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Loss to Browns resonated


The average fan has already forgotten everything about the Jaguars' season-ending loss in Cleveland, except that it was very cold. However, the memory of that 23-17 loss in the icy winds off Lake Erie remains fresh in the mind of Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith.

In Smith's mind, it was not a meaningless game for a team that had fallen out of playoff contention the previous week. The loss in Cleveland would resonate through a whole offseason.

"The Cleveland game was a defining game for us. If the fans need an indication of why some of the changes were made, they need to go back and evaluate what happened in the Browns game. To me that was a defining game," Smith told

What is so defining about it is the 214 yards rushing the Jaguars allowed that day. The Browns ran the ball 49 times; they needed only to attempt 11 passes. The Jaguars defensive line was pushed across the icy turf like a dog sled, and for a general manager who believes in the football axiom that "it all starts up front," Smith knew that's where he had to start in the offseason.

Half of the defensive line that started that game is already gone; Quentin Groves was traded to the Raiders and John Henderson was cut on Monday. They have been replaced by four draft picks: defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith, and defensive ends Larry Hart and Austen Lane.

Now that's what you call being serious about fixing a problem.

In addition, Smith traded a fourth-round pick to the Raiders for veteran middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, who allows Daryl Smith to return to his natural strong side linebacker position. Smith agreed the addition of Morrison will make the Jaguars better at two positions.

All eyes now turn to safety, the lone weak spot on the defense that hasn't been addressed since the end of last season. To that end, the Jaguars hosted veteran safety Darren Sharper on a visit on Wednesday.

"I think we've made a more competitive roster," Smith said as he surveyed his most recent work. "I'm excited to see the draft choices and the undrafted guys that signed with us and the workout guys that signed with us, to see how they fit with the veterans on our roster. The team you need to know best is your own."

Smith and coach Jack Del Rio will start to get to know their team's newcomers in mini-camp this weekend. They'll get their first look at Alualu in a Jaguars helmet. Can he be the difference-maker that'll erase the memory of the beating the Jaguars defensive line suffered in Cleveland?

Draft guru Mel Kiper claims Alualu was a reach at the 10th overall pick.

"I'm not drafting off his value board, I'm drafting off ours," Smith said.

This could be fun to watch unfold.

Alualu, however, isn't the only player in Smith's draft class, or even among the undrafted acquisitions, that could provide entertainment. Deji Karim is a cat-quick, big-play running back and Scotty McGee is a kick-returner that is said to have blazing speed. Both were sixth-round selections.

A lot of eyes will also fall on a little-known quarterback from small-college Edinboro, where Smith happened to launch his personnel career as a recruiting coordinator. The Jaguars have several ties to the Edinboro program, which helped in the scouting and signing of Trevor Harris, who immediately becomes the number three man on a depth chart that is dangerously thin at the position.

"We think he has a shot to compete to be in our top 53. If we have three quarterbacks good enough to be in the top 53, we would keep a third QB," Smith said of Harris. "He played in the Cactus Bowl, as Zach Miller did a year ago. There was a lot of work done on him by a number of teams in the NFL."

Harris wasn't invited to the combine, largely the result of having played on the small-college level, where he was a star player. He has nice size and athletic ability, but it's Harris' intangibles that have intrigued the Jaguars. Harris hit a home run with the team during a pre-draft visit.

"Leadership, football IQ, pocket presence and poise," Smith ticked off when asked what he liked about Harris. "He can feel pressure without seeing it."

The Jaguars haven't drafted a quarterback since picking Byron Leftwich seventh overall in 2003. It's expected the team will go for a quarterback early in next year's draft, projected to be one of the best quarterback drafts in NFL history.

"The QB group as a whole for 2011 is a good group. The guys next year have prototype size and skill sets. If the opportunity presents itself, we would certainly try to upgrade any position on this football team," Smith said when asked if it's likely the Jaguars will get their quarterback of the future in next year's draft.

Clearly, they drafted the defensive line of the future this year.

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