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New chapter begins


Everything is seemingly as it was when Bobby Shaw was signed to be a short-zone replacement for Keenan McCardell and Patrick Johnson was acquired for the deep speed he would add to the side of the field opposite Jimmy Smith. Shaw and Johnson are back to splitting time at the "slot" wide receiver position and Smith is back in his role as the Jaguars' star pass-catcher.

Will it be a winning formula? We'll know come Sunday, when the infamous "real bullets fly" in the Jaguars' regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts and coach Tony Dungy's "cover-two" defensive scheme.

"I don't think it's humanly possible to miss a whole training camp and come in and play a whole game, but I'll do my best," Smith told reporters today, the last no-practice day before serious preparation for the Colts begins tomorrow.

Smith spent his 36-day holdout working out locally and at his alma mater, Southern University in Jackson, Miss. He says he's in reasonable shape and that his legs are fresh, but he knows of the physical demands he'll face in the one p.m. Jacksonville heat and humidity this Sunday.

"I know that once I get past this game I'll be OK," Smith said of his conditioning. In a way, he sounded as though he welcomed the challenge.

"I've accomplished a lot of things. I was able to catch 112 balls last year," he said, referring to a surprising performance following a spring hospital stay that threatened his football career. "This will be another chapter in the book," he added.

So, how will this chapter begin this Sunday? Will it begin with cheers? Or will Smith be met by fan disfavor for his contract holdout?

"There are a lot of fans who love Jimmy Smith and I'll take that with me onto the field Sunday," he said.

More importantly, will Smith be able to pump life into a first-team offense that didn't score a touchdown in the preseason? That's the real question.

"I look for things to turn around in the right direction. Mark Brunell is one of the elite quarterbacks. It's meaningless to say Mark had a bad preseason. So what?" Smith added.

The offense's preseason failures will be immediately forgotten if touchdowns replace punts. But, an opposite result would only serve to steep fan dissent. That's why Smith's return will be intensely scrutinized. He's facing the most pressurized afternoon of his career. Expectations have become demands, and Smith is not backing down.

"You've got to have the 'Big Three' in there if you're going to be a successful offense," he said, referring to the traditional QB-RB-WR triumvirate.

"There are some things Bobby (Shaw) can do well and there are some things Patrick (Johnson) can do well. These guys signed here to play alongside Jimmy Smith," Smith said.

"It's going to get real here. We're getting ready to get it going. It's what we expected when I came here. It starts with Indianapolis," Shaw said.

Will Smith's presence really make that much of a difference? It must.

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