Garrard and the quarterback situation. Del Rio said Garrard will start the season, and said either rookie Blaine Gabbert or veteran Luke McCown will be No. 2. He said that decision will be announced on the day of the regular-season opener, and whichever is the backup "there won't be a significant message in that." McCown entered the preseason finale as the backup against St. Louis Thursday and Gabbert played the entire second half. Del Rio was asked if McCown being the backup Thursday was a matter of knowing that Gabbert would be good but knowing that he wasn't quite ready and feeling more comfortable with a veteran as the backup. "You're accurate in that line of thinking," Del Rio said.

*Former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, who retired Friday after 11 seasons with the Jaguars and two with New England: "My recollection of Fred is what a stud he was. I think I used that word quite a bit when discussing Fred. I fielded a lot of questions about whether he was tough. There were some nicknames that I didn't feel applied in any way and I didn't think were fair in any way. He was a great Jaguar."

*The running back position, and specifically third-team running back Deji Karim. "I feel great about our backfield," Del Rio said. "I think we have depth, I think we have productive guys who will step up and play big for us." On Karim, "He's been very explosive this preseason. He has some real quicks. He has great vision. He has been improved in all facets of his game."

*The offensive line, which has struggled at times and in various positions during the preseason. "We will be better," Del Rio said. "We have to be better. It wasn't a lack of identification, a lack of communication, a lack of understanding. It was a breakdown we don't want to see. That's what it is, and that's what we have to fix. With Tennessee coming in, they like to get after the quarterback. That's what we have to address."

*The return of Jones-Drew, who missed the last two games with a knee injury last season. "I think you're going to see a more-explosive Maurice," he said. "He was very good and very strong last year, but he's healthier and feels much stronger and in better condition. He's been able to put in work, pain-free, to allow him to be at a much more explosive level than he was able to play with last year."

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