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McCown stars in opening loss


PHILADELPHIA—One game into the preseason and the pressure is already on at quarterback. It's the nature of the position and coach Jack Del Rio didn't discourage it.

Is it a problem, Del Rio was asked following the Jaguars' 28-27 loss to the Eagles on Friday night, that backup quarterback Luke McCown's passing performance, thought to be a preseason best in franchise history, will likely cause a quarterback controversy among fans?

"No, not a problem," Del Rio said. "I think it's good for our football team to have a guy in the position Luke is in … to put pressure on the guy in front of him. I don't see anything wrong with that."

The guy in front of McCown is David Garrard, the much-maligned and unappreciated starting quarterback, who widened the gap between himself and McCown throughout the spring and the first couple of weeks of training camp. Then, in the preseason opener, McCown closed that gap by completing 11 of 15 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a walloping 154.9 passer rating.

Quarterback controversy? It wouldn't have mattered who the quarterback was in front of McCown. Numbers like that would've put pressure on Johnny Unitas.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

"I want to be a starter," McCown said. "I don't know a guy at any position on this team that doesn't want to be a starter. The way we talk about it is there are no backups on this team. You're not a backup, you're just waiting your turn. Every opportunity is a door. Every rep in practice is a competition."

If those are fighting words, then Garrard is gonna have to come out swingin' in next Saturday's game against visiting Miami. Such competitions, of course, are nothing new for Garrard, who earned his stripes in claiming the position three years ago from Byron Leftwich.

The job belongs to Garrard and it almost certainly will be his on opening day, but it would make his life a lot more peaceful if he atones for Friday night's stinker with a big night against the Dolphins.

Garrard played three series and the first-team offense produced just one first down. He also had what should've been at least one third-down conversion dropped by wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, and another would-be third-down conversion was dropped by Sims-Walker as he went high in the air to catch it. The resulting hit caused Sims-Walker a shoulder injury that left him needing assistance to put on his jacket in the postgame locker room.

"I'm really sick and tired of three-and-outs. We didn't accomplish what I set out for us. We have to be sharper in the pass game. There are plays we have to make. I have to make them, he has to make them," Garrard said, referring to himself and Sims-Walker.

Garrard's final stats show five completions in 10 attempts for 35 yards and a 58.3 passer rating. His opportunities weren't as many or as aggressive as McCown's were.

"I'd rather see the tape before I make a declaration," Del Rio said when asked to comment on Garrard's play. "Clearly, we have to do better offensively. When you're the trigger man, you have the say-so in getting things done. In fairness to David, we gave more vertical looks to Luke than we did to David."

McCown's first vertical look was a double-move by wide receiver Troy Williamson that resulted in a 73-yard touchdown pass. The pass hit Williamson in stride.

In the second half, McCown hooked up with wide receiver Tiquan Underwood for a 55-yard touchdown. Again, McCown's pass hit the receiver in stride.

"Those guys are locked in battle for the speed receiver role," Del Rio said of Williamson and Underwood. Both receivers left their defenders in the dust.

McCown's other touchdown pass was a feathered strike to wide receiver John Matthews in the middle of the end zone. Nearly everything else about the Jaguars' performance was a disappointment.

"Obviously, a poor start for us offensively, defensively early in the game; nowhere near the way it needs to be. Defensively, we made too many routine plays look difficult," Del Rio said in capsule assessment of the game.

"I think, clearly, having our two offensive tackles would help us protect a little better and having (Aaron) Kampman with Daryl (Smith) and (Tyson) Alualu, we think our front will be a little better. We're going to affect the quarterback better this year and we're going to be a better tackling defense this year," Del Rio added.

Safety was a position of intense scrutiny. Gerald Alexander and Anthony Smith were the starters and they each made plays. Sean Considine would seem to be competing for a starting job and Considine made plays, too.

Former first-round pick Reggie Nelson may have played more plays than any other Jaguars player on Friday. It would seem he was being evaluated intensely and he suffered another missed tackle when quarterback Michael Vick ducked Nelson and stepped into the end zone.

"We feel Alexander is our most aware guy at this point. Smith is our most physical guy at this point. Considine has had a good camp," Del Rio said.

"I thought (Nelson) tried to throw his hat in there. He had a chance early to make a play and didn't get it done. That was a problem last year for him. He's working hard to rectify it. He'll have to be better in that area," the coach added.

This was McCown's night to shine and he did.

"You wanna see the fruits of what you've been working on," he said. "It's just an opportunity to play. For me, it's basically getting some live time in this offense."

McCown didn't have a great spring and he explained why.

"A lot of the reps I was getting in the spring were my first times repping them," he said.

It would appear that he's up to speed and ready to put pressure on the guy in front of him, and that's fine with the head coach.

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