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Nothing changes

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In one sense, Luke McCown said life won't be much different.

McCown, who became the Jaguars' starting quarterback Tuesday with the release of David Garrard, said while his profile and depth-chart position will change – as will his game-day role on a significant scale – his day-to-to-day routine won't, either. Nor will his approach.

Yes, McCown said he must prepare to play every snap Sunday.

But it wasn't as if he didn't do that anyway.

"For me, nothing changes," McCown said Wednesday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Tennessee Titans in the 2011 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I prepare the same way. We have a solid offense and I'm ready to lead and we're excited about what we're going to do Sunday."

McCown, 30, joined the Jaguars via trade from Tampa Bay before the 2009 season, then after two seasons as a backup – including one cut short by injury – he moved into the starting role late Tuesday with the release of Garrard, a nine-year veteran and the Jaguars' starter since 2007.

Jaguars players, while supportive of Garrard, said Wednesday they will support McCown as the starting quarterback.

"I'm with Luke now," Jaguars two-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "Luke is the guy. We're all going to run with him. If Luke says, 'Run to the beach right now,' I'm going to cut these interviews off and start running to the beach. That's what my job entails.

"We have a new leader. Luke's the guy. He's going to lead us where we want to go."

McCown played two games for the Jaguars this preseason, playing the fourth quarter of a 15-13 victory over Atlanta and much of the second quarter of a preseason-ending loss at home to St. Louis. He finished the preseason completing 12 of 18 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and a 125.5 passer rating.

"If Luke didn't take reps and didn't prepare as a starter, it would hurt," Jaguars Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "But Luke's none of those things. He has prepared like the starter since he's been here. He's a natural leader. Everybody understands that."

McCown said Wednesday he was "a little surprised" with Garrard's release.

"Through training camp there were a lot of ups and downs," McCown said. "You always kind of go through the scenarios in your head, but I don't know that that one ever crossed your mind. . . . I was a little taken aback, I guess. I just had to process it for a couple of minutes, then understand there's not a whole lot of time. It's not like we have two more weeks to really let it sink in."

McCown said he spoke with Garrard following the release.

"Our conversation's between me and him," McCown said. "Dave and I are great friends. It's a little awkward, but our friendship won't change."

With McCown starting, Blaine Gabbert – the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft and a player who worked with the first team early in training camp and preseason – will enter the season as the backup.

"I wish Dave nothing but the best, but as a team, the 53 guys who are here, have to move on and play Sunday," Gabbert said. "You have to be ready to go, especially in this league. One play can change a lot of things. You've seen that. Especially right now, I have to prepare as hard as I can as if I'm going to go into the game and start. . . .

"I'll be ready. Don't question that. Whenever I'm called, I'll be ready to go."

McCown, an eight-year veteran and a fourth-round selection by Cleveland in the 2004 NFL Draft, spent a season with the Browns before being traded to Tampa Bay. He started four games as a rookie, then played four seasons with the Buccaneers.

McCown, who started three games for Tampa in 2007, has seven career starts, and has played in 16 games, completing 154 of 260 passes for 1,739 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. His teams are 1-6 when he has started.

 "I think my role as a leader doesn't change," McCown said. "I've led the same way whether I was No. 1 or No. 2. The only difference is you lead by not only how you work, but your performance – performance speaks louder as far as leadership than any words you can say.

"We have to go out and perform, move the chains and we'll all be smiles."

McCown played one game for Jacksonville last season, completing 11 of 19 passes for 120 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions in a one-sided loss at San Diego. McCown's season ended late in that loss to San Diego when he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"I had a lot of invaluable time last year," McCown said. "I know I missed a lot of time with the injury, but it's like riding a bike. You step back in, look at the other 10 men in the huddle, and say, 'Let's go.'''

Said Jones-Drew, "We've been with Luke for a while. He understands our offense. He's been here a year. He's ready to go."

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said had McCown not been injured last season he may have pushed Garrard for the starting job.

"I was preparing the way I have done for seven years now in my career, and was going to be ready if the team asked me to play," McCown said.

Jones-Drew said McCown's approach since arriving in Jacksonville will help players accepting him as the starter.

"His motto is, 'If you're the backup, prepare as if you're the starter,''' Jones-Drew said. "He's been doing that since he got here. We're not missing a beat. We're just going to go out there and play. We're very confident he's going to do a great job."

Jones-Drew also said he doesn't anticipate the offense changing significantly with McCown.

"We're still going to be a drop-back, play-action, balanced offense," Jones-Drew said. "That's what we are. Luke does a great job of changing the protections sometimes, when it's needed. He does a lot of great things. You'll see on Sunday. I don't want to tell any secrets. I think he'll do a great job."

McCown, who said he had no hint of a pending change before learning of it Tuesday afternoon, said he believes being an eight-year veteran will help in the short-and-long term.

"I learned about it when you guys learned about it, so for me, I've leaned on my experiences over my eight-year career," McCown said. "I've leaned on the work and the preparation that I've put in mentally as well as physically to kind of take this in stride."

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